Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1603) Ode on a Grecian Urn
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness! Thou foster-child of silence and slow time, Sylvan historian, who canst thus express A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: What leaf-fringed 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 loath? What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? 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: Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; Bold Lover, never, never, canst thou kiss, Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve; She cannot fade, though thou have not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! Ah, happy, happy, boughs! that cannot shed Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; And happy melodist, unwearied, For ever piping songs for ever new; More happy love! more happy, happy love! For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd, For ever panting and for ever young; All breathing human passion far above, That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. 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. 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! When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
If we are on the subject of grand old poems that have slipped through the Minstrels net - I can't think of a more startling omission than this one. For sheer lyricism, Keats is hard to beat. Byron is wittier, I'll grant you, and certainly more conversational, but nowhere (except perhaps in Shakespeare) is the English tongue so ravishingly beautiful. Ode on a Grecian Urn, is, of course, one of those established classics about which it's difficult to say something without having about half a million Eng Lit undergrads breathing down one's neck. What I love about it is its almost solipsistic brilliance - the way the poem, in some sense contains its own meaning (a distinction it shares with Shakespeare's "Not marble, nor the gilded monuments" [Poem #1575] - a poem that makes interesting reading with this btw). For nowhere is the truth of "Beauty is Truth, Truth beauty" more evident than in this poem. It's a stunning achievement really - a poem so incredibly sensuous, so amazingly rich and pleasing to the ear, that manages at the same time to not only paint with exquisite precision a series of delicate images (so that reading it you can almost imagine this great mythic vase) but also to be a direct and compelling statement of Keats' overall aesthetic philosophy. If you want poetry at its purest, its most classical - this is it. It's ironic perhaps, and also one of the greatest joys of this poem that much of what Keats says of the Urn is as true today of his own poetry. "When old age shall this generation waste / Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe / Than ours, a friend to man." If that isn't true of John Keats, I don't know what other poet it's true of. Aseem P.S. Another interesting read to go along with this poem is of course Yeats' Byzantium [Poem #60] - two great poets, saying, in a way, the same thing, yet so very different!