In "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Keats finds eternity in the beauty of art. Inscribed upon the urn, the images of ancient life have been given immortality. This immortality, however, is not entirely a blessing. Describing a picture of two lovers, Keats strikes a balance between the positive and negative aspects of eternal existence:

Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal — yet do not grieve;
not fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!(NortonII, 822)

In a way, Keats envys the pair for their immortality: they are perpetually young and in love, never knowing any sorrow. On the other hand, however, Keats notes that can never kiss, for they are frozen in time, unable to fulfill the full promise of their lives. Knowing no sorrow, the lovers' joy is ultimately meaningless, for happiness can only be experienced in contrast to suffering. Recognizing this fact, Keats shows how man's impossible quest for immortality manifests itself in art. Seeking to achieve permanence, we create images that will carry on through time. These images, however, must ultimately fall short of the real world. Though art may surpass man chronologically, it never actually lives, and hence can only mimic the true essence of human existence.

Wordsworth finds permanence in nature rather than art. Looking at the landscape, Wordsworth feels "a sense sublime / Of something far more deeply interfused" (Norton II, 154), a presence which exists in "the round ocean," "the blue sky," and even "the mind of man." Thus, Wordsworth explains how he is:

Well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being. (Norton II, 154; (complete text)

For Wordsworth, nature represents eternity, existing long before and after the lives of men. In "Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth writes that we must be able to look at nature and recognize our transitory existence, seeing that we are but a single flux in the everlasting flow of the whole. Hence, Wordsworth suggests that we comfort ourselves with nature's immortality, finding in it the "anchor" of our own being.

Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000