(sub)Text: Truth as Beauty in Keats’ Ode on a “Grecian Urn”

The poet John Keats is famous for the concept of “negative capability,” his description of the ability to tolerate the world’s uncertainty without resorting to easy answers. Literary minds in particular should be more attuned to beauty than facts and reason. In fact, truth in the highest sense is the same thing as beauty, he tells us at the end of his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn. What does that mean? Is it true? Wes and Erin discuss these questions, and how it is that aesthetic judgments can communicate a kind of truth that is not strictly descriptive or factual.

Listen at (sub)Text: https://partiallyexaminedlife.com/2020/08/28/subtext-truth-as-beauty-in-keats-ode-on-a-grecian-urn/

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The cover art is based on Keats’ tracing of the Sosibios Vase, which may have helped inspire the poem.

Thanks to Tyler Hislop for the audio editing on this episode.


  1. truly one of the most rewarding and interesting discussions of a poem I have ever found on the web. It is highly intelligent, of course, but completely unpretentious, truly exploratory, and altogether a profound and delightful presentation of a poem I had thought I knew pretty well.

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