John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
Here are some questions to help you with your reading of Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” two of the most famous poems in the language!
Both poems set up an opposition between the real world of experience and the ideal world of the imagination. Think about “Ode to a Nightingale” in relation to the following diagram:
By paying close attention to the language of the text, describe the process by which the speaker’s consciousness moves from reality to ideality, and then back again.
Can we think of the nightingale’s song and its effects in terms of “negative capability”? How?
What brings the speaker back down to earth, so to speak?
How is the speaker’s consciousness at the end of the poem (A1) different from his consciousness at the beginning (A)?
Questions on “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:
Start by describing in detail the world depicted on the urn. How does the world of the urn compare with the “real world”?
How does this poem correspond to that diagram? On the basis of your response, how do you read the final statement spoken by the urn: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”?
Why are unheard melodies sweeter than heard ones?
How does the speaker’s perspective on or evaluation of the urn change? What is the final “value” of the urn? If the urn is a “still unravish’d bride” (1) at the beginning of the poem, what is its value to the speaker at the end?
Daniel E. White