Ode on a Greyson Perry Urn // Tim Turnball

Turnbull’s poem is created as a pastiche to John Keats’ poem, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, which correlates a sense of past and the present that is ideally what Turnball has intended to create in his poem. This poem is about time and the differences between society and culture, and it can also be considered as a commentary on art and beauty and the way the human mind perceives it as something grand and timeless, referencing to Keats’ conveyance of Romantic escapism through his poem, while Turnball holds contrasting ideals, believing that art is a sugar-coat to the truth where the truth is much more detrimental, identifying his modern realism.

Turnball is very thematically and structurally conscious in the way that he connects, compares and differs contemporizes his poem in relation to the ode of Keats. ‘Ode on a Greyson Perry Urn’ follows the same ‘traditional’ structure of five stanzas with ten lines each just as Keats does. The rhythm of the poem also follows Keats’ initial style with the first quartet in each stanza using the rhyming scheme of ABAB while the first three stanzas continue on with a CDEDCE and the the last two ending with a pattern of CDECDE. Keats’s rhyming scheme differs in the way that he had used the Miltonic sestet to sculpt his poem, which gives out a linear contrast between Keats and Turnball, as it identifies Keats connection with traditional art and literature while Turnball uses a modern take to design his poem. Despite the structural parallelism, Turnball crafts his poem with a different context which can also identify how we may retain traditional forms of art and continue to be inspired by them, the meaning of our art has changed completely over the years.

Turnball starts with a note that would seem surprising to readers, where ‘Hello’ creates a direct connection of the poem with the reader, almost as if the poem itself has been personified into a human being, which resonates with both Turnball and Keats personifying the images in a Grecian/Greyson Perry urn to a realistic scenario. Turnball then moves on to create his semantic field of 20th century life, using terminology which relates to this period of time, ‘Shirley temple’ ‘Burberry’ ‘Daily Express’ ‘Calvin’s’. Turnball uses negatively connoted phrases which moulds the concept of realism into the poem, as it itself considers the grotesque truth over the beautiful art. This is identified through the use of ‘Shirley Temple manqué’ which in the first line creates the image of failure, a feeling that corresponds throughout the poem. Turnball then focuses on this Greyson urn that someone had recklessly ‘knocked out’, where it conceptualises a scene of youngsters in a car, with the atmosphere being set as ‘smoky’ – a connotation that sets in fear and rashness. The poet visualising this scene understands that in a scenario such as this, there end in an eventual accident – the car would skid and flip and the people would get hurt. This idea of realism is extended with the poet completely internalising the scene and identifying each and every build-up that has lead to this, with the girls in the back seat giving out ‘nervous squeals’, as the poet highlights that they are too young – connoting with carelessness in wanting to live for the moment – and thus, the sheer amount of danger that will come upon them is utterly inconceivable to them, ‘too young to appreciate the peril that they are in’. The poet also describes them through their clothing and the brands that they are wearing, ‘Calvin’s and each thong’ which induces a feeling of outright sexuality and consumerism, a concept that completely contrasts with Keats’ portrayal of delicateness and genteelness in his poem. Turnball’s representation of this act of love is confined as a negative indulgence while Keats circulates around the Romantic indulgence of nature and beauty. This contrast between the old and the modern is further highlighted with Turnball claiming that the youngsters where ‘pumped on youth and ecstasy’ – where the word ‘ecstasy’ would denote to different images as a Romantic poet would identify ‘ecstasy’ as ‘happiness’ while the 20th century denotation would identify it as a ‘gateway drug’.

The poet then moves on to describing the incidents that would follow this course of a daredevil moment, where ‘pensioners and parents’ would phone the police to report the noise disturbances – the intermingling of ‘pensioners and parents’ create a sense of inter-generational and inter-class contrast, representing how this new age is a mixed environment, opposite to what the 19th century would have been like with social differences having a major impact on individuals of different class and generation. Yet, the poet knows that this eventual end will not come to, where this exuberance and carelessness of the youth is immortalised in this urn, and art will never progress on to show the entire picture. It is an abstract of beauty and thus, it does not represent the unbeautiful truth.

Turnball encapsulates the modern age in his poem, where we are surrounded by cars and ideas of accidents, highlighting our mechanical and pragmatic ideals. The youngsters represented in the poem will get into gangs and fights, or have the police arrest them or even have to go back to bed to wake up for work the next day. Yet, this truth is obliterated from the art and so when future generations look at this urn and the beauty that is symbolised within it, they will know only the half picture. Turnball ends exactly as Keats did, ‘“Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”’ With Turnball turning this into a more sardonic portrayal of art, believing that art gives out the unwholesome picture and beauty is not really the truth.

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