A Grecian Urn

John Keats pondered the connection between beauty and truth in his poetry. for Keats, the shape and form of art was essential to its meaning.  In his poem “On the Sonnet,” for example, he wrote that “If by dull rhymes our English must be chained,” (Keats, p.3, line 1) which can be interpreted as an outcry against the meaningless use of rhyme. Because rhyme is viewed as being harmonious, Keats’ assertion is that rhyme should also be meaningful and striking simultaneously. This is a method in aesthetics by which the association between beauty and truth can be established in a literary form even without reliance on any specific theme. In other words, Keats saw beauty and truth as being intrinsically tied to one another and yearned for art and poetry that showed this not only in theme but in form.

Keats’ “On the Sonnet”  ends with the lines “So, if we may not let the Muse be free,/

She will be bound with garlands of her own.” (Keats, p. 3, lines 13-14).  These lines show that art must proceed organically from inspiration and that to ‘free” the expression of art it is necessary to avoid arbitrary rules. order and proportion are aspects of beauty and this is, in itself, a conveyance of truth.   This same unification of form and expression or beauty and truth is evident in the paintings of the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn. For example, his famous Self Portrait, 1658 shows a realistic style that can be seen as evoking the truth of his own physical image. Simultaneously, the use of color in the painting transmits a symbolic expression of the inspiration and beauty of art. His self portrait evades any kind of idealism or self-glorification, but rises to the level of intoxicating harmony and enviable beauty regardless of its emphasis on the objective truth of image. The use of solid detail and lifelike rendering works in harmony with his use of expressive color, geometric composition, and  background. The painting parallels Keats’ ideas about the unified nature of beauty and truth.

Work Cited

Greenblatt, Stephan.  The Norton Anthology of English Literature.  W. W. Norton and Company.  New York and London. 9th Edition, Volume 2.