John Keats expresses his feelings on many matters of the complex world in which he lived in two of his poems, "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn". Since the two have many similarities, as well as differences, coupling them can result in some overall conclusions. Within these two odes, Keats suggests that life in his time was full of suffering, sorrow, and pain. He then implies that this harsh reality is worth enduring because of the beauty that lies beneath and that has a tendency to resurface. He also proposes that it is actually all of the negative aspects of life that allow one to realize true beauty. Keats achieves this in these two works through the use of many themes and symbols. This allows him to effectively convey his feelings, observations, and conclusions about the aspects of life he analyzes.
The first aspect of interest is Keats" development of the cruel reality of the world that surrounds the speakers. In both poems they seem to be fixated on their own woe and despair. In "Ode on a Grecian Urn" the speaker begins by asking many questions directly towards an aged urn. He asks it, "What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? / What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? / What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?" (8-10) He sees a beautiful scene that features happy young men, maidens, revelers, and minstrels underneath fully leaved trees. He is awed by the scene depicted on the urn and wants to know "what leaf-fring"d legend haunts about [its] shape" (5). The descriptive imagery contained in his questions allows the reader to visualize some of the details of the picture, such as the man chasing a maiden. He says to him "never canst thou kiss, / yet, do not grieve; / She cannot fade" (17-19). The other side of the urn, described in the fourth stanza, depicts a procession of priests and villagers on their way to make a sacrifice. To this the speaker asks, "What little town by river or sea shore, / / Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?" (35-37) By addressing the town from which the priests and villagers came, something that is not actually physically pictured anywhere; the speaker reaches his deepest analysis of the urn.