Yes and no. The music of the words in the poem is quite beautiful,
but in fact I find relatively little imagery that is really sensuous,
and I think that is on purpose because the thesis of the poem is that
unheard melodies are sweeter than those heard, and the spirit should have
piped to it ditties of no tone. So the premise would seem to be that
beauty is abstracted from the senses rather than experienced through
the senses; so it is somewhat like Ferlinghetti's figure, spread-eagled
in the empty air of existence, and I, being the reluctant acrobat, would
rather let her go splat if she comes flying at me without a sensory
If you want to talk about the beauty in the form and the music of
the poem itself, and if there were a connection between that and
the abstract closing line, okay, but I can only make that connection
by a purely mental construct of my own which is to read the poem as
being the urn. In effect,when I do that, I feel like the beauty has
slipped through y hands beforeI even knew it was cummings, er coming.
I remember asking McLuhan what was going to be on a final exam. He
said, "Oh I suppose tit would help to know who's a Platonist
and who isn't." So I asked, who isn't? And he said, no one.
He of course, as a Thomist and therefore an Aristotelian, was
one of the no ones.
From: Marcia Karp [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Thursday, October 10, 2002 5:58 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Who's who
Peter Montgomery wrote:
> It is a metaphysical conceit insofar as it makes a radical leap that
> is not easily explainable by logic. On the other hand it lacks the
> immediacy of the odour of a rose, because, weirdly enough for a
> statement involving beauty, it does not involve the senses.
Yes and no. What about the preceding 48 lines? I started to
excerpt the "immediate" bits, but ended up with so much of the poem that
I'll give it whole. Your point seems based on an assumption that the
line is isolated from the poem. As for a radical leap, Horace says that
we go to a poem for instruction and delight -- truth and beauty, perhaps
-- form and function, technique and content, at least from the poet's
point of view. Doesn't seem radical or unfathomable to me.
Ode on a Grecian Urn
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
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!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
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.