Ode on a Grecian Urn
by John Keats
A poem first published in 1820.
Examining the images on an ancient urn (men chasing women for love, a musical piper, a religious rite), the speaker contemplates beauty and the purpose of art.
Thou still unravish'd bride1 of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan2 historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe3 or the dales of Arcady?4
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?5
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
O Attic6 shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,7
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
1 unravish'd bride The urn itself.
2 Sylvan Woodland.
3 Tempe A valley in Thessaly, Greece, used by the Ancient Romans as a general name for any beautiful valley.
4 dales of Arcady Valleys of Arcadia, Greek region made famous by the poet Virgil as an ideal center of pastoral life.
5 loth Unwilling.
6 Attic Greek region centered around Athens, famous for its marble and potters' clay.
7 overwrought Decorated everywhere, all over.
PORTRAIT: John Keats by Joseph Severn (1819).
CITATION INFORMATION (in MLA format): Keats, John. "Ode on a Grecian Urn." Gleeditions, 17 Apr. 2011, www.gleeditions.com/odeonagrecianurn/students/pages.asp?lid=306&pg=5. Originally published in Poems by John Keats, Chiswick Press, 1897, p. 236.