Heard Melodies Are Sweet But Those Unheard Are Sweeter Still

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Heard Melodies Are Sweet But Those Unheard Are Sweeter Still

Postby Meursault » Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:52 pm

I have been set work to write pretty well anything on any line of Keats. I have a new teacher and so being impressive would be good. I have written some stuff below; could someone please suggest some improvements, or if it's really terrible, a new line to work on?

“Heard Melodies Are Sweet, but Those Unheard Are Sweeter”

This line from “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is an example of Keats arguing that the power of thought, the imagination and anticipation is often greater than the act itself. Music and “melodies” that are imagined and anticipated are always in tune. They are played perfectly. A melody composed in the mind, cannot possibly be played badly or incorrectly. There is no possibility of error or an imperfect note. Therefore, Keats believes that imagining something brings more fulfilment and contentment than a “real” version ever could. He thinks that anticipation and expectation often outweighs the copy in the real world and that something real can only be disappointing compared to the imaginary.

In a similar way, Plato thought that life, material things, reality were like a shadow on a cave wall: he believed that like the shadow made by the flame behind the true image, we and the world in which we live, are an imperfect copy of a perfect world that can only exist in imagination and thought. Keats could even have been thinking of this when he wrote the line.

This belief that things of the mind are more beautiful and enjoyable than things bound by the constraints of reality is a recurring feature of Keats’s poems. In “The Eve of St. Agnes”, although Porphyro and Madeline escape together their love is never consummated, they never kiss, we never find out the end of the story and our expectation of what will happen is left, suspended in eternity. To finish the story would be to destroy the perfect, imagined conclusion and replace it with a real one which has an end and cannot possibly be as good as the picture in our minds. In “Ode to a Nightingale”, the Nightingale is part of an imagined world through the glass of a window. Keats tells us that such a place should be sought after in order to escape the “drowsy numbness” of the real world which does not produce anything to match the Nightingale and its song.

In this case, however, Keats is writing about the pipes and timbrels embossed onto the urn and is imagining them playing. He imagines such sweet melodies that he wants them to play on, not in reality to his “sensual ear”, but in his mind because there they are faultless and eternal; whereas in reality they are not only imperfect but finite.

The poem is about immortalising things through poetry and through the realms of our imagination. The urn is immortalised through Keats’s poem and the “sweet melodies” are perfectly immortalised through our own thought and imagination.
Meursault
 
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