Literary Devices in Ode on a Grecian Urn

Text of the Poem 6
"art desolate..."   (Text of the Poem)

The urn itself is a symbol of both life and death: life in the timelessness of its art and death in the intended use of the urn (ashes). By presenting images of joy and sacrifice on the urn, Keats tells the reader we can’t have joy without despair, we can’t have life without death, and the immortality of art means it must withstand both forever.

"To what green altar..."   (Text of the Poem)

This stanza suggests the narrator is looking at a different side of the urn with a different aspect of the painting. The narrator specifically calls the altar “green” to tell the reader it is a visual image not a figurative altar. Now we understand sacrifice is another decoration on the urn, symbolizing that art is not simply eternal happiness, but also eternal pain.

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard Are sweeter..."   (Text of the Poem)

Here Keats presents both a double entendre and a paradox. Keats is referring to the silence in which the urn tells its stories and the sounds he imagines coming from the pipes painted on the urn.

"What men or gods are these..."   (Text of the Poem)

Literally speaking, the narrator is addressing the art on the urn. However, taking into account the previous lines that address the urn’s ability to tell stories, this is the narrator’s plea for the urn to answer questions about life, death, and art to uncover what the urn has learned during its extended time on earth. With these questions, Keats establishes the relationship between art and its audience as a means to discover truth, a main theme of this poem.

"unravish'd bride of quietness..."   (Text of the Poem)

In the first line the narrator addresses a Grecian Urn as the “unravish’d bride of quietness,” suggesting his admiration for an object that can’t literally speak. Using personification to address the urn communicates the importance of the archaic object in consideration of the narration of the poem.

"a parching tongue..."   (Text of the Poem)

Keats compares the effects of "breathing" or mortal passions with a disease whose symptoms include fever ("a burning forehead"), dehydration ("a parching tongue"), and a broken heart. The word "cloy'd" also suggests that human passion is sappy or overly sweet, where the immortal love on the urn is timeless and refined.