Ode on a Grecian Urn: Poem Stanza 2 - Summary & Analysis

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 Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,
Pipe to the spirit dities 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
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Summary

     Lines 11—14 Heard melodies.....no tone: In these lines from the Grecian Urn Keats asserts the superiority of the imagination over reality. On a Grecian urn, the poet sees the figure of a piper playing on his instrument. He cannot hear the music made by the piper, but he can imagine it. However great the pleasures of the senses may be those of the imagination are still greater. The unheard music is far sweeter than the music heard by the mortal ears. Keats here affirms the power of the imagination to create and enjoy which far surpasses the music heard in reality. For Keats ‘what the imagination creates on Beautiful must be true whether it existed before or not.” Imagination has ample scope for divine enjoyment of music that on earth is not” So the poet asks the sculptured piper to play on softly breathing instrumental music consistently, so that the imagination may ceaselessly enjoy the ‘unheard music’ far sweeter than any real pipe can make.

      Lines 15—20. Fair youth, beneath.....she be fair: In, these lines the poet compares the permanence of art with the transitory of human life. The prerogative of the sculptor is suggested in these and the following lines. The figures created by him enjoy an immortal existence. The sculptured young musician under the trees has not to give up his song as the earthly musicians have, nor the sculptured trees can ever shed their leaves. The sculptured lover need not regret that he can never kiss his beloved, though, as depicted on the urn, he is almost on the point of attaining his object, i.e., kissing his beloved. Keats asks this lover not to feel sad at his inability to kiss the girl. The lover should find sufficient consolation in the fact that this girl will never grow old and that his love for her will never decline.

      Thus in sculpture, the various forms of life are eternised, the artist has been able to make immortal the changing aspect of the life he has depicted the situation of the moment and it is to last forever. The piper beneath the trees and the trees themselves in their inanimate life, the lover and his object in real life, have long passed away; - but here upon the surface of the urn, in the life of Art, they will remain for all times to come. For a similar idea, compare the following lines of Lessing: “It is to a single moment that the material limits of art confine its imitations... Furthermore, this single moment receives through art an unchangeable duration.”

Critical Analysis

      This wonderful passage is identical in wording and sentiment with a fragment of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, with which Keats could not have been acquainted:—Harmonia he aphanes phaneaas kreitton—boson opsie akoe malhesis-tauta ego protimeo” which, rendered into English, means: “Unheard harmony is better than heard harmony’. I prefer that, which does not come within the range of the senses, to things which admit of sight, hearing or perception.”
In other words, things which are outside the range of sense perception are preferable to those which are within it. For the idea compare the following lines

“To his capable ears
Silence was music from the holy spheres”
—Keats, Endymion
“Sweetest melodies
Are those which are by distance made more sweet”
Wordsworth: Personal Talks

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