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How Does "Ode on a Grecian Urn" Use Personification?


Odes are poems that address a specific person or a thing, and they are a type of lyric poem. Odes typically do not have a regular meter, a set length or a specific rhyme scheme. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats personifies the urn in order to contrast the beauty of a permanent object with the transitional beauty of human existence.

Personification in the Poem

“Ode on a Grecian Urn” is divided into five stanzas, and each stanza is five lines. The narrator looks at a Grecian urn and meditates about its designs and their meaning. The urn is personified in many instances in the poem. The personification makes the urn represent permanence and beauty and acts in stark contrast to the transitional nature of human existence.

Personification using Metaphors

In the first stanza, Keats personifies the urn by comparing it to a foster-child and a historian. In particular, he states: “Thou still unrevised bride of quietness, thou foster-child of silence and slow time, Sylvan historian, who canst thus express.” These metaphors act in opposition to the reality of what the urn actually is. In particular, unlike human life, the urn lacks warmth and life and embodies immortality.

Personification in Emotions

In addition to using metaphors to personify the urn, Keats also gives the urn emotions. For example, he states, “Ah happy, happy, boughs! That cannot shed, your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu.” The personification of emotions allows Keats to show that the urn is full of human passions and beauty, much like people. Furthermore, by giving the urn emotions, Keats also connects notions of human life to the idea of nature and intertwines those images with beauty found in a piece of art, such as the urn.

Effect of Personification

Beauty and art are important themes in the poem. The Grecian urn represents the world of human passions and beauty in art and the lover of the urn sees something that time cannot erase or fade. In emphasizing the value of the urn, as an expensive and beautiful piece of art, Keats also draws attention to the fact that its beauty is not the important thing about it. As a result, the personification of the urn allows Keats to develop the larger theme, which is the idea that there is an ultimate art and it is supreme over nature.

About the Author

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

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