"Ode on a Grecian Urn"
By John Keats

Transcription, correction, editorial commentary, and markup by Students and Staff of the University of Virginia
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Sources

London : Taylor and Cressey, 1820"Ode on a Grecian Urn" was composed in 1819 and first published anonymously in the journal Annals of the Fine Arts that year. It was then published in 1820 in an edition of Keats's poems entitled Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St, Agnes and other Poemsissued by the London publisher Taylor and Cressey. Our edition follows the version in the 1820 volume, which differs slightly from the version published the year before (see especially the note to line 47). Page images have been sourced from Google Books.

Editorial Statements

Research informing these annotations draws on publicly-accessible resources, with links provided where possible. Annotations have also included common knowledge, defined as information that can be found in multiple reliable sources. If you notice an error in these annotations, please contact lic.open.anthology@gmail.com.

Original spelling and capitalization is retained, though the long s has been silently modernized and ligatured forms are not encoded.

Hyphenation has not been retained, except where necessary for the sense of the word.

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Materials have been transcribed from and checked against first editions, where possible. See the Sources section for more information.


Citation

Keats, John. "Ode on a Grecian Urn". Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, Taylor and Cressey, 1820 , 113-116 . Literature in Context: An Open Anthology. http://anthology.lib.virginia.edu/work/Keats/keats-grecian. Accessed: 2024-04-18T01:10:15.11Z

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113 Ode on a Grecian Urn 1. 1Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness, 2Thou foster-child of silence and slow time, 3Sylvan historian, who canst thus express 4A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: 5What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape 6Of deities or mortals, or of both, 7In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? 8What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? 9What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? 10What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? 114 2. 11Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 12Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 13Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd, 14Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: 15Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave 16Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; 17Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 18Though winning near the goal — yet, do not grieve; 19She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 20For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! 3. 21Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed 22Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; 23And, happy melodist, unwearied, 24For ever piping songs for ever new; 115 25More happy love! more happy, happy love! 26For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd, 27For ever panting, and for ever young; 28All breathing human passion far above, 29That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd, 30A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. 4. 31Who are these coming to the sacrifice? 32To what green altar, O mysterious priest, 33Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, 34And all her silken flanks with garlands drest? 35What little town by river or sea shore, 36Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, 36Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? 37And, little town, thy streets for evermore 37Will silent be; and not a soul sto tell 38Why thou art desolate, can e'er return. 116 5. 39O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede 40Of marble men and maidens overwrought, 41With forest branches and the trodden weed; 43Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought 43As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral! 44When old age shall this generation waste, 45Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 46Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 47Beauty is truth, truth beauty"BeautyBeautyThis closing couplet is a famous example of a situation where an important part of a poem exists in two different versions, versions that can lead to very different interpretations. In the version of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" that was published Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and other Poems, which is the version that we include in our anthology, Keats puts the phrase "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" in quotation marks, which makes it seem as though the speaker of the line might be the urn itself. But in the version that he published in the journal graphicAnnals of the Fine Arts in 1819 (depicted here), Keats did not, which makes it seem as if the speaker is the voice of the poet himself. Neither version is better or more authentic than the other; Keats never explained the why he added the quotation marks in 1820. But how we think about the poem can be quite different depending on which version of this closing couplet we are reading.--that is all 48Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Footnotes