This is a poem by Keats. The below extract is from wikipedia. These posts of mine aren’t my own and are attempts of shared exploration of beautiful and famous poems. More will follow. Let us be inspired by masters and love these masterpieces. Some of you are already making master pieces of your own let us hope more will follow.
The poem begins with the narrator’s silencing the urn by describing it as the “bride of quietness”, which allows him to speak for it using his own impressions. The narrator addresses the urn by saying:
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness!
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time (lines 1–2)
The urn is a “foster-child of silence and slow time” because it was created from stone and made by the hand of an artist who did not communicate through words. As stone, time has little effect on it and ageing is such a slow process that it can be seen as an eternal piece of artwork. The urn is an external object capable of producing a story outside the time of its creation, and because of this ability the poet labels it a “sylvan historian” that tells its story through its beauty:
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flow’ry tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? (lines 3–10)
The questions presented in these lines are too ambiguous to allow the reader to understand what is taking place in the images on the urn, but elements of it are revealed: there is a pursuit with a strong sexual component. The melody accompanying the pursuit is intensified in the second stanza:
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: (lines 11–14)
There is a hint of a paradox in that indulgence causes someone to be filled with desire and that music without a sound is desired by the soul. There is a stasis that prohibits the characters on the urn from ever being fulfilled:
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! (lines 17–20)
In the third stanza, the narrator begins by speaking to a tree, which will ever hold its leaves and will not “bid the Spring adieu”. The paradox of life versus lifelessness extends beyond the lover and the fair lady and takes a more temporal shape as three of the ten lines begin with the words “for ever”. The unheard song never ages and the pipes are able to play forever, which leads the lovers, nature, and all involved to be:
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. (lines 27–30)
A new paradox arises in these lines because these immortal lovers are experiencing a living death. To overcome this paradox of merged life and death, the poem shifts to a new scene with a new perspective. The fourth stanza opens with the sacrifice of a virgin cow, an image that appeared in the Elgin Marbles, Claude Lorrain’s Sacrifice to Apollo, and Raphael’s The Sacrifice at Lystra
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return. (lines 31–40)
All that exists in the scene is a procession of individuals, and the narrator conjectures on the rest. The altar and town exist as part of a world outside art, and the poem challenges the limitations of art through describing their possible existence. The questions are unanswered because there is no one who can ever know the true answers, as the locations are not real. The final stanza begins with a reminder that the urn is a piece of eternal artwork:
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold pastoral! (lines 41–45)
The audience is limited in its ability to comprehend the eternal scene, but the silent urn is still able to speak to them. The story it tells is both cold and passionate, and it is able to help mankind. The poem concludes with the urn’s message:
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayst,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. (lines 46–50)