The ode begins with the poetic persona seeing three figures one summer morning passing him by in a dream/vision, as if on a marble urn they returned with each turn of the vase. Their description resembles that of pilgrims with bowed necks, and joined hands wearing placid sandals and white robes, they were seen in profile. The figures are called shades and strange, the narrator is confused and cannot identify them. The narrators confusion is shown in the next stanza with the repetition of the questions regarding the identity and the nature of the figures.
The word ripe is used to describe his time of idleness; this has positive innuendo and gives the impression of richness. The figures were robbing him of his summer-indolence, they are described as constructing a deep-disguised plot and are said to steal. These terms are negative and show these figures to be menacing or malevolent at least to a slight degree. In contrast indolence is compared to a blissful cloud that favourably makes pain numb and takes its sting away [metaphor], however it also takes the joy away from pleasure or pleasures wreath no flower [metaphor].
The narrator begs the shadows to leave him to his much longed-for nothingness. The term used- shadows insinuates the visions are dark and ominous. The third verse is commenced with yet another question addressing the reason for the figures appearance. His confusion is echoed in the word baffled. His soul is compared to a beautiful lawn strewn with flowers, stirring shades and baffled beams; the sky was clouded but there was no rain, only dew drops called the sweet tears of May.
This pristine image of the narrators soul is brought on by the state of inactivity, thus we are made to believe that this state of being is desirable or covetable. He wants to bid farewell to the three shadows. The fourth verse shows the third turn of the urn and brings forth the realisation of the there figures- the fair maid love, ambition pale of cheek with fatigued eye and the maiden most unmeek poesy. Their description has negative connotations; only love is shown in a slightly positive light.
In this verse the narrator feels intense urge to follow the three and longed for wings to fly in pursuit of them. Poesy is said to be the most appealing of the three and is called a demon; this could be justified by saying that it is because the narrator finds poesy most difficult to resist and it holds an almost enchantment like hold on him. Keats has expressed his wish to fly on the wings of poesy before in another poem. In the fifth stanza a question is posed to love to establish its elusive nature.
Love is also criticised as being fleeting and short-lived and not to mention folly. Ambition on the other hand is condemned as being a mortal emotion that springs from the human heart. From other poems- ode to a nightingale or ode on a Grecian urn- we know that Keats has trouble with mortality and impermanence. And as for poesy, it has not a joy compared to honied indolence- the narrator would rather be devoid of common-sense and spend his drowsy noons numb and listless completely ignorant to the world around him [I may never know how change the moons].
The concluding stanza says adieu to the three and marks their defeat in rousing the narrator from his laziness. He commands the phantoms to vanish and never more return. He banishes them back to the dreamy urn and reduces them to faint visions. But taking into account that the state of indolence as compared to the three visions is hardly mentioned, it is not very convincing that the poetic persona prefers indolence over his other temptations [especially after reading some of his other poems]. It does however come across that he is trying to deny his passions even to himself.