Keats' Sensuousness and Pictorial Quality in Ode on A Grecian Urn

Sensuousness in the Poem:

Sensuousness is the paramount quality of Keats’ poetical genius. Keats is pre - eminently the poet of the senses and their delights. No one has created to and gratified the five human senses (touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing) to the same extent as Keats. He is a great lover of beauty in the concrete. His religion is the adoration of the beautiful. Keats believed in sensations. Sensations come direct from the perception of objects. So he exclaimed “O, for a life of sensations rather than of thought!” Sensations are more important for him than thoughtful or intellectual considerations. Keats does not trouble to find truth, truth comes to him through beauty and beauty comes to him through the application of the five senses. The exercise of the five senses is as natural to him as leaves to a tree. 

In the poem Ode on A Grecian Urn, there is a piper on the Urn and he is piping ditties of no tone, but the poet listens to these voices and makes as listen: 

“Heard melodies are sweet but those unheard 
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d, 
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.” 

Next the sense of touch is found. Keats presents soft, delicate and delightful objects of nature, and art. One would very much like to see and touch them for their softness, charm and delicacy. The Grecian Urn is an object of art which one would like to touch and examine at close quarters. The piper, the trees, the trodden grass and the heifer lowing at the skies are certain objects which are to be touched to be believed. 

The Ode on A Grecian Urn contains a series of sensuous pictures passionate men and gods chasing reluctant maidens, the flute players playing their ecstatic music, the fair youth trying to kiss his beloved, the happy branches of the tree enjoying an everlasting spring, etc. The ecstasy of the passion of love and of youth is beautifully depicted in the following lines: 

“More happy love! more happy happy love! 
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd 
For ever panting, and far ever young.” 

Pictorial Quality:

John Keats, the romantic poet of the younger generation, made a mark in the world of literature by virtue of his sensuousness and love of beauty. There is no moral preaching in him. His poems appeal because they are beautiful in themselves and tell heart - easing things. The most beautiful thing about his art of expression is his art of presenting pictures. We can clearly see pictures of what he talks about. The pictures are vivid, graphic, colourful and faithful. An extra element of romance and wonder is added to every picture. Keats comes before us as an artist in words.


Keats' Sensuousness and Pictorial Quality in Ode on A Grecian Urn
 Keats' Sensuousness and Pictorial Quality in Ode on A Grecian Urn

Keats contacts with painters and art critics proved of immense help to him. Leigh Hunt, Haydon, Charles Brown, Joseph Severn and William Hazlitt had a great impact on the poetic art of Keats. Hunt instructed Keats in the art of appreciating pictures. He believed in close relationship between poetry and painting. With Haydon, Keats visited the British Museum and the two together went to see the Elgin Marbles and Italian paintings. 

Keats had the eye of an artist. He observed objects of beauty with a keen delight and presented them the way an artist would do. He did it in words as painters do it in colours. Ian Jack wrote, “Keats was not a painter, but he loved painting, and his poetry would not be what it is if he had not learned partly from Hazlitt - to see Nature with the creative eye of a lover of art.” 

The most important aspect of his pictorial quality is the sensuous appeal of his pictures. We know Keats was a sensuous poet. That is, his fine senses were very keen and he perceived objects through his senses. The presentation of objects also applied to the senses of the readers. As a result, his pictures appeal to our senses of sight, of taste, of smell, and of hearing. Moreover, at times we would like to touch the soft, delicate and delightful objects that he presents. Above all, it is the visual presentation which captures our attention. The sights clearly come to our mind when we read in the Ode on A Grecian Urn:

“Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave 
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; 
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 
Though winning near the goal - yet do not grieve: 
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 
For ever thou will love, and she be fair!” 

All the pictures presented on the Grecian Urn are visibly projected on the minds of the readers. They can see the ‘maidens loth’, ‘the mad pursuit’, ‘pipes and timbrels’, ‘the mysterious priest and that heifer lowing at the skies, / And all her silken flanks with garlands drest’. Picture which stirs the sense of hearing is the one of the piper in Ode on A Grecian Urn, it is song without words: 

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d, 
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone. " 

Saurabh Gupta

My name is Saurabh Gupta. I have designed this blog to help those students and people who are greatly interested to get knowledge about English Literature. This blog provides precious knowledge and information about English Literature and Criticism.

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