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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

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""Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty,"..."   (Ode on a Grecian Urn)

The poem concludes with a now-famous aphorism: "'Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.'" Here Keats establishes an equivalence between two of the transcendental properties of being articulated by Plato: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. There is no simple summary of Keats's formulation. Indeed, the final wisdom of the urn has been a source of ongoing debate among poets, readers, and scholars for the last two centuries. There are debates over both Keats's intended meaning and the veracity of the aphorism. One way to parse the phrase is to say that objects and scenes of great beauty contain some form of truth for the beholder. That is to say, things occur to us as beautiful for a reason. Conversely, truth itself—the elegant articulation of the world—brings its own illuminating beauty into the world. One might say that, in the context of the poem, the urn offers beauty to be transmuted into truth ("Beauty is Truth") and that Keats's poem is, as an artifact of language, an assertion of truth that is also beautiful, both for its precision of form and its clarity of thought ("Truth Beauty").

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

"Attic shape" is a reference to Attica, the Greek peninsula whose most prominent city is Athens.

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

Tempe is a valley in Greece known for its pastoral lands of great beauty. Arcady refers to the ancient Greek state of Arcadia. The allusions to Arcadia and Tempe establishes the the old age of the urn and brings to mind images of pastoral, idealistic beauty.

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