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Ode on a Grecian Urn

Ode on a Grecian Urn


by John Keats

Ode on a Grecian Urn Theme of Transience

The people on this urn never have to deal with changes in their world. Their world is permanently frozen in a single moment. The poem contrasts the timeless world of the urn with the upside-down hourglass that is human life. In the real world, joyful panting after an erotic chase can easily turn into a fever and a bad case of dry mouth. What was once sweet can become a "cloying" mess.

Questions About Transience

  1. Would you ever choose to freeze one moment of your life forever? Why or why not?
  2. Why does the poet speaker think that is impossible to think about things like eternity? What does it mean for eternity to "tease us out of thought" (line 44)?
  3. How does the speaker know that the urn will remain "a friend to man" in future generations. Is the urn as eternal as he thinks it is, and does this relationship depend more on the urn or on men?
  4. How, if anything, does the poem suggest that we deal with painful changes?

Chew on This

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

The final lines of the poem suggest that all we can do as humans is cling to whatever momentary beauty we can find.

The speaker comes to take a more charitable view of transience by the end of the poem.

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