Ode on a Grecian Urn
by John Keats
Our speaker is too good for this world. He has his head so far in the clouds it’s a wonder he’s not in outer space. He’s the very definition of the word "Romantic."
For one thing, he’s in love with a marble pot. When the poem opens, we think he’s standing in some dusty corner of the British museum, with his face pressed to a display case, telling an urn that it’s a beautiful virgin. In short, he sounds a little sexually frustrated. By the time he gets to stanza III, he’s sweating and out of breath. We want to hand him a cool glass of water and tell him to chill out.
He wants to be in love all the time. It’s almost like the first time someone falls into puppy love, and he’s absolutely certain that him and his love will "always" be together. Our speaker isn’t that naïve, and he knows that love comes and goes. But he wants to be love-struck again, complete with massive mood swings. Just look at how many different emotions he shows throughout the poem. One moment he’s admiring the urn’s beautiful shape, and the next moment he’s accusing it of being a "Cold Pastoral," like a jealous teenager who sees his girlfriend talking with another guy.
Our speaker is also insecure. He keeps comparing his own verses to the urn, and he decides that they’re nowhere near as good. He desperately wants to be a great artist, but he can’t even match the achievements of people who lived thousands of years ago.
Our speaker longs for the "good old days" of Ancient Greece, even though he only has a hazy idea of what it would be like to live back then. We think he’s looking to escape reality. It’s tough to be a Romantic in a workaday world filled with bills to pay, errands to run. Maybe you’ve seen the movie Pleasantville, in which a young guy uses a magic remote control to teleport himself into his favorite 1950s television show, where it’s always 72 degrees and sunny and everyone always bowls strikes. This poem is a lot like that. To avoid his real life, the speaker wants to teleport himself into the world of the urn.
Finally, our speaker reminds us of that guy who stands outside the local café or grocery store and tries to start a conversation with everyone who passes by. "Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?" "Gee, that’s a good-looking dog, what’s its name?" "Hey, little buddy, is this your mom?" "Well, isn’t she just adorable." He talks to literally almost everything on the urn, from the trees to the pagan priest to the empty town. In poetry-speak, this is called "apostrophe," but we think "chatterbox" is an equally good description of this guy.