“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Those are the last lines from a poem called “Ode to a Grecian Urn” by John Keats, a “romantic poet”. These lines have been bothering me for quite some time now. Three days to be precise. Not like I am obsessing over them or anything but from the time I have read it, I keep wondering now and then – what the hell was he trying to say?
Potrait of John Keats. The poet sure was a beauty in himself apparently. Image courtesy - Wikimedia Commons
Potrait of John Keats. The poet sure was a beauty in himself. Image courtesy – Wikimedia Commons
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Like today I was making some tea, watching a random youtube video, a Chinese movie with English subtitles to be precise, when suddenly these lines popped up in my mind. Basically in the poem, Keats is addressing and analyzing an urn, he is trying to figure out the stories behind the paintings made on that piece of ancient art. Like there is a picture of a youth playing the flute while lying on a girl’s lap painted on one side, there is a picture of men chasing women on another and so on.
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Keats did not employ the simplest of language in his poetry, every line can have many meanings. But all the answers to what he meant by  “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” failed to satisfy me. For example some say that Keats probably meant that a lot of people chase their life in the pursuit of “truth”, of what life really means, but there is no such life defining truth, the only truth is the joy derived from beauty. Huh?
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Another explanation most people/scholars give is that Keats probably meant to say that there is no truth outside of art. Hmm…. maybe. Still not convinced. A lot of people agree that these lines that seem so very simple, almost as if it were a fact, truth is beauty, just like oxygen is in the air. But it’s not as simple! It’s one of the most simple-difficult line I have ever come across. There is the paradox, right there. The rest of the poem is easy-peezy, but these two lines are just not in sync with the rest of what he writes. Is Keats trying to say that beauty is immortal, like the painted urn from a different era, that is still pure and beautiful, while men rot and die. That one need not concern himself with too much of “world truths” and just enjoy the beauty one is surrounded with. Ugh. If only it were that simple.
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