Mortality Squares Off with Immortality...And the Winner Is!?

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From "Toward Resolving Keats's Grecian Urn Ode" in Contexts for Criticism:

"Grecian urns were, in fact, consecrated, originally used to preserve the ashes of the dead and to depict scenes of vibrant life" (Austin 53).

The "Urn" really embodies this quote, whether or not Keats intended that the Urn was a container for remains.  In this quote, Mortality and Immortality coexist creating a strange paradox.  When faced with the death that the urn may represent, Keats gives us life.  In the scenes on the urn we see lovers in hot pursuit, spring, and beauty. 

The lovers mentioned in line 17, "Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss," maintain their innocence, curiousity, and sexual intensity.  Although they are obcessed with each other for the moment, they will never get the chance to act on this passion, forever keeping their love new and fresh.

Keats then mentions the spring, as representative of new life, "Thy song, nor ever those trees be bare" and "Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed/ Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu" (lines 16, 21-22).  Although in real life, fall will bring weakening and winter will bring death, the paintings on the urn capture eternal life and new opportunities. 

Lastly, the girl mentioned in lines 19 and 20 "cannot fade" for she will forever be "fair."  She will never meet her mortality and will be forever imortalized for the beauty she is, never wrinkling, never weakening. 

These pleasant images are amongst another, not so pleasant image that appears in the fourth stanza: "Who are these coming to the sacrifice?/ To what green altar, O mysterious priest,/ Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies" (lines 31-33).  But even the cow that is sentenced to death will live on forever in this moment, still ignorant, still alive, still happy. 

Keats depicts life and hope for all who appear on his urn, an interesting concept for something that is a keeper of the dead.  Like the quote I picked emphasizes, this urn reminds people of the life, not of the death that it contains bringing the two worlds together and giving them a chance to intermingle.  To the reader of the poem, Keats gives hope that the afterlife will bring more moments of pleasure.  Even if there is no eternity, if death is really all there is, the person will live on through the artwork on the outside of the urn, continuing to share his/her story.  Either (or both) ways, we are given a reason to not fear, and to look forward to eternity. 

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Derek Tickle said:

I believe that the word "urn" is a powerful image that most people would refer to with a burial. I had never thought how the urn could bring both the eternal and present world together. Great idea!! It almost seems as though the urn is a realm that Keats uses in order to obtain his imagination about eternal life. Keats will always have a place in the world because he has the urn which is un-breakable unless a human would destroy it.
This may be a stretch on a sensitive topic, but what if going to church was a means for not fearing death or the afterlife? When the urn is used as a metaphor then it proposes many new pertinent topics.

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