Friday, 28 October 2011


There's something too facile about the way critics read from this letter to Benjamin Bailey (November 22, 1817)
I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination—what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not. the final stanza of the 'Grecian Urn' ode:
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.
As if the earlier text somehow reinforces and endorses the later one. Just on a very basic level, something is obviously missing in the transition from 'heart's affections/beauty/truth' to 'beauty/truth'. Where's the heart? Of course it's in the poem; it's just not in the urn's chilly sexless vision of endless unconsummated beauty:
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Not to labout the point: the urn has too much altitude, and specifically omits the 'heart' which, although it knows sorrow and sickness is also the organ by which we apprehend joy, love and life. Hard to see how it could be any clearer, really ...

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