Keats and the Cinematic Time-Image: Temporal Existence in Ode on a Grecian Urn
The theme of time and its passage in engaged in many forms and to various ends in the poetic work of John Keats. This essay explores the way in which Keats articulates time and temporal structure through the evocation of images in his poetry, using the film theory of Gilles Deleuze to carry out this exploration. Deleuze argues for the philosophical importance of cinema as an art form through which time and temporality can be investigated and articulated. His “time-image” compound theory describes the specific relationship between time and image that is created in film. This essay deconstructs the concepts at the heart of the “time-image” and sets them in the context of Keats’s poetry. Repeatedly in Keats’s work, the conjured image – whole and absolute, yet of a necessarily time-conditioned existence – is made the focus of the poetic voice’s persistent interrogation. A perfect example of this can be found in his famous Ode on a Grecian Urn, wherein the image of the urn comes to house the mysteries of the passage of time, immutable and impenetrable. It is this poem in particular that is here addressed and decoded using Deleuze’s theories. Ultimately, in setting the conventions of modern cinema up against a nineteenth century poem, an argument is made for the possibilities of cross-media and retrospective analysis in literature. This essay uses the language of film to shed new light on the work of Keats, and in doing so, sets up cinema as a tool for literary analysis in its own right.