How John Keats used Symbolism in his Ode to a Grecian Urn

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How John Keats used Symbolism in his “Ode to a Grecian Urn” John Keats was born in 1795 in Moorfields, England. He was the son of a stableman who married the owner’s daughter and eventually inherited the stable for himself. He was fourteen when his mother died of tuberculosis. Having been apprenticed to an apothecary at the age of fifteen, John felt the need to leave medical field to focus primarily poetry. Keats’s imagery ranges from all of our physical sensations: sight, touch, sound, taste, and sexuality. Keats is one of the most famous for his Odes. Traditionally, the ode is lengthy, serious in subject, elevated in its diction and style, and often elaborate in its stanza structure. “Symbolism seems the obvious term for the dominant style which followed nineteenth-century realism” (Wellek 251). According to an article found in Jstor journal, written by Vyacgeslav Ivanov, titled, Symbolism, “symbols are far from being an invention and convention of mankind, constitute in the universe, all pulsating with life, a primordial imprint in the very substance of things and, and it were, an occult language by means of which is achieved a preordained communion of innumerable kindred spirits, no matter how these spirits may differ in their individual modes of existence or whether they belong to different orders of creation” (Ivanov 29). Keats uses symbolism in “Ode to a Grecian Urn” to illustrate his love for ancient Greece. “Ode to a Grecian Urn’ was written by John Keats at some unknown date. “The Urn, as Keats described it, was a classical vase, decorated with a frieze of engraved figures in scenes from pastoral life. In reality it was more than any particular vase which he had seen on his museum excursions with Haydon or Severn. The Grecian Urn represented poetic vision, the timeless, enchanted world into which the artist’s imagination alone can enter,” as stated in Robert Gittings and Jo Manton’s book titled The Story of John Keats (Gittings and Manton, pg. 148). In this poem Keats wants to create a world of pure joy, but the world is of make believed of people living in a moment in time. In an article titled, “Thought is sacrificed to sensation in the poetry of John Keats,” author Iain Morrison states that “Existing in a frozen or suspended time, they cannot move or cha... ... middle of paper ... ... to know.” The beauty lies in the urn. “What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth,” as stated by Catherine Owens Peare, author of a book titled John Keats a Portrait in Words. “John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” was both inevitable and incredible. It was inevitable that he should by now have struggled free of the sonnet with its fourteen-line prejudice to create this ten-line stanza and its two pairs of lines and two sets of triple rhymes, inevitable that in developing his own style he should have resolved his philosophic search at this his period of most superb creativity” (Peare, pg. 174). Douglas Wilson’s article in Jstor titled “Reading the Urn: Death in Keats’s Arcadia,” “Like Blake’s “Mental Traveler” and so many other Romantic poems, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” invites the reader into a landscape of consciousness. As S.T. Coleridge puts it, the primary function of the poetic work, like the visual language of painting, is “to instill energy into the mind, which compels the imagination to complete the picture. The ode’s speaker responding to an imaginary urn conjures up, as part of a mental dram, the underside of a vanished culture that created such urns” (Wilson 823).

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