Ode on a Grecian Urn: Poem Stanza 4 - Summary & Analysis

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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 dressed?
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.

Summary

      In these lines the poet, with the help of his imagination, brings before his mind the picture of a little town situated by the side of a river or on sea-shore or surrounded by mountains which must have been left by its inhabitants on this morning of worship. Just as the visible sacrificial scene is vividly impressive, so also the invisible town though it has not been depicted. From where did all these people come? It must have been some little town. And that town must have been emptied of all its pious folk? This little town whose folk have come out on this happy morning will remain empty and silent forever. Not a single soul will return to its streets to tell why it was emptied. In other words, the inhabitants represented on the urn as engaged in the ritual of the sacrifice are forever fixed on the urn and will never return to follow their usual avocation in the “little town’’.

Critical Analysis

      There is no town delineated on the urn, whether the urn is an ideal or an actual one. 'The little town'—in the poet’s kindly fancy is little—‘the home of those who have come forth to sacrifice —it is a creation of the poetic imagination and is not even present before the eyes. Yet, it shares the immortal trait assigned to the story of the work of art itself. This is an ingenious refinement of fancy. Yet it comes as naturally as the actual pictures painted on the surface of the urn. It is empty, and silent, all the inhabitants are gone to the sacrificial ceremony forever. Its citadel is peaceful, for it would have been out of harmony with the scene of rejoicing to introduce preparations for battle’.

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