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Keats Figurative Language Thesis

Page history last edited by Eric Leonidas 5 years ago


1. The speaker identifies "unheard melodies" as better than heard ones, and suggests that visual art--with its figures frozen in time--is preferable to an art like narrative that unfolds in time.


2. But the ode is a poem, and though in the 3rd stanza the speaker simply catalogs what he sees, by stanza 4 he asks questions about context and effects.


3. The poem emerges as capable of providing both satisfactions: image and effect, instant and narrative


In John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," the speaker proposes that a decorated urn's visual figures tell tales "more sweetly" (4) than can poetry.  The poem thus sets up a series of tensions between visual and poetic art.  As he continues on, the speaker grows ecstatic over a visual art's abilities to resist the depredations of time, and to continue on when "old age this generation waste" (46).  Nevertheless, it is the poetic persona who interprets the urn, giving meaning to what it leaves incomplete, and possibly speaking in place of its silence.  Ultimately, the poems' own form, containing the urn and the speaker's multiple reactions to it, and incorporating both poetic visual figures and temporal movement, displaces the urn as "more endeared" (13).  The urn might insist on the enduring truth of beauty, but the beauty of the poem seems more comprehensive, more human, than the urn's cold stasis.


Evidence: the speaker seems to privilege what can be seen ("unheard") over what can be heard (narratives in time, for example):

  • sights v. sounds
  • stasis v. change
  • life v. death


But, some complications, which ultimately seem to create a "second" perspective:

  • insights beyond what can be seen
  • speaker's insights
  • "cold" (unproductive) pastoral v. warm desire


In the end, "truth" in both forms of art (seen, heard), but a poem that can contain both would seem to be more "truthful"


























In David Wagoner’s lyric “My Father’s Garden,” the “melter” at the center of the poem is described as a hero, making and unmaking the world in his metal workshop.  His challenge is to retain a sense of imaginative creativity as he toils away at labor described as both physically demanding and monotonous.  A final simile suggests failure: his effort to envision his work as life-giving collapses onto a tired and forced comparison.  At the same time, the poetic speaker’s regular use of metaphor to depict his father demonstrates an imaginative empathy that might stand as a kind of inheritance.  If the father could not quite sustain the role of artist, he bequeathed to his child a commitment to plastic powers of mind.








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