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Physical Value in Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn

Physical Value in Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn

The poetry of John Keats contains many references to physical things, from

nightingales to gold and silver-garnished things, and a casual reader might be

tempted to accept these at face value, as simple physical objects meant to evoke

a response either sensual or emotional; however, this is not the case. Keats, in

the poem Ode Upon a Grecian Urn, turns the traditional understanding of physical

objects on its head, and uses them not solid tangible articles, but instead as

metaphors for and connections to abstract concepts, such as truth and eternity.

In the poem, Keats dismisses the value of physical things as only corporeal for

what he feels is more substantial and lasting, the indefinite and abstruse

concepts behind them.

It would be beneficial to gain a historical perspective on the poem. Ode

Upon a Grecian Urn was written at the height of Keats’ creative output, in May

of 1819; in this same month he wrote the Ode Upon a Nightingale and the Ode Upon

Melancholy. It is worth noting that two of the subjects of these odes are

physical things, because Keats is chiefly remembered for his writing about

physical, sensual things. Yet he betrays this attempt at classification; the

Grecian urn is more than just an ancient piece of pottery which Keats values

because it has in some ways defeated time (“when old age shall this generation

waste / thou shalt remain. . . “, lines 46-47) and because it will never cease

depicting youth and gaiety (“. . .that cannot shed / Your leaves, nor ever bid

the Spring adieu”, lines 21-22). Keats values this urn because of the message it

conveys (directly or indirectly, a topic which will reviewed later), …

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…- C – E. There is alliteration also in the poem; “silence and slow”,

“leaf-fringed legend”, “Ah, happy, happy boughs” and “Of marble men and maidens

overwrought” are examples of such.

In conclusion, in the poem Ode Upon a Grecian Urn, the poet John Keats uses

language and the object of his poem, a urn from Ancient Greece, to link abstract

actions and concepts to physical, real, concrete things, in many different ways.

Using iambic pentameter, and a unique rhyme scheme, and some devices of

figurative language, Keats’ sets up a melodic, beautifully flowing poem which

well serves the purpose he gives it. Truly, abstract images and notions are

seamlessly, subtly connected to the physical world around them.

Works Cited

Hunter, J. Paul 1999. The Norton Introduction to Poetry. New York, New York. Ode Upon a Grecian Urn, pages 323-324.

Wood Imagery and the Cross in Faulkner’s Light in August

Wood Imagery and the Cross in Light in August

It is nearly impossible to interpret Light in August without noting the Christian parallels.1 Beekman Cottrell explains:

As if for proof that such a [Christian] symbolic interpretation is valid, Faulkner gives us, on the outer or upper level of symbolism, certain facts which many readers have noted and which are, indeed, inescapable. There is the name of Joe Christmas, with its initials of JC. There is the fact of his uncertain paternity and his appearance at the orphanage on Christmas day. Joe is approximately thirty-three years of age at his lynching, and this event is prepared for throughout the novel by Faulkner’s constant use of the word crucifixion. These are firm guideposts, and there are perhaps others as convincing. (207)

In fact, there are many more convincing Christian symbolisms, which, in sum, have led to Virginia Hlavsa’s suggestion that in Light in August “Faulkner arranged his events and directed his themes to parallel the 21 chapters of the St. John Gospel” (“St. John and Frazer” 11).2

These symbolisms, however, stray from the text of Light in August and seek to unify the novel through biblical or mythic allusions alone. They attempt to answer the questions of how Light in August functions as a work of literature by avoiding the novel itself. Because of this, they each fall short of being a definitive interpretation of the novel. In Francois Pitavy’s view, these critics do not base their interpretations on “methodical analysis.” They do not “study each chapter or group of chapters to see how and why the spatial and temporal breaks occur” (2). Faulkner’s use of Christian myths in Light in August has produced jagged paths for critic…

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…uri State University, 1995.

Gwynn, Frederick L., and Joseph Blotner, eds. Faulkner in the University. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1959.

Hlavsa, VirginiaV. “The Crucifixion in Light in August: Suspending the Rules at the Post.” Faulkner and Religion: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha 1987. Ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1989: 127-139.

——-. “St. John and Frazer in Light in August: Biblical Form and Mythic Function.”Bulletin of Research in the Humanities 83 (1980): 9-26.

——-. “The Mirror, the Lamp, and the Bed: Faulkner and the Modernists.” American Literature 57 (1985): 23-43.

Meriwether, James B., and Michael Millgate, eds. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner 1926-1962. New York: Random House, 1968.

Pitavy, Francois. Faulkner’s “Light in August.” Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1973

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