Ode to a Grecian Urn Summary

Ode on a Grecian Urn
By John Keats
John Keats
John Keats was born on
October 31, 1795.
At the age of 8 his father died
from a fractured skull after
falling off a horse and his
mother died from tuberculosis
six years later.
After their deaths Keats moved
to Hampstead where he met
Charles Brown who became a
good friend and wrote Keats’
memoirs. In them Brown said
that it was not until Keats read
Edmund Spencer’s Faery
Queen that he realized his own
gift for poetry.
John Keats
While writing for magazines of his time his
poems received constant critical attack, but his
odes were considered his masterpieces.
Keats is also know for his theory of “Negative
Capability” which expresses the belief that great
people have the ability to accept that not
everything can be resolved.
John Keats died on February 23, 1821 from
tuberculosis at the age of 25
Ode on a Grecian Urn
It was written in 1819 and
published in 1820.
It is one of Keats’ “Five Great
The ode follows a structural
pattern with each stanza
containing ten lines and ten
The first four lines of each
stanza are written in a
Shakespearian based quatrain
and the last six lines are a
Miltonic based sestet.
Literary Analysis
In the first stanza the speaker addresses the urn in front of him by
describing it as a historian. He admires the figure depicted on it and
wonders what legend they depict and from where do they come
In the second and third stanzas the speaker looks at a picture on the
urn, which depicts a man playing a pipe while lying next to his lover
under a group of trees. He believes that the man’s “unheard
melodies” sound better then anything mortal because they are not
affected by time. He also talks about how even though the man can’t
kiss the woman the love between the two will last forever unlike
mortal love.
In the fourth stanza the speaker looks at another picture, which
depicts a group of villagers taking a heifer to be sacrificed. The
speaker asks himself where they are taking the heifer to be
sacrificed and he imagines that their town will always remain silent
and that they will never return.
In the final stanza the speaker addresses the urn once again saying
how long after his generation it will still remain a mystery to others.
The main theme of “Ode on a Grecian Urn is the idea
that the figures in the urn are free from time and
simultaneously frozen in time. The figures never have to
confront aging and at the same time the man can never
kiss the woman and the villagers can never return to
their town.
This theme creates a paradox and also enforces the
theory of “negative capability.”
The last two lines of the poem prove to be the most
difficult to interpret, which is why they are place in
quotations. Some believe that if it is the speaker is
addressing the urn then he is indicating his awareness of
its limitations. If it is the urn addressing the speaker, then
it is basically saying that all human beings need to know
is beauty and truth and how they are the same.