Ode on a Grecian Urn

I’m on a Romantics kick, apparently.  The other day we had a meeting of students going on the upcoming trip to Europe, including a couple of days in Rome, where I told them we had to make a pilgrimage to the Keats Shelley Museum.  I’ve given Shelley his due recently; here’s some Keats for balance.

The photo is from a school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Spring 2014, with students from my Greek Literature class. Quite possibly my favorite picture I’ve ever taken of students doin’ that learning thing.


“When old age shall this generation waste,/ Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe/ Than ours…”

 Ode on a Grecian Urn
by John Keats

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

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:
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 wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
         “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

What Is Your Favorite Work Of Art?

It has occurred to me that Michelangelo might be my favorite artist.  I’ll be in Rome with students in April, so I’m reading Ross King’s Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling.  I’m loving all the minutiae about the creation of the Sistine Chapel, from detailed information about pigments (did you know ‘ultramarine’ is so called because it describes the place far from the sea (as the name suggests) — Afghanistan! — where the lapis is quarried that’s used to make it), to the political intrigues surrounding Pope Julius II (The Warrior Pope!) and the office politics of the renaissance art world.

Halfway through the book, I realize that I’m enjoying it as much as I am because I love the Sistine Chapel.  I’ve seen it twice in my life and both times I stood there in the crowd, looking up at its immensity and grandeur, and I swooned like the heroine of a Victorian novel; it quite literally took my breath away.  So did the statue of David (and the gallery of figures emerging from the marble leading up to it).  Van Gogh and Chagall rank highly in my esteem as well, but Michelangelo…no lie: I swooned.

And I can’t wait to do it again.

So have you swooned before a work of art?  Even if you haven’t, what would you say is your favorite work and why?