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Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. Disher-Campbell. Background.
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Written in 1819 during his nine month “intense creative flowering.”
The original manuscript of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is lost. We have one in George Keats’ handwriting, but John’s is gone.
Third of the five “great odes.”
Discussion of beauty (permanence of art vs. fleeting beauty)
"Ode on a Grecian Ode" is based on a series of paradoxes and opposites:
As in "Ode to a Nightingale," the poet wants to create a world of pure joy, but in this poem the idealized or fantasy world is the life of the people on the urn. Keats sees them, simultaneously, as carved figures on the marble vase and live people in ancient Greece.
Existing in a frozen or suspended time, they cannot move or change, nor can their feelings change, yet the unknown sculptor has succeeded in creating a sense of living passion and turbulent action. As in "Ode to a Nightingale," the real world of pain contrasts with the fantasy world of joy.
Grecian Urns did not have the connotation of death that we associate with them today.
There are three different versions of the “truth-beauty” couplet at the end of the poem. No one knows which is the one intended by Keats (the published or noted copy of the poem), and each changes the meaning slightly.
This version is based on a comparison of the four transcripts by friends. They agree on the wording, but not on capitalization.
Beauty is Truth,--Truth Beauty,--that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know
Version 2This version appeared in the Annals of the Fine Arts, for MDCCCXIX. It was probably published in January 1820.
Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.--That is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Version 3This version appeared in the volume of poetry published in July 1820, during Keats's lifetime. It is not clear that he was well enough to correct typographical errors.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"--that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.