Ode on a Grecian Urn

Keats, John

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela
  • Date of entry: May-07-2001


Keats describes his reaction to a Grecian urn painted with images of maidens, pipers and other Greeks. While the melody of modern day pipes may be sweet, Keats finds the painted pipes sweeter. They are not mere sensual pleasure, but guide one to a higher sense of ideal beauty. The other images have a similar effect, as they are frozen forever at the moment of highest perfection.

One part of the urn shows a youth about to kiss a maid. Keats envies the lover, for though he will never actually kiss his love, she will ever remain fair and they will forever be in love. The painted trees will also forever be perfect, never losing their leaves. When Keats' world passes away, this beautiful object will still remain and tell man that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."


Keats articulates a common Romantic belief that beauty is the path to truth--to higher knowledge and the proper basis of democratic society. The urn, like other art (including the poet's), functions to remind man of this basic truth, urging him to establish the most just of social realities.

The poem also captures a delicate sense of balance between pleasure and pain. The youth is caught, for instance, between the painful anxiety preceding his kiss and the pleasure of the kiss itself. The trees are at their peak, on the border of Fall and their death. It is this moment, between pleasure and pain, death and life, that was most treasured by the Romantic poets.


First published: 1820

Primary Source

Poetical Works


Oxford Univ. Press

Place Published

New York




H. W. Garrod