Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


The final two lines of the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” have occasioned more debate than almost any other lines in English poetry. The controversy stems from there being neither a holograph nor an autograph version of any kind in existence. Among the seven extant sources for the text of the final lines are six possible readings. Since the texts vary in punctuation and capitalization, they furnish no agreement on which critics can further interpret the meaning of the lines and arrive at a final reading. Because much of the criticism up to early 1957 is complied, the present study concentrates on criticism since that time. According to evidence produced by textual scholars, the Lamia reading is the best text for critics to interpret. Critics since 1957 have interpreted the final lines in the context of the “Ode” alone, in the context of the “Ode” taken together with Keats’ other writings, and in terms of all the relevant sources. A reading which presents few problems interprets “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” as the statement of the urn and “That is all/Ye know on earth and all ye need to know,” as the utterance of the poet to the urn. In the limited world of art “Beauty is truth,” but in the real world of mortals beauty and truth are different. Although this reading is based on the best text made available by textual scholarship and answers most of the problems confronting the other criticisms, it is not to be considered a final reading. Since no final text has come to light in the past 144 years, the possibilities of an autograph version of any kind appearing are very slight. Critics are likely to continue writing about the lines. A final text would not have stimulated the amount of interest hat the variety of texts have. The poem lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Consequently, the thinking to which the lines and their controversy stimulate the reader is much more important than establishing a “final text” or “final reading”. On the basis of available evidence concerning the final two lines of the “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, a “final reading” is neither desirable nor possible.


Verna Parish

Date of Award

Summer 1964

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


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