Ode on a Grecian Urn Teaching Guide
- 8 pages
- Subject: Allusion, Historical Context, Imagery, Literary Devices, Metaphor, Meter, Mythology, Rhyme, Themes, Vocabulary, Lesson Plans and Educational Resources
- Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
Additional Ode on a Grecian Urn Resources
Keats’s classic ode has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time sharing this poem with your class, these tips will ensure that the experience will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into the work of John Keats, one of the most important figures in the history of English-language literature. Studying “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is also an excellent way to explore the world of English romanticism, an artistic movement that remains influential to this day.
About This Document
Owl Eyes teaching guides have been designed to help first-time and veteran teachers open up classic works of literature for their students. Our guides provide rich background information, identify key themes and topics, and offer creative and practical approaches to teaching the text.
The main components of each guide include the following:
- A concise history of the text
- An explanation of significant allusions
- Teaching approaches and discussion questions
- Tricky issues to address while teaching
- Alternative teaching approaches
- A list of complementary texts
These teaching guides offer valuable context and promote meaningful discussions about novels, plays, poems, and stories that have captivated English Language Arts students for generations. Each guide is comprehensive and concise, thought-provoking and practical.
Approaches and Discussion Questions Excerpt
The Ephemerality of Human Life: Throughout the poem, the speaker is aware of mortality as an ever present force. The speaker, standing before an ancient urn, is acutely aware of the shortness of a single human life compared to the vast stretches of history reflected in the artifacts of antiquity. This perspective is revealed in the lines “When old age shall this generation waste/Thou shalt remain.” So, too, are modern readers of Keats’s poem aware of their finitude in the face of this two-hundred-year-old poem.
- For discussion: In which passages and images does Keats present the idea of human ephemerality?
- For discussion: Does Keats have a specific message about this theme? In light of this recognition of human finitude, does Keats offer a solution?
Art as a Space for Timeless Reflection: “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is considered a classic example of ekphrasis, a literary work which describes a piece of visual art. The poem brings its subject to life while showing how a piece of art can create a space for reflection. While humans are mortal, we can leave behind works of art that preserve what is most important to us. Thus, when we confront art from the past, we see what is familiar and therefore eternal. That is to say, we recognize what “cannot fade”: the patterns of human experience that persist across centuries and millennia.
- For discussion: Keats’s appreciation of the urn takes the form of another style of art: poetry. What is the effect of this recognition that we are encountering a work of art through another work of art? Can Keats’s ode be seen as an urn in its own right?
On the theme of art within art, it can be argued that “Ode on a Grecian Urn” contains a third layer of artifice: the song played by the piper on the urn. Therefore, we have a piece of music portrayed through a painted urn that is in turn portrayed through a poem.
- For discussion: Discussing the piper’s tune, the speaker claims that “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter.” What might that mean?