The Ode on a Grecian Urn squarely confronts the truth that art is not "natural," like leaves on a tree, but artificial. The Ode on a Grecian Urn squarely confronts the truth that art is not "natural," like leaves on a tree, but artificial as terms of pure, "natural," nonrepresentational music prolonged in time. Keats expresses his thoughts and feelings about creation, expression, audience, sensation, thought, beauty, truth, and the fine arts. The Urn is an experiment in thinking about art in terms of pure, artificial, representational visual ity extended in space.
The second stanza in Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" begins with the statement, "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter." Keats views art as something that is eternal and lets you experience what's happening in the painting. While he cannot actually hear the music of the young man's pipes, he can just imagine how sweet the melody would sound. If one was to hear music played, it would only please him for the duration of the song, but in looking at a painting of a youth playing pipes one can take pleasure in it every time he looks at the painting. Of course, in Keats' time there were no CDs or cassettes.
In the same stanza, Keats speaks of the young man's lover. He tells the youth that although he is so close to his lover but cannot kiss her, he shouldn't be upset because they will always love each other and they will never grow old and ugly. Keats treats these painted characters as real people, as if they were living in their own world confined to the edges of the urn. He perceives art as something that is better than real life. Keats goes on to discuss some trees whose branches, he remarks, can never be bare. They will always exist in Spring - always green, Keats enjoys the fact that nature remains the same, and in this particular painting, in its most beautiful state - Spring.
The two lovers will always be in love and will always have passionate symptoms including fever, heavy breathing, and dry mouth. He gives very real, very human qualities to these two painted beings. Then in stanza four, Keats describes a religious sacrifice of a cow. But he goes on to contemplate where all of these religious people came from. "What little town by river or sea shore, s 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. He goes far beyond the reaches of the actual painting, and wonders about how the now empty village will forever remain silent and desolate.
Keats ends the poem by telling the painting that it will live on to serve as a friend to other generations when his generation is long gone and dead. By using his imagination in interpreting this painting, Keats shows us what he thinks about art. A work of art can mean different things to people, but it remains for many generations to take from it what they will. Keats examines "art" in some general way: abandoning nonrepresentational "natural" music as his metaphor.