Keats' Poems and Letters

The Reconciliation of Classical and Romantic Art in Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

While the countless paradoxes in John Keats’s Poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” could lead one to envision a battle between Classical and Romantic art, Keats tries to reconcile the two types of art through the form and theme of his poem.

The various paradoxes that Keats establishes in his poem are so complex and seem so impossible, one could assume that Keats is commenting on the irreconcilable nature of Romantic and Classical art. However, upon closer inspection, the paradoxes seem to point to the exact opposite—that Romantic and Classical art depend on each other. In stanza 2, the utility of the paradox is illustrated well as the speaker examines the scene between the piper and his lover. The lovers are immortalized on the side of the urn, both frozen in time as well as free from it. The piper plays a song for his lover, a “fair youth, beneath the trees” that “canst not leave / [the piper’s] song, nor ever can those trees be bare” (15-16). The speaker depicts the lover as “fair”—beautiful and young. There is music involved in the scene coming from the piper’s instrument, as well as nature in the form of the tree beneath which the lover sits. The urn attempts to create a scene of perfection—even the nature of the unheard melody...

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