Friday, May 11, 2007

Ode On A Grecian Urn by John Keats

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

As I was looking around at poetry sites, I clicked on this poem because of the scene in The Music Man where the Ladies' Dance Committee is doing their interpretation of "ONE GRECIAN URN...TWO GRECIAN URNS...AND NOW A FOUNTAIN...TRICKLE TRICKLE TRICKLE" (Written in all caps because it's Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn saying it, and she speaks in ALL CAPS).

I was pleasantly surprised to find what a nice poem it is. It took me back to that great Greek and Roman Mythology class I took at BYU. It really was a great class without exaggeration. Professor Duckwitz had a pleasant foreign accent-- though not too foreign to be hard to understand -- and class consisted of him telling us stories and showing us slides of Greek art. He gave us all sorts of tools to use in identifying who the person is on a vase. There's Odysseus in his travelling hat, Hermes with his Caduceus and winged shoes (when somebody asked where Hermes got his winged shoes, he would always say, "Florsheims"), Herakles with his Lion skin, Athena with her helmet, etc... Another good method of telling who's who is to look for writing on the vase--they often write the person's name above their head. We read Ovid's Metamorphoses (one of the few required reading books I still have on my shelf) and The Odyssey. If nothing else, taking this class made going to the art museum make so much more sense -- almost everybody painted scenes from mythology, and if I don't recognize it right off, the title of the painting will clue me in. I'd recommend this class to anyone with the slightest interest in the subject.

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