Another strange history. This is from a severely backlogged project—I reread just the epigraphs the other day and was amazed how they told a story about the object in question, the urn. Thus, today, the Hollow Earth Society presents…
History of the Grecian Urn
Ut urna poesis.
Severe contemplators, observing these lasting relicks,
may think them good monuments of persons past, little advantage to future beings;
and, considering that power which subdueth all things unto itself,
that can resume the scattered atoms, or identify out of anything,
conceive it superfluous to expect a resurrection out of relicks:
but the soul subsisting, other matter, clothed with due accidents,
may salve the individuality.
Yet the saints, we observe, arose from graves and monuments about the holy city.
—Sir Thomas Browne, 1658.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make…
—William Butler Yeats, 1928.
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.
—A Grecian urn, via John Keats, 1819.
Being art, the urn retains its ability to “speak” to all who observe it,
reminding us of our paradoxical dilemma as mortals who exist in finite time.
—Dennis Dean, of Keats, 1997.
I am at first inclined to agree…
But on re-reading the whole Ode,
this line strikes me as a serious blemish on a beautiful poem,
and the reason must be either that I fail to understand it,
or that it is a statement which is untrue.
—Thomas Stearns Eliot, of Keats and his contemplators, 1929.
…Behind the official’s sedan chair as it hurries away
there arises from the already decomposed urn
someone high up who is arbitrarily endorsed
as ruler of the village.
I like almost anything that falls from the sky——Franz Kafka, 1917.
you know, snow, hail—
sleet even, when the sleet is mingled with very white snow.
Or anything that’s white.
Or duck eggs.
Or things that always give you a clean feeling, like
a new metal bowl,or an earthen pottery cup…
—Electra, via Charles Mee, 1992.