Ode on a Grecian Urn: Poem Stanza 5 - Summary & Analysis

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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.

Summary

      This is how Keats interprets the lesson taught by the urn. Our thoughts no more compass the ideas and feelings awakened by the urn it can comprehend eternity itself. The same kind of baffled fueling is produced when we strive to grasp the infinite. When the present generation will lose the freshness and vigor of youth with the arrival of the old age, the urn will remain unwithered by old age amongst the coming generation of men on earth. It will soothe and comfort humanity with its beauty, like a friend conveying to them the great lesson. “There is nothing real but the beautiful and nothing beautiful but the real.”

      In this way, the urn will inspire humanity to seek shelter in the ideal eternity of Art. And the knowledge of the identity between what is true and what is beautiful is all that we need to have. We need not know more than this fundamental maxim which Keats considers to be the sum and substance of wisdom for man.

Critical Analysis

      The message of the urn is summed up in five pregnant words: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”. It is as close to a moral as Keats allows himself to go. The following words, “that is all ye know on earth and all need ye to know” are the comment of the poet, not the lesson of the urn. The concluding stanza of the poem expresses two philosophical ideas, (1) the incomprehensibility of the Infinite, in Art and Nature, and (2) the Ethics of Beauty. To Keats, Beauty is the touchstone of truth. “To see things in their beauty”, writes Matthew Arnold in reference to this passage, “is to see things in their truth,” and Keats knows it. “What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth”, he says in prose, and in immortal verse, he has said the same thing:—

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

      No, it is not all we need to know; but it is true, deeply true, and we have deep need to know it.” The identity of Beauty and Truth in this world is by no means complete. To Keats, of course, Beauty worshipper as he was, the identity did appear complete. Compare:

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”. — Keat: Endymion
“That first in beauty should be first in might”.
—Keats: Hyperion
“What the Imagination seizes at Beauty must be Truth”.
—Keats: Letter
“All Beauty is in the long run, only fineness of truth”.
—Walter Pater: Appreciations
“Even as Plato says that Beauty is the splendour of Truth”.
—Myers: Life of Wordsworth

      In this connection, we might also note Anatosh France’s wise words,—“If I were called upon to choose between beauty and truth, I should not hesitate; I should hold to beauty, being confident that it bears within it a truth both higher and deeper than truth itself. I will go so far as to say that there is nothing true in the world save beauty.”

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