John Keats’ Sonnet “On the Grasshopper and the Cricket” was written on December 30th 1816. Keats was born in England in 1795 and died of tuberculosis when he was just 25, by which time he had composed an astonishing amount of powerful poetry. This poem was written when he was 21. The poem was written as a response to a sort of competition between himself and his great friend, Leigh Hunt, as to who could write the best verse, in a short time, on a specified topic. Keats won on this occasion, although he generously avowed that he preferred the other poet’s attempt.
Keats the poet delighted in and concretised nature using sensuous and detailed images. In this poem he gives tongue to a message which rings clear and true. The opening line of the poem begins with this assertion:
“The poetry of earth is never dead”
And the first line of the sestet re-affirms this announcement:
The poetry of earth is ceasing never”
We are reminded repeatedly and aesthetically as only Keats can do, of the constant music of nature. Sometimes it’s the grasshopper’s song, and at others it’s the cricket’s chirp, come day or night, summer or winter. Thus nature and poetry become as one—a conviction dear to Keats.
He underlines forcefully that through the changing seasons, from spring to scorching summer through autumn to frost-biting winter, Nature’s poetry and music continues, ever-present. One must learn to discern the melody, the signature print of each season to appreciate natures’ unending continuity
The omnipresence of nature is forever enchanting, and bountiful, and her “poetry” is unspoiled, though the cyclic rhythm of the seasons comes and goes.
The Poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
In summer luxury,—he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
The core theme of the poem is expressed by a contrast of the octave with the sestet, of the sonnet form. While in the octave, a hot summer is described, the sestet contains scenes of a freezing winter.
In the octave, Keats calls the grasshopper the poet of summer .On a scorching day when the blazing rays of the sun threatens to sap every drop of energy, the birds stop singing their delightful songs and seek refuge in the cool shade under the leafy boughs of the trees. Exhausted and languishing in the intolerable heat, they fall silent.
Even so the music of earth does not stop, for it is at this hour that one can hear the tiny grasshopper. This little Grasshopper– “he takes the lead”, as his voice sounds from “hedge to hedge.” The luxurious summer heat does not deter his merriment and unflagging energy for fun.
He flits about in the air, filled with the fragrance of the freshly-mown grass in the meadows. When he is exhausted or a little breathless he rests beneath a pleasant cooling weed for a fleeting moment before resuming into song again with renewed vigour. Thus the little creature keeps alive the poetry of earth in the searing heat of summer.
In the sestet we find a different season and a new kind of poetry. Winter arrives with its icy touch, imposing a death-like silence on the surrounding landscape. Nature is now bleak and desolate, with a curtain of frost .The snow lies like a mantle on the ground and all creatures seek the shelter of their own homes .Even then, the tireless bard of winter keeps the music of earth alive.
Breaking the painful silence of a long, cheerless winter evening, comes the Cricket’s shrill notes from somewhere near the stove. His joyous song permeates the air becoming louder every moment as the radiating heat from the stove warms the room. In contrast to the dull, lifeless weather, the happy chirping of the cricket sounds thrilling infusing new energy into ones soul .It reminds one that life exists and the silvery snow will soon melt once more to make way for the spring.
The poet describes the image of a man half asleep, beside the stove, lulled by the warmth of the fire and the monotonous drone of the cricket. He is about to doze off into a slumber. In this drowsy state, he hears the cricket’s high pitched notes drifting about in the air and mistakes it for the merry notes of the grasshopper singing gleefully among the hills on a warm mid-summer day.
The poet thus reiterates his belief in the continuity of the cycle of seasons– what the grasshopper starts in summer is carried on by the cricket throughout the long winter till the grasshopper takes over again with the re-emergence of summer. In this manner, nature continues the cyclic order of seasons with her very own minstrels taking upon themselves the responsibility of keeping alive the poetry of earth.
The sonnet begins with the speaker stating that the earth’s poetry never dies. In summer, the grasshopper runs among the hedgerows singing his song and then rests in the shade. In the frosty silence of winter, the earth’s poetry continues—now the cricket, singing from the stove, shrills a song that’s as warm and summery as the grasshopper’s music.
The speaker/poet appreciates nature in its most precise detail, his keen observation missing nothing. What he sees in nature is beauty at all times, under all circumstances, and it induces directly in himself, poetic expression of sensual power. Nature and poetry are almost interchangeable and he is convinced and perhaps wants to convey to the reader too, that neither will perish. The symphonies of earth are deathless.
The poem, it words and the way they are arranged, emanates a tone of admiration and a feel of softness. We come across a lot of “soft” consonant sounds such as ‘poetry’, ‘earth’, ‘birds’, ‘voice’, ‘hedge’, ‘luxury’ and other words that compel us to murmur the poem carefully when spoken aloud.
The speaker continues his argument of the continuing expression of poetry by presenting the reader with a winter example and a summer example as if to say, “Rain or shine, cold or hot, poetry persists.”
The title of the poem highlights the role of both Grasshopper and Cricket as main players. The Grasshoppers happiness never decreases while the Cricket’s warmth steadily increases, until the line between summer and winter blurs and one is aware of nothing except the beautiful melodies of both tiny creatures blending into one unceasing song.
“The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
The use of capitals for both the Grasshopper and the Cricket is thus of significance.
The structure and arrangement of this poem is of immense importance to Keats in helping him get his message through. This poem follows the structure of a Petrarchan sonnet and consists of an octave and a sestet. The starting lines of both the octave and sestet are similar, that is; “The poetry of the earth is never dead.” And “The poetry of the earth is ceasing never.” Keats does this as he wants to reinforce what he is trying to say and it also acts as a divider between the octave and the sestet.
Keats refers to nature as “the poetry of the earth” because nature just like poetry consists of different elements, tones and voices and can be perceived in different ways by the interpreter. The octave describes summer and the grasshopper while the sestet describes winter and the cricket.
There are several examples of assonance through out the poem. To describe the summer, Keats uses words with an ‘o’ sound for example lone, stove, song and drowsiness and he uses words such as frost and wrought to describe the chilling sensation of winter. The shape of the poem also mimics the action of a falling leaf which again refers to the topic of natural beauty.
Keywords – On The Grasshopper and The Cricket (3.1), On The Grasshopper and The Cricket Summary (1.5), Summary of On The Grasshopper and The Cricket (2.6), On The Grasshopper and The Cricket Analysis (1.2), On The Grasshopper and The Cricket (4.2), On The Grasshopper and The Cricket Meaning (1.9)