Unheard melodies

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! “

(Stanza 2 from John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn)

When we were in college we were not too much overwhelmed by the beauty of these lines which merely seemed epigrammatic, one of amazing brevity and language terseness. An old English teacher may talk about it at length stressing the beauties of the language but thought? We were not impressed whatever be the precocious genius of Keats. Now that we ourselves could be Old English teachers (though we are not) we suddenly realize that all that is not so much sound and fury but one that signifies a lot.

“Heard melodies are sweet but those unheard are sweeter” is not mere Polonius type of brevity. An exquisite auditory experience from the melodies yet to be played by the musicians on the urn is conveyed through a visual medium of painting . How art is long and life is brief ,how art freezes the transient beauties of sensory experiences in a fourth dimension of time. The urn itself stands for the impermanence of life ,carrying its ashes in its beauty.That is how beauty becomes truth and truth beauty.

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