The Role of Art in Poetry

These different ways of addressing this theme are partly because of their different styles of poetry. Keats is a Romantic poet, while Auden is more of the modern style. In these two poems we can see the marked differences between these two writing styles. We can also see the similarities in the message that these authors are trying to get across. This common message is one of the permanence of art in an ever changing world. First let’s take a minute to examine the two different styles of literature that these men used in the pieces.

These poems were written in two distinct methods, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” was written in the Romantic style, and “Musee des Beaux Arts” was written in the modern style. These two ways of writing are very different both in style, themes, and methods. While the earlier style of romanticism was more about a reflection of man in nature and the world around him, the modern style is more of a true telling of what is happening in the poets mind. The modern style may not be as flowery, or flattering as romanticism, but it is the truth as the poet sees it.

Some authors have been both Romantic and Modern poets but most of the poets that we have studied in this class are from one style or the other. Romantic poetry is a style that was marked by a fascination with the power of the interior of humans and the grand nature of human faculties. (Sanger, 2013) I think one of the best definitions of this poetic era comes from romantic poet William Wordsworth who said “All poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings reflected upon in leisure” (Sanger, 2013) . Before the Romantic period, poetry’s purpose was to imitate nature or to create a Mimesis. Greenblatt, 2006) The purpose of the written word was to record tradition, and there were rules of format that had to be followed. In the Romantic period however, it was the author who created nature and poetry was more spontaneous. There were no rules anymore. Poets were now lead by the heart and not the head. (Sanger, 2013) The Romantic period’s key idea was that the world is created by us when we experience it. This was an idea introduced by the philosopher Emmanuel Cant. Romantic poet Percy Shelly echoed this thought when he said “all things exist as they are perceived. (Sanger, 2013) Another great idea of this period was that if two ideas contradicted each other that it didn’t necessarily mean that they both weren’t true. That was the great thing about this age. It was all about the experience put down on paper, which is very similar to Modern poetry in that way. It was the way that they went about it that made these two styles so very different. The Modern period of literature was marked by a more fluid style. The poems in this period were filled by a stream of consciousness and were more experimental in nature.

The rules of rhyme and meter that were more popular in the Romanic period and were required in the eras before that were thrown out of the window for the most part. Modern poets were not as concerned with nature as the Romantic poets who went before them. The modernists were more focused on individual experience, and were very interested in experimentation with language and forms of literature. As modern poet W. H. Auden himself said, “Poetry is not magic, but a form of truth telling that should disenchant and disintoxicate. (Greenblatt, 2006) This is similar to the idea of defamiliarization which we learned about in Critical Writing and Literature Analysis. In Modern poetry there are even fewer rules than there were in Romanticism. The authors had free range to make up words, leave out punctuation and capitalization, and reinvent ancient mythologies. This was a whole new literary world. (Sanger, 2013) “Ode on a Grecian Urn” was written by John Keats in 1820 and it was written in the Romantic style of poetry.

This poem was part of the famous series of Odes that was written by Keats at the culmination of his poetic abilities. (Greenblatt, 2006) In this piece we see an ancient urn of unknown origin that is clearly admired by our author. Who are the figures on the Urn? Are they men or Gods? We will never know, but the answer to these questions is not very important. What they have to say and what we can learn from them is what is important. We learn the value of poetry and art from this poem. In this poem Keats starts out speaking to the urn itself. He calls it “Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness!

Thou foster-child of silence and slow time” (Greenblatt, 2006) Here he is speaking directly to the Urn and tells us that the Urn and its figures do not speak for themselves, that he does that for them with this poem. Its “father” who was the artist started this conversation, and now Keats is picking up where the unknown sculptor has left off. Keats goes on to say. “Sylvan historian, who canst thus express a flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme” (Greenblatt, 2006) . In this he is saying that the sculptor has done much better than the poet ever can. This is classic self deprecation that we have seen in other poems by our author.

Keats is well known for these tactics. As Keats continues this poem he goes on to ask us several questions about the sacrifice that is depicted on the urn. We are never given the answers to these questions because the urn cannot speak for itself. It cannot answer the questions that are put to it. The sculptor of this urn is long dead, along with anyone else that was around when it was made or when those depicted were in existence. The urn is left to stand alone through time in silent testament to history and art. In this stanza he is telling us of the permanence of art.

Once the piece of art is completed it is unable to change, the world changes around it, but the figures on the urn are forever young. As he starts the second stanza Keats leads with a statement in which he tells us that sometimes the mental experience of something is better than the actual experience. “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter” (Greenblatt, 2006) However, he also tells us that being depicted on an urn may not be all good. “Fair youth beneath the trees, thou canst not leave” (Greenblatt, 2006) . These figures have not only been immortalized, they have also been trapped.

We can see that this in a way is both a blessing and a curse. The youth will never get to kiss the one he loves but he can also never disappoint her. But Keats tells the youth “do not grieve; she cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, for ever wilt thou love, and she be fair” (Greenblatt, 2006) The Urn works both ways, the woman he loves cannot disappoint him either by aging or changing in any way. He also uses this stanza to drive home the idea of the permanence of art by repeating the word “Forever” throughout this part of the poem. Keats then goes on to addresses the objects he sees on the Urn.

In doing this he is telling us what he admires in life and nature as reflected in this artifact. These are things that Keats wishes he could hold onto forever instead of being sickly. He wants us to notice these things that he is pointing out because they are what keep art and poetry alive. They are representations of the best of life. Here we also find Keats’ use of nature in this poem which marks him as a romantic poet. “Ah, happy, happy boughs! That cannot shed your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu” (Greenblatt, 2006). These trees are also unchanging, they can’t shed their leaves or change seasons.

Keats is the same in a way because he will always be young. He will never be able to grow and mature, much like the tree on the urn. Keat s then goes on to talk more about the mysterious sacrifice he sees depicted on the urn and which he mentioned in the first stanza. He wonders about the possible lives of these people and where they are going. Again we are given no answers by the urn because it cannot speak. This is a repeat of the ideas we saw in the first stanza. It keeps the mystery of the urn alive. Who are these individuals? We don’t need to know. We can only guess at their intentions.

It is also his own way of saying that art has a life of its own. The people depicted could be nice everyday people, or they could be mass murderers. There is no way to know, that is a beautiful thing about art that it is very subjective. In the final stanza of this Ode we are reminded again that this Urn is a piece of art that has stood the test of time. The Urn has been around hundreds of years and will continue to last as long as someone cares for it. Even if the Urn itself is destroyed we will always have this poem to remember it by. Throughout this poem we see the same theme over and over, things that do not, and cannot change.

This we can see from this piece is both a blessing and a curse. While the figures depicted are visually always the same, they will never get to experience the wisdom and fulfillment that comes with a full life. I come finally to the most quoted line of this poem “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” (Greenblatt, 2006) . This line is the epitome of the transcendental ideals which are another cornerstone of the Romantic ideals. This idea shows that there are three sides to the same thing. Truth is reality, goodness is in accord with truth, and beauty reveals something’s goodness. Sanger, 2013) We can see when we look at this statement in the correct light and using this theory that a thing is beautiful if it reveals its truth. (Sanger, 2013) I believe that this poet has accomplished the goal that he has set for himself with this final line. This poem reveals the truth of art and poetry and how one can reflect on the other. The Urn is in a way a poem itself. What Keats says about the urn is also true about the poem. He is creating his own Urn when he writes this poem. We can see the dying poet wishing that he himself was more like the urn he speaks of.

Keats wishes that he was the “fair youth” that the Urn depicts. It is interesting to note that often in ancient times urns were used for funerary rites and would even sometimes contain the remains of people. This urn that Keats has created contains him in a way as it has helped keep his memory alive for hundreds of years after his death. This poem is Keats’ own stab at the immortality that the urn has attained for its sculptor, even if we don’t know who that sculptor was. He is writing a poem that he hopes will outlive us all like the urn has. Keats uses art to depict a theme of hopeful hopelessness.

He knows he will not live and is doing his best to leave his mark upon the world much like the maker of the urn has. Clearly this Urn has stood the test of time since presumably it has been around for centuries at this time. This is what Keats is attempting to do with all of his poetry and I believe he was successful or we would not be discussing him in this class. The second poem for this assignment, “Musee des Beaux Arts” was written by W. H. Auden in 1938. The style of this poet in our book is described as “flat, ironic, and conversational” (Greenblatt, 2006) and I think that is a good description of this poem in general.

It is almost like we are eavesdropping on a conversation about a recent visit to an art museum. In this conversation we see though that there is a value to the art that he is describing to us. In the first stanza of this poem we are introduced to the artist of the painting without actually knowing who he is or what painting we are talking about. What we do know is that he was one of the “Old Masters” and that in Auden’s opinion they had the right way of looking at things. They could see the truth of human existence and that the great and the terrible can happen alongside each other.

They saw things as they should be seen. They noticed things that most people don’t, as we see when we go further into the piece. Auden goes on to depict a birth that he describes as miraculous. As we discussed in class this can be seen as the birth of Christ (Sanger, 2013) However since I have no religious knowledge, when I read this piece I saw it as birth in general. All births are in their way miraculous. There are also often children waiting alongside the aged for their younger siblings to be born. While the old people love to see babies born the children often wonder if the baby will take their place.

In this vignette we can see that there are two sides to every story. Next Auden reminds us again that the masters have not forgotten the truths that our author is talking about. One of these being, “That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course” (Greenblatt, 2006). With this he is reminding us that although bad times can come and we often feel abandoned that it too will pass. He is saying that no matter what is happening in the world the dogs and horses of the world go on doing their thing and that the world continues turning. Finally in the last stanza Auden tells us the name of the painting that he admires so much.

The painting that he calls “Brueghel’s Icarus”, is in fact the painting “The Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Brueghel. According to the notes in our textbook “Auden also alludes to other paintings by Brueghel: the nativity scene in ‘The Numbering at Bethlehem’, skaters in ‘Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Bird Trap’, a horse scratching it behind in ‘The Massacre of the Innocents’” (Greenblatt, 2006) We can see from this that Auden seems to have a full knowledge of this artist’s works. In Brueghel’s Icarus we have a very interesting scene. The mythological figure Icarus struggles against death after his famously disastrous flight and crash.

While this is happening the people around him just go on with their days. Many of the people who are present n this painting seem to know what has happened and simply go about their business anyway. We are clued in to this fact when he describes Icarus’ calls for help with the evocative imagery of “the forsaken cry” (Greenblatt, 2006). This phrase brings to mind a cry that is heard but ignored. The ploughman hears this but goes on with his work. The crops wait for no one. We continue to see in this poem that despite this horrible thing happening to Icarus the world goes on around him.

The sun still shines even on the drowning boy’s legs. The ship that encounters him has better places to be so they simply sail past the drowning teenager. “The expensive delicate ship that must have seen something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. ” (Greenblatt, 2006) Auden clearly tells us here that the ship had to have seen the boy but the crew still went about their business as if nothing had happened. An interesting thing to note in this piece is that throughout this poem Icarus is addressed as a boy.

I believe that the author does this to tell us that even mythical people are just that, people. The mythical, the amazing, and the horrible all exist alongside each other. This whole poem is about this theme. The great things that we hear about are also things that just happen to people. Most of the time, the world around these people does not, or chooses not to notice the great and terrible everyday events. These things that happen are ignored and moved past on a daily basis. Even the people who they happen to are expected by the world to move on and get over it.

There is no way to know if Auden meant this poem as a criticism of society, or a wakeup call to those who read it, but in a way we can see how it would be one or both of these. The world is asleep; we see the suffering in the world all around us and generally we do nothing to stop it. He is saying that bad things happen next to good things, and that the world is an amazing place. We often don’t notice that fact unless it is pointed out to us as it has been pointed out to us by Auden with this poem. We can see when we look at these poems side by side that while they are very different they are attempting to do the same thing.

Both of these authors are using poems about art to show us great truths about the world and how we see it. They are both trying to tell us that art has great value. Paintings and Urns are in their own ways a kind of time capsules that we can use to look back on the past and these poems have that power as well. They are time capsules because each of them is a great example of their respective genres of poetry. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a great example of Romantic poetry because in it Keats uses nature imagery and tells us of the great human faculties that exist in all of us if we just look around us.

At the same time “Musee des Beaux Arts” is a great example of Modern poetry with its lack of rhyme scheme or pattern. Auden’s style is much more casual but still gets the point across. The point of this poem is that art is there to be a representation of the world, that we should take the time to look at it, and the world around it. Art and poetry are both about how they affect you as a person, how they shape your world. These poems both do a great job of awakening the power of art in all of us. If we take another look at both of these poems we can see that while they are very different that they do share some similarities.

They both share the same theme of art and artists, and the permanence of art in a changing world. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats writes “When old age shall this generation waste, thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe” (Greenblatt, 2006). This passage reads almost like a line from “Musee des Beaux Arts”. In this line we can see the great parallel in these poems. Keats is saying here exactly what Auden has, that the world does not stop for great events. The Urn will sit “in the midst of woe” (Greenblatt, 2006) much like the world that we see in “Musee des Beaux Arts” moving around both great and horrible events happening.

People go on with their lives despite these things. The great masters in Auden’s piece along with the Sylvan historian in Keats’ understood this fact. This is why art is created, to remind us of the world that was. It may not be a true representation of the world, because it is the artist’s version of the world. Bibliography Greenblatt, S. (2006). The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton ;amp; Company, Inc. Sanger, K. (2013). Class Notes. (D. M. Phelps, Performer) Flint, MI, USA.