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-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?

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 hast 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 this 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."



John Keats's sketch of the Sosibios Vase

Manuscript. Ode to a Grecian Urn


* No Greek vase has been found which corresponds to Keats's description; it is supposed to be based rather on his general recollection of various works of Greek art as found in the British Museum and as depicted in engravings.

Tempe: a valley in Thessaly famous for its beauty.

Arcady: Arcadia, a district of the Peloponnesus, a pastoral country; associated with pastoral poetry.

brede: "braid," an interweaving

tease us out of thought: draw us out beyond the limits of thought. This phrase occurs also in Keats's Epistle to Reynolds, written in March 1818: "Things cannot to the will/Be settled, but they tease us out of thought."

Beauty and truth are associated several times in Keats's letters: "What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth" (Nov. 22, 1817); ". . . in close relationship of Beauty and Truth" (Dec. 21, 1817); "I can never feel certain of a truth but from a clear perception of its Beauty" (Dec. 31, 1818). When the poem was first published in Annals of the Fine Arts, the last two lines were without quotation marks. In Lamia, etc., "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" was set in quotation marks as words of the urn, the rest being comment by the poet. This reading has caused unnecessary grammatical confusion. Keats was ill when Lamia, etc., was being prepared for the press, and we do not know who introduced the limited quotation. This text follows the example of the Riverside edition (Douglas Bush, ed.) in putting the last two lines in quotation marks.