More happy love! more happy, happy love! (Keats, line 25). When one reads lines such as this, one cannot help but think that the poet must have been very, very happy, and that, in fact, the tone of the poem is light and filled with joy. However, this is not the case in John Keatss poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn. At first glance, the tone of the poem seems light and flowery. However, when one looks deeper into the poem to find its underlying meanings, one discovers that the tone of the poem is very morbid. This is because the poem has two separate levels. Keatss Ode on a Grecian Urn has a superficial level of happiness and joy, which acts as a faade for a deeper level of morbidity and death, most likely because of the fact that Keats was dying as he wrote this poem.
First of all, when one starts to read this poem, one cannot help but think that the tone is one of happiness. In fact, in the third stanza, Keats uses the word happy five times. The language of the poem is very flowery and beautiful, and it has the effect of lightening the deeper mood of the poem. For example, in the line A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: (Keats, line 4), Keats is talking about the tale told by the urn. He is disguising it as sweet and flowery when, in reality, it is dark. The urn is symbolic of death. Another example is the lines Forever warm and still to be enjoyed. Forever panting, and forever young: (Keats, lines 26-27). In these two lines Keats is talking about the immortality established on this urn. However, he realizes that true immortality does not exist.
In this poem there are many references to death and sorrow. These are more difficult to find than the flowery images and ideas, and that is why they are said to be at a deeper level. One example is the lines,
What little town by river or seashore, Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? And, little town, thy streets forevermore Will silent be; and not a soul to tell Why thou art desolate, can eer return.
Keats (lines 35-40).
When one first reads these lines, one gets a sense of peace and tranquility. However, these lines are really rather bleak. They talk of a depressing, barren place. Another example is the line, When old age shall this generation waste, (Keats, line 46). In this line Keats is referring to his own mortality as well as the mortality of all his readers.
The most likely reason for the morbid undertones in this poem was the fact that Keats was dying at the time he wrote it. Keats died a very young man, at the age of 26 of tuberculosis. He knew he was dying, so the idea of death was reflected in many of his works. Ode on a Grecian Urn was written only about two years before his death. In this poem he discusses immortality and things frozen forever in a state of perfection, such as the urn. It seems he is longing for the immortality that is possessed by the urn. He knows he can never have this immortality.
At first glance, John Keatss Ode on a Grecian Urn presents images of happiness through its flowery language and imagery. However, when one examines this poem more closely, one discovers that the deeper meaning of the poem is one of sorrow and death. Keats uses his flowery language as a faade for his deeper meaning. The reason he wants to present this idea is because he is dying and he knows it. Therefore, Ode on a Grecian Urn is not happy, as it seems. The deep, underlying meaning is death.
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