Word Limit: 1200
By Sharn Pires
Question – How important are intertextual references to classical Greek/Roman literature, in the work of one poet?
Many aspects have influenced the works of John Keats, some of the most influential were politics, natural beauty and classical literature of ancient Greece and Rome. Many of his later works such as his Odes in 1819, specifically, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and “Ode to a nightingale”, contain many references and allusions to these times. These additions contribute to the poems meaning and help Keats convey the purpose of his words to a contemporary audience by utilizing the happy, serene background of an ancient Greek and/or Roman lifestyle.
Poets in the Romantic Era placed significant importance on pure beauty and truth, which is why many second-generation poets drew on classical Greek and Roman literature for intertextual references. Other poets of this generation such as Percy Shelley and Lord Byron also reference classical texts but less intimately, they too were inspired by the ‘magic’ of nature and wanted to enhance the way their audiences viewed the world they lived in. John Keats showed an interest in Greek mythology at an early age, but never received a formal literary education. He was first introduced to poetry by the school’s headmaster, Mr Cowden Clarke, who, along with his son, became close friends of Keats. His school Enfield encouraged a broad range of reading in classical and modern languages and as Cowden remarks “his constantly recurrent sources of attraction were Tooke’s ‘Pantheon,’ Lamprière’s ‘Classical Dictionary,’ which he appeared to learn, and Spence’s ‘Polymetis.’ This was the store whence he acquired his intimacy with the Greek mythology.” (Poetry Foundation, 2018). Classical literature helped Keats through his Mother’s death, and was, intertwined in his emotions and thoughts. He used allusions to Greek mythology commonly in his poems because it helped convey his seemingly large emotions and relate with audiences of the same time. Most educated people of the Romantic era were familiar with classical texts, like the myths of ancient Greece, and so, better understood his poetic references.
John Keats wrote a series of Odes in 1819 that were greatly influenced by classical literature, including the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” was one of these poems and describes artwork frozen in time on the side of a Greek Urn. Three scenes are depicted throughout the poem and each focus on different aspects of the ancient Greek era. John Keats was inspired by nature and pure beauty; two ideas present in classical literature that lend themselves to depicting the positive and negative sides of being stuck in time. Keats questions the urns origins “Of deities or mortals or of both” building up the mystery and grandeur by suggesting the images could either be mystical and powerful or dull and common. The insinuation of both occurring together all...