Throughout the three poems that Keats composed: “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “Ode to a Nightingale” and “To Autumn”, Keats is principally concerned to explore the concepts of time, the relationships between art and nature, mortality and immortality, using a series of paradoxes both thematically and literally in the poem to contrast the main elements discussed in his work, and to enhance the fact that “Ode” in itself is a paradox as it is a result of both celebration and commemoration. However, he looks at these elements in depth from different aspects and perspectives in order to find a way in which art and nature can both exist, developing his ideas within the poems.
In all his three poems, he focuses on the main themes: art, nature and time. Nevertheless, although he looks at the same elements in these poems, he always finds different ways of understanding these concepts in all three poems, as if he is developing his ideas towards a final conclusion. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn” he propels the idea of nature contained by art; “Ode to a Nightingale” is about art contained in nature; whereas “To Autumn” reveals the idea that art and nature are reconciled. In each of Keats’s poems, he uses different techniques to back up the main idea that he wants to suggest in each ode.
In the poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, Keats focuses mainly on the immortality and beauty of art, where things are frozen forever in a state of perfection, such as the images on the urn. In actual fact, Keats resembles the urn to the picture of “still unravish’d bride”, which could be seen as an image which represents beauty, but at the same time quite an unrealistic representation as he portraits a very particular part in time: the moment of anticipation, where things are frozen just a fraction of time before perfection and can then be perfected by the imagination of human mind.
Nevertheless, this can also be ruined and destroyed by reality. He cleverly makes use of oxymoron when describing the urn as an “unravish’d bride”, which propels the idea of the immortality and perfection of art and at the same time, the limitations which exist because of its unreality. This can be perceived as the fact that he longs for the longevity that is possessed by the urn, and the powerful attraction to art nevertheless having known its limits, and the desire of looking forward to the moment of anticipation, which can then be perfected by the imagination, and lasting forever.
However, the way from which he sees art changes when he comes to write the poem “Ode to a Nightingale”, where art is once again presented as attractive but incomplete from a human point of view, which introduces an ongoing reflection from a self-conscious position on the significance of art. In this poem, Keats expresses the concept of the existence of art in nature through the image of the nightingale and its song: the nightingale, at a certain extent, can be perceived as nature, and the song therefore represents a form of art.
Here, the song can act as a bridge between art and nature as itself is a creation from the nature and thus applying this concept to the idea that art is contained in nature. On the other hand, the song of the nightingale is not human, and therefore this whole idea gets rejected as the poet implies a self-erasing structure throughout the poem in which he sets off his ideal by the contrast of the actual: stating a thesis and antithesis which together will work towards a synthesis, which could be the new thesis, a more perfected conclusion. This unique structure, present only in this poem, conveys the idea of art and nature as it has a clear artistic structure while suggesting the sense of a mind in process looking for the best option.
Compared to “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and “Ode to a Nightingale”, “To Autumn” has a more regular structure, which consists of three eleven-line stanzas and a rhyme scheme which starts with “A B A B” which show the regularity and pattern within the poem, while ending with “C D E D C F E” in the first stanza. Examining attentively to the ending rhymes, we can notice that there is a break in pattern, which changes the continuity to support the style. This sudden change in the rhyme scheme, where the “C” and “E” at the end of the stanza link back to the previous “C” and “E” rhymes, suggests the idea of the progress and return for not coming to an end, giving therefore the sense of overflowing, which can be associated with the main idea that Keats suggests throughout the poem: the cyclical time.
Another unique point of the poem “To Autumn” compared to the other twos is the accumulation of figurative language in the poem such as the technique of metaphor, slimily and personification, suggesting therefore a sense of evident truth. Moreover, personification gives human qualities to a non-human object; therefore it has the utility of holding two elements together, which are normally separate and not related to each other. In fact, autumn here is personified by an image of a young girl “sitting careless on a granary floor”, passing on a sense of ease. Again, it shows the absence of fear because death is an essential part in the nature cycle as it allows the next one to grow, for a fresh new start. Thus, this is described as a natural and relaxed process.
In this poem, unlike the other twos, Keats describes mainly the progression of time and season, whereas “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is mainly concerned about art, and “Ode on a Nightingale” which is primarily about nature. The description of the progression of time and season could possibly represent Keats’s message that even though autumn seems the approach towards death, it is all part of the natural progression that eventually leads to spring and a new beginning. Keats uses many techniques to emphasise his conclusion with the use of rhymes, a steady and calm rhythm, his choice of imagery such as the “full-grown lambs” is a way of representing the point of “vintage” and at the same time, conveying a tranquil atmosphere throughout the poem.
Therefore, this poem conveys a sense of peace and composure in respect to the other twos as there is the absence of fear and no anxiety of death because of the sense of continuity which works towards a cycle. In fact, in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and “Ode to a Nightingale”, Keats is mainly concerned to explore the concept between art and nature, giving only little interest in “time”, where in the end, it seems that it is the key element which links art and nature as the theory of “mortality” and “immorality” no longer exists.
In all of these three poems of Keats, there is the concern of how to reach and maintain the moment of “vintage”, in other words, how to reach the most perfect instant in time, in which it is more complete than the moment of anticipation and which does not exceed with excess to become spoiled, tending towards “death”. Therefore, it can be said that the moment of “vintage” is the moment of perfect maturity, the best moment that anything can possibly reach and at the same time, the moment which is haunted by death.
Finally, Keats develops his concept of time from linear, described in his first two poems “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and “Ode to a Nightingale”, to a cyclical time mentioned in “To Autumn”, where it conveys a sense of composure in the lack of fear because the sense of ending is also a sense of beginning and return, which brings a feeling of immortality within the concept. This is due to the fact that the natural cycle has never an end, and continues towards infinity.