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Eternity Etched in Clay

"The imagination creates what is most beautiful and its creations are a reflection of eternity: 'What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth.' The Ode as a whole is more concerned with eternity than with art, itself a symbol of eternity." Allen C. Austin "Toward Resolving Keats's Grecian Urn Ode" (56)

What struck me about Austin's essay was his focus on the eternal aspects of Keats's language and the art depicted on the Urn itself. I think that the title of the poem itself leads to this concept of a reflection of eternity. The poem is titled "Ode on a Grecian Urn," not "Ode to." The ode could be the pictures themselves and their relation to the eternity that the poet is speaking. This is the reflection which the poet is looking into as he examines the beauty of the still life forever etched upon the urn.

Austin's careful examination of the approaches to the processes and judgements of criticism that has been given to this poem form a convincing arguement to his last interpretation that the "urn is a symbol of eternity." He effectively uses Keats's letters to Bailey to support this interpretation. Both the poem and the art painted on the urn are products of imagination and they both symbolize an eternal stillness within their beauty.


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Comments (3)


Hey Mara, this really struck me. We always think of an ode as a piece of writing, why couldn't it be pictures. The poem mentions pictures but to be honest I figured there was writing there too, which wouldn't make much sense if you thought about it. Thanks for making me think outside of the box :)

James Lohr:

Making a work of art is a way of extending your life. A great work of writing, a wonderful painting, or a Grecian Urn, they live beyond you, are seen and admired years, or even millenia after their artists have gone. No matter how times may change, the work is always the same. It amazes me with Literature how even though the world would seem to have changed greatly, human emotions are still the same. The setting may be different but the feeling still carries a message.

I liked how you pointed out that the poem was titled "Ode on" not "Ode to". I think that was important, as you said, when looking at the rest of the content of the poem for what Keats was actually talking about. I liked how Austin did use background info to help determine his opinion of what would be the most likely interpretation. I think looking at the historical background information about the poem and Keats gave more evidence for narrowing down interpretations and backing up with evidence the ones that were left over.

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