Allusion in Ode on a Grecian Urn

As is common in the poetry of John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” owes much of its subject matter to ancient Greek culture and mythology. The titular urn is an ancient Greek artifact whose surface the speaker studies carefully. The images painted onto the urn reflect scenes that are at once particular to Greek culture and yet reflective of broader human experiences. The romantic chase takes place in “Tempe or the dales of Arcady,” locations on the Greek peninsula, and yet the lover’s chase is a timeless part of human life. As Keats envisions it, the role of art is to identify what is timeless in a particular image, object, or scene. His use of allusion serves that very goal.

Allusion Examples in Ode on a Grecian Urn:

Ode on a Grecian Urn 2

"Attic shape..."   (Ode on a Grecian Urn)

"Attic shape" is a reference to Attica, a historical region of Greece that includes Athens. This line tells the reader where the urn was crafted, but more importantly comes in direct contrast with the tone of the first stanza when the narrator embellished the urn as a bride. Now the urn is nothing more than a “shape,” implying the narrator’s fading amazement with it.

"Tempe or the dales of Arcady?..."   (Ode on a Grecian Urn)

Tempe is a valley in Greece known for pastoral lands of great beauty. Arcady indicates the ancient Greek state of Arcadia. Mentioning Arcadia and Tempe establishes the the old age of the urn as well as brings to mind images of rustic, idealistic beauty.