In his poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, John Keats reflects upon a rare and valuable object of observation, the images of which offered him tremendous poetic inspirations. In accordance with the subject matter that relates a great work of art, the poet draws attention, through his poetic devices, to the fact that his poem is a work of art, too.
In the first stanza Keats tries to understand the story behind the pictures on the urn "what men or gods are these?" The speaker speculates on the origins of the images and describes the urn as a "historian" that through its images can tell a story. The idea that it is a story frozen in time helps to develop the concept further. He wonders about the truth behind the image of a group of men seemingly pursuing a group of women "What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?"
The urn is depicted as a “still unravish’d bride of quietness”. Here the word “still” has multiple meanings, suggesting the motionlessness and silence of the urn – it is still, pure, untouched and perfect, just like a bride. The silence and stillness of the urn are further reinforced by the “foster-child of silence”.
The poet also gives a sense of historical mystery surrounding the urn, with the urn being a “Sylvan historian” telling puzzling historical mysteries like “A flowering tale more sweetly than our rhyme.” Keats offers a great paradox here, built up by the fact that the urn is silent, but is also a historian that can communicate effectively, hence fostering the ambivalence that seems to dominate the poem as a whole.
For time itself has no effect on the images portrayed on the urn, they are timeless in their action, forever frozen in their presentence. And yet time, the enemy to all things beautiful does and will have an effect on the urn itself. This is why he refers to it as a "foster-child" and uses the reference "slow time" to mean time itself and its relationship to the urn and not the figures...