I am really honoured to have been invited to take part in Hitomi Grace Utsugi's wonderful website, Poetic Conversations in which people comment on a piece of poetry that has resonated with them.
I have chosen 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' by John Keats, in which he asks us to consider mortality, the passage of time, and what remains for us to muse on. Anyone who has ever accompanied me to Tivoli, and stood by the wonderful 1st century BC temple, and listened to me speak about Walter Pater, the enjoyment and appreciation of the 'Now!', the moment, will be familiar with my sentiments.
Our predecessors, left us with words, objects, buildings and more, leaving their mark, continuing to tell stories beyond, and we follow in their stride, becoming creators and torchbearers for what speaks to us. Immersed in the world of art history and captivated by the ancient pottery from the Etruscan civilisation, Charlie Hall introduces us to the Aristonothus Krater; and like the poet, John Keats, drawn to the scenes of classical Grecian art on objects, Charlie marries Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn with the ancient vase, communicating virtues of beauty and truth.
Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats Presented by Charlie Hall Director of John Hall Venice
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." Keats, J. (2019). Ode on a Grecian Urn (Complete Edition), Prague, E-artnow.
My life and work, as a dilettante art historian, takes me, and the people that accompany me, to appreciate and embrace the art, mostly of Italy, from the world of antiquity, represented by Etruscans, Ancient Greeks and Romans, through the mysterious times of Late Antiquity and what is called the ‘Medieval’ age, the Renaissance, to the Futurists and Contemporary. Everything that I see, I greet with joy, and salute the hands that formed the pieces, whether they be buildings, temples or baths, frescoes, mosaics, gold ground altarpieces or sumptuous oils on canvas and metal sculpture. All hands, now long dead, have left these works, brimming with the poignant sadness of their makers’ death, but resonating with life. In the Capitoline collection in Rome, the oldest museum in Europe (dating from 1471) there are stunning works, but I always find myself drawn to the enigmatic, warm pottery taken from the great Etruscan necropolis at Cerveteri, and to the superb Crater of Aristonothos, depicting, it is thought, episodes from the Odyssey. We know the name of the maker, as the pot is signed. He came from Greece to the opulent Etruscan peoples to work, and spread his knowledge, but little more is known. It dates from the seventh century BC, almost three thousand years ago, what does it tell us now? What does it communicate? When I stand in front of it, the words of John Keats, who died of TB in Rome, who was always telling his reader adieu, resonate, so I’ll just quote the final stanza of his ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’. He bids us goodbye, he knows that his own end is close, but he muses on the making, and decoration of the urn, and writes,
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."
Don’t be in a hurry to accumulate knowledge, don’t worry about taking endless photos on your phone, because the moment of truth is when you are standing in front of the object, view, or loved one and you fill your eye and your heart with that which you see. And the ability to appreciate beauty costs nothing
I recommend Grace's excellent site.