If Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, then a Beholder is Required

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From David A. Kent’s “On the Third Stanza of Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’”:

“Both urn and ode are finally dependent on a beholder, a reader, to give life to image and typographical symbol—to animate by imagination…All art is, finally, dependent” (115).

Here finally is an essay and author I can agree with.  I didn’t originally like formalism, I suppose partially because I didn’t realize exactly what it was until I tried it.  Once I had, I realized how useful it is.  I think it makes for the most solid argument.  And I really liked Kent’s essay, he kept things short and sweet, yet it was very believable.  He used arguments about specific structural parts of the poem such as Keats’s use of the “interrogative, exclamatory, and phrasal forms” (113) to prove his point.

 But see, here’s the thing that made me like Kent’s essay so much more than McDonald’s.  Kent claimed that Keats used this language in this way for a specific reason, he did it (besides many other reasons such as building a transitional stanza between the second and fourth) to show Keats’s pained rejection that life on the urn is better.  For if there was no one alive to look at the urn (or the ode) these things would have no meaning, as Kent explains, “All art is, finally, dependent.”  In McDonald’s essay, I was never able to find this explanation of why.  He goes through and proves carefully that Shakespeare’s language is ambiguous, but he never provides the answer that Kent does. 

Read what other’s have to say.

2 Comments

james lohr said:

Oh how true it is...if there was not a reader, than what purpose would there be for a writer? I find it incredibly hard to believe that the reader could ever be taken away from the work, if we take away the reader, then the work was only written for the blind critic to analyze through omnipotence.

Katie Vann said:

I remember you brought that question up about McDonald last week Greta when we were discussing the muddy points from last week's readings. The way you explained it from what you found in Kent makes it more clear for me too. I'm glad you blogged about this. I felt this week's readings were a lot more useful overall.

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