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Themes

Few people have defended the value of art quite like John Keats. He goes so far as to suggest that the most powerful truths are to be found only in art. This has led some people to criticize him for worshiping dead, inanimate objects: like the urn of this poem. But that’s probably too simplistic of a view. More likely, Keats believed that truth was conveyed through emotions and experiences, not logic or arguments, and that the greatest truths could only be expressed in silence. The urn, for example, has been sitting in ruins or in some dusty room for thousands of years, waiting for sensitive souls like the speaker to come by and listen with a "spiritual ear." And, of course, the same could be said of Keats’s poem, which is just a collection of words on a page until the reader approaches it with the right attitude of discovery.

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. Why does the poem center on an Ancient Greek artifact? What do we learn about the culture of Greece from the poem?
  2. How does the poem resemble the urn as an artistic object? How are they different?
  3. What is the role of music in the poem? Does the poet consider himself a kind of musician?
  4. Does the equation of truth and beauty in the final lines mean that truth can only be found in art, or is there another explanation?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

According to the poem, music is the greatest art form.

Although the speaker says that his rhymes are not as effective as the tale told by the urn, by the end it is clear that he feels his art is superior to the craftsmanship of the urn.

The speaker repeats the same artistic mistakes as the creator of the urn.

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