Compare the attempt to escape the miseries of the world in Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium."
The different faces through which a person goes through makes them have a number of experiences. This is largely caused by internal and external expectations which could be contrary to what a person can deliver. It reaches a time when an individual feels lonely despite the numerous people they could be around them. After being in a world of their own and realizing that nobody seems to understand to understand their plight, people tend to find ways through which they can escape from the realities of life into what they believe is right for them. The poems Ode on a Grecian Urn and Sailing to Byzantium take us through the lives of two old men who could not relate to the reality of their prevailing environment. They hence decided to take a journey off the reality and took a different perspective just to make themselves relevant. In this paper, we look escape attempts of the characters from environmental realities.
Ode on a Grecian Urn
The urn remains a symbol of escape in Keats’ poem. The speaker of in the poem relates the vanity that surrounds him with the drawings on the urn which make more sense that the real world. He takes his time to study and analyse the pictures as he compares them to what happens around him. Among the many questions that he asks himself, he comes to a conclusion that nothing lasts longer than the pictures grafted on the urn. Despite the fact that the drawings are old, they communicate a lot and still make sense to anybody that studies them. The speaker of the poem seems to cherish art more than any real things that exist. Despite the fact that he knows that there is no life in art, the fact that it speaks life’s messages is enough to give him hope.
The picture of the man playing the pipe with his lover under a tree was the most fascinating. This is because of the fading value of love relationships as they change to relationships of convenience. The man seems to be fantasizing on how sweet the environment would be if couples expressed and showed each other real love rather than simply faking it for their own convenience. This makes the old man think about the song the man could be playing to his lover and the kind of romance they could be enjoying. Even though is just a growing, he sees it to be more important and to be making more sense than what the reality is showing him (Keats 28). Real and true love is apparently considered a fairy tale as it has lost its meaning. This is because of the many other responsibilities and changes that have made people to adjust. Instead of focusing on the other better changes in the environment, the old man chooses to reminiscence about a world that is non-existent.
He escapes the reality of time where people have so far changed the way they express love to each other. He also focuses more on the positive about the picture and fails to realise the challenges that the lovers could be facing. The old man seems to believe that the lifeless pictures are a reflection of some real relationships that have so far lost their meaning. There is more beauty in reality that a person can appreciate yet the old man chose to focus on the urn and the drawings. The speaker tries his best to read the mind of the artist that drew the pictures and hence making conclusions on the picture. He admires the virtual world of art where everything seems beautiful (Worsfold 89). He is simply tired of the challenges that come with day to day life and the fact that living beings are immortal. He admires art for the fact that it does not grow old or loose meaning, the pictures will never change and they will always communicate a message that the interpreter wants to hear.
Sailing to Byzantium
This is a story of yet another old man who is fed up with the young people around him and their subsequent behaviour. His old age makes him feel out of place in an environment that is dominated by young people. The explicit behaviour of the young people which was not common in his generation that has since been accepted as normal serves as a reminder that he is not needed there. In order to escape from such reality, he decides to travel to a place where he will not only be physically absent from the real world but will also make himself relevant. Byzantium is his intended destination where the old man fantasizes about his transformation. He does not just want to be out of the world completely but transform himself into an image that may be similar to a living creature but modified into a precious creature. The old man wishes to take a form of a bird but not in flesh but in gold, he also wants to be perched on a golden tree.
The old man is not dynamic enough to accept and appreciate the fact that generations have changed and therefore living with it. He still feels the need of having an environment that is similar to what he had when he was young. He also seems to be denying the fact that he is old and needs to give the young people a chance to express themselves. The fact that he cannot adjust to the environment makes prompts him to go to a different land to have a new look. From the poem, there is a possibility that the old man is also afraid of dying. He must be at the verge of dying yet the thought of him being useless after death makes him wish to be transformed into a precious and priceless jewel (Preston 35). The old man is attracted to the beauty of a singing bird which seems to have no issues with the environment. The fact that the bird wakes up every early morning to sing to people who may careless about its existence, makes him admire to be transformed into such.
The miseries and realities of life have made the old man admire a different life other than of a human being. The old man may have experienced a lot in his life that he has come to the realisation that human life is all about vanity. He could be looking back into his youthful days and realised how time flew and now he is old. He looks at the life of the young people who seem to be enjoying life and imagines how useless they find life when they attain his age. The old man may not have achieved much in his youthful life and hence wishing that he could be transformed to make some more changes in his life. This is a display of the plight that the old people go through and the late wishes they make when they are old. Old age is usually a time of reflection on the achievements that one has done (Carafol 22). This may be accompanied by the desire to have another chance to accomplish some things but in vain. The hope is hence just to have a better and meaningful life even after they are transformed to the next world.
Comparing Ode on a Grecian Urn and Yeats' Sailing to Byzantium
Comparing the two poems, we realize the significant theme of escapism as displayed by the two characters. There is a feeling of dissatisfaction within them in consideration of the events that are happening around them. They are not dynamic enough to accept and appreciate their prevailing circumstances and both take a journey into a life of fantasy. The desire for them to experience different results and environments makes them create one for themselves. They both draw a picture of how they wish events could be using images that only remain to be a fantasy. They imagine how good and sweet life would be if they lived in the worlds that they have drawn pictures of. The characters are living in a dynamic environment that does not accommodate their school of thought. They consider everything around them as vanity as it fades faster than they could imagine (Toliver 166). They hence resort to a world of fantasy and art where the pictures and images stand the taste of time. They find a lot of solace in their imaginary world which subsequently gives them a reason to see another moment and day.
As a person grows and experience different things, they tend to learn a lot. As old age slowly starts creeping in, they realise that they are still empty and unaccomplished. This is mostly because of the unsatisfying human nature where they wish they could have done this and that. When one is weak and they can no longer engage in what they used to engage in when they were young, they realise how meaningless life can be. It even hurts them the more when the younger generation live as if they own everything in the world, their thought that after all has been said and done, they will come to realise that they were only chasing after the wind. The tow poems reflects much on the plight of old people and how they live to see generations coming and going. Every older person always feels that their days were better than what the young people are experiencing. The simplicity they enjoyed and the genuine relationships they had have quickly faded and nobody seems to realise their worth and value. The rigid nature of the old people and the fact that they have many wishes that are only imaginary makes them feel isolated. Their thoughts give them hope that there is a better life, even though it is not real, they can always aspire to have it through their imaginations.
Carafol, Ernesto. The Two Cultures: Shared Problems. London: Springer, 2009
Keats, John. Ode On A Grecian Urn And Other Poems. New York: Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
Preston, James. Sailing to Byzantium: a study in the development of the later style and symbolism in the poetry of William Butler Yeats. London: Books, 1971.
Toliver, Harold. The Past That Poets Make. London: Harvard University Press, 1981
Worsfold, Brian. The Art of Ageing: Textualising the Phases of Life. California: Universitat de Lleida.