This poem has been described as one of the key poems from the Romantic period. This discussion will look at the poem as a whole and by closely examining each stanza of the poem. Firstly, let us consider the writers background and the context of the historical period in which this poem was written. The author of the poem was John Keats who was born on 31st October 1795 in London. Keats appears to of had a troubled childhood. His father was a livery stable keeper who was killed in a riding accident in 1804.
He left a wife with four young children and although she remarried quickly, she separated from her husband within two years. She left her children in the care of their grandmother. He was later sent to board at Clarkes School together with his brothers; George and Tom. His mother did return some years later, however she was in very poor health suffering from Tuberculosis. Even though Keats nursed her himself she died shortly afterwards. He was badly affected by her death and was said to of experienced “impassioned and prolongd grief”, pg 473.
Sadly his younger brother Tom died in 1817and the sadness that Keats experienced at his loss led to a period of depression during 1819. Keats career as a poet was very short, spanning only three years as he contracted tuberculosis and died on 23rd February 1821. During this period he was credited as having written a wide range of poetry that included long narratives, two classic epic styled attempts, various ballads, sonnets Romantic narratives and odes. Following this brief summary of Keats life and works let us now consider “Ode on A Grecian Urn”.
This poem was written in May 1819, and was published in the Annuals of Fine Arts in January 1820and also in Poems during the same year. Put simply this poem uses the physical description of the figures depicted on a Greek vase to illustrate a contrast between the pain of a mortal life with the timeless world of art. So why use art as a contrast to human life? Let us consider what Keats felt about art as expressed in the following quote: “The excellence of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate from their being in close relationship with beauty and truth”.
In his writing of this poem Keats is attempting I believe to create a picture of a world of joy. Yet, in the poem the fantasy world is that of the people depicted on the urn. Keats sees them as the carvings on the marble vase and at the same time as live people in ancient Greece. That somehow they exist as frozen or suspended in time, unable to move, change or experience feelings. However, the creator has managed to create the illusion of a living passion and action. Although the poem like “ode to a Nightingale” attempts to contrast the real world of pain with the fantasy of a world of joy.
This connection is not immediately apparent and the understanding of the wording is quite challenging. The poem generally is quite difficult to follow, and unlike some texts previously discussed within this module. No original manuscript of the poem written in Keats hand survives. Also note that at the time of publishing in 1820Keats may well of been too ill to proof read and correct any printing errors. Let us now consider the poem a stanza at a time. Stanza one begins slow, the wording and the language applied asks questions from abstract concepts of time and art. Notice for example line 1.