John Keats’ poem Ode on a Grecian Urn was a flop when it was first published in 1819, largely because of the last two lines: Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
The criticism was virulent. Josiah Conder said: “That is all that Mr Keats knows or cares to know. But till he knows much more than this, he will never write verses fit to live.”* Poor Mr Conder, his lack of prescience is immortalized in Wikipedia forever.
I hadn’t given much thought to Keats or to the Ode for that matter–other than to wonder why it was an ode on an urn and not to an urn–until today.
You’ll recall that in my Christmas blog I complained about Calgary’s lack of chocolate oranges (the kind you smack down on a countertop with a satisfying thwack!) and resigned myself to ordinary chocolates and marzipan pigs.
Well guess what. Today a heavily-padded, bubble-wrap envelope landed on my doorstep—an express post from my dear friend Liane. Liane and I met in Toronto when we were in our twenties. We immediately became fast friends and kept in touch notwithstanding the Soapbox family’s moves all over western Canada and the eastern US. A steady stream of letters, cards and emails topped off with an occasional visit here and there kept us current on all the major events in each other’s lives.
We shared the joy of children growing up and the heartache of parents growing frail. We celebrated birthdays—Liane is a year and 2 months older than me, but hey, who’s counting—and supported each other through life’s difficult moments. Our friendship continues to endure.
And now I know why…it’s the smack down chocolate orange and all it symbolizes. Just as Keats’ Grecian Urn is a symbol for poetry, Liane’s chocolate orange is a symbol for what it takes to keep a friendship alive. It takes time to find a chocolate orange, wrap it in red tissue paper, stuff it and a delightful card into a bubble-wrap envelope and send it by express post to a friend two time zones away. And it takes a puckish sense of humour to consider doing it in the first place.
So before I go into the kitchen and smack down the chocolate orange–dark chocolate, not milk, because Liane knows that I think milk chocolate is insipid–I’ll leave you with this thought (I’m sure Keats won’t mind me taking liberties with the Ode and no one cares what the critic Conder thinks, he missed the biggest literary event of the 18th century) :
Friendship is truth, truth is friendship. And that is all any of us on earth need to know.
Liane, Howell, Simon and Nora; the Soapbox family thanks you!
*Wikipedia, Eclectic Review, Sept 1820