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Alan Liu

John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (1819)


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                 5
   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                  10 


Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
   Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared, 
   Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave              15
   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!                               20 


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!                           25
   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.                    30 


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 dressed? 
What little town by river or sea shore,                                   35
   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.                            40 

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!                                             45
   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."                   50

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