Imagination in Keats
John Keats was writing in an era of romanticism where imagination, freedom, and innovation were becoming present in the writers of this time period. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a renowned poem written by Keats during the romantic era. If a person were to read any of Keats poems, one would realize that a newly emergent style is present in all of his works. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” exhibits signs of imagination through the work with the ideas it speaks about. Since imagination is the highest ideal and the most important thing in the world, Keats brings this idea to life with the descriptions of music, love, and youth. He wants the reader to imagine a world through the urn and not to see what would be present if the urn could act out the apparent scenes it portrays.
Keats writes about seeing a man playing the pipes and how sweet the music is. The urn has placed a frozen image in time of people playing music and he writes about how the music is sweeter unheard. “For ever piping songs for ever new.” To the speaker, the unheard song is forever new and wishes for the music not to play to the sensual ear for fear of damaging the thoughts of sweet music in his head. He is afraid that the beauty the urn exhibits will tell a greater tale then the image he sees. The speaker must believe that the imagination is the greatest thing because he wishes not to hear any of the music. He would rather look to the urn and see a man pictured smiling and staying on key then having the real thing present and playing.
The piping music is the ideal form of music when viewed from the urn. Since the urn has pictures frozen in time, one can see the pipe players always pictured the same way. This idea can make the observer hear the unheard music in his head and create a new song in his mind. Keats wanted to show the whole realm of imagination and he does this by explaining the sweet music and the pictures it portrays. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” shows full imagination because it deals with the observer’s imagination toward the urn. “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter ” The point that Keats wanted to get across is that many people could look at the same urn and have a mental picture in their mind and by using their imagination create thoughts that are pleasurable to them.
The urn also includes pictures of love. Keats explains how “two bold lovers never kiss,” and how much more pleasurable that picture is then seeing them kiss. He realizes that love has two sides to it and he sees the side of anticipation. “More happy love, more happy, happy love.” Since the act is never completed, he does not know the whole story. The loves could end in not kissing or fading away as some love does and Keats wishes not to see this. To Keats, the love can forever be anticipated which is sometime better then having the love. No bitter words of hate or ideas of acceptance are seen when viewing the urn because it does not portray the end result. The urn lets the viewer use their imagination to see the beauty of love and what it can be.
Keats would rather imagine the best love be anticipated then see bitter love emerge. The picture on the urn remains sweet through time and embodies what everlasting love should be. “Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, though winning near the goal- yet, do not grieve.” He wants to imagine a love where the lovers can not fade and they will be fair forever. When the speaker looks at the urn, they realize these traits. Keats would rather see an image of love that can be the best love of all and never see the worst that could occur if the image was completed and real. Since bitterness can occur with love, one would like to imagine a love that is everlasting and sweet. Most ideals of perfect love are the same for many people therefore; the urn plays the best role for that idea.
Keats also writes about images of youth and how youth is portrayed on the urn. “Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave.” If the pictures were real then youth would fade to old images, which may not be the original beauty seen on the urn. Keats wishes for the images to remain forever young and he is glad that the urn can do this with the pictures it portrays. “When old age shall this generation waste, thou shall remain ” The urn will remain youthful through time while the viewers grow old with age and decay. The urn and the pictures it portrays show a youthful side of life that reality can never accomplish.
Through time, youth fades to age and life begins to decay. Though many would like to believe that they would live forever, time does fade and things move on. Keats writes about how the urn pictures youth at its prime and how the pictures on the urn can never fade away. Everything from the people to the trees will remain pure and beautiful with the youth they hold. One can imagine a beautiful tree with bright leave and a young girl underneath it untouched by age and decay. The urn plays a great role with imagination in the fact that it never changes through time. It can only remain the same with the same beautiful images that are present. One’s imagination can make wonderful stories occur and can bring the intended beauty to life. The urn is everything that youth represents because it remains timeless.
Keats wrote about music, love, and youth in ways that everyone would like to view it. He wrote about images of unheard music, untainted love, and everlasting youth that were pictured on a Grecian urn. He believed that those elements were better unfinished and untouched then to be completed with bitter decay. “Ode on a Grecian urn” shows imagination present in all of its ideal and needs. The speaker wishes for the pictures not to be completed so an image can be taken from the mind and real life can be hidden away. Since Keats wrote in the romantic era, his imagination and innovation made “Ode on a Grecian Urn” a profound piece for this time period.