About the Poet:
John Keats (1795–1821) was one of the leading figures in the second- generation Romantic poets. Born in London, he was the son of Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings. Thomas Keats was an ostler who married the daughter of his master, from whom he inherited the business. Keats’s family was of a humble heritage but they were well to do and ambitious. As a result, Keats and his siblings were sent to an excellent private school at Enfield, kept by Reverend John Clarke. But Keats never escaped his non-aristocratic lineage. He was taunted about his heritage by some reviewers of the ‘Blackwood’ and ‘Quarterly’, until his death. The poet Shelley was of the opinion that it was these caustic reviews that caused the poet’s untimely death.
Despite the hardships in his life, Keats was passionate about life and his art. His verses bore his taste for grandiosity and beauty. He found great friends in Brown, William Hazlitt, with whom he shared his knack for boxing, Samuel Coleridge, Charles Lamb, Severn, Leigh Hunt and Shelley.
About On the Grasshopper and Cricket:
The poem is a sonnet by John Keats. The poem was composed in the December of 1816 when the poet was twenty-one years of age. It was published posthumously in ‘The Poetical Works of John Keats’ in 1884.
The Setting of On the Grasshopper and Cricket:
The mood of the poem is joyous. The poem seeks to celebrate the calls of the grasshopper and the cricket, in short, the voice of nature herself. The setting is almost luxurious, as in it celebrates all phases of nature.
Stanza-wise Summary of On the Grasshopper and Cricket:
The poem is not separated into stanzas. It is separated into an octave and a sestet.
The first part of the poem, the octave, celebrates the earth in all its forms. It says that the poetry of earth is never dead. The earth provided poetry in the form of the songs of the birds or the calls of the beasts. However, when the summer sun is too hot and strong, the birds find it difficult to keep up their routine. They find shelter from the scorching heat in trees that provide ample shade and hence, are ‘cooling’. But the grasshopper does not cease its song. Its voice runs throughout the freshly mown meadows untiringly. Even in the sultry summer days, he never stops his chants. The grasshopper does not feel ‘faint’ under the sun. For him, even the summer is a time for joy. Hence, when he has had his fill of fun, he finds comfort under some weeds or long grass stalks.
The sestet begins with the earlier declaration that the poetry of earth is forever, it is never ending. During the cold, harsh winters, when one is numbed by the cold, only one voice is heard that calls out to one in drowsy evenings by the fire (stove) and that is the cricket. The poet tells us that during the winters, instead of growing quiet of the cold, the cricket finds a corner in some kitchen near a stove and belts out its song. The warmth coming from the stove mingles with the warm tones of the cricket who tries to keep one entertained. This song perhaps reminds one who’s half asleep that the grasshopper is probably out on some grassy hill, singing its heart out.
Stanza-wise Annotations of On the Grasshopper and Cricket:
‘the poetry of earth is never dead’- the beauty of the earth, even during extreme temperatures, is not lost. The poetry of earth here can be equated to the songs of nature and her creatures. The grasshopper and the cricket remind us that even when birds and animals succumb to the harsh climates, the grasshopper and the cricket do not. They are the only creatures that keep the poetry of earth alive.
‘he has…delights’- he’s never tired of his merrymaking. The grasshopper provides incessant joy to all the inhabitants of the earth through his song. This is the source of his energy, thus, he’s never tired of spreading his joy.
‘the frost has wrought a silence’- the winter brings with itself frost and snow. The snow muffles all sounds and the frost makes all creatures retire to their homes for shelter, hence, all sounds are suspended and only silence remains.
‘in drowsiness, half lost’- what the poet means is that during winters, a warm, cozy room induces a sleep like a state. This is the state of being completely asleep and being awake.
Critical Analysis of On the Grasshopper and Cricket:
First and foremost, this poem is about the poetry of the earth. This ‘poetry’ that Keats talks about can be read variously. Literally speaking, the poetry of earth indicates the various sounds found in the natural world, be it the calls of birds or beasts, or insects. These natural sounds are the voices of nature; this is how nature communicates with us. The poetry of earth is then the language of the earth. At the same time, it is also about the beauty of that language. The poem is descriptive of the physical world and its natural beauty. Keats was influenced by pastoral motifs and it comes as no surprise that he makes use of pastoral images and sensibilities in this poem to express the poetry he felt existed in the natural world. He was interested not only in Hellenic and Hellenistic literature but he was also a firm admirer of the beauty in its classical sense. Hence, we see the influence of pastoral beauty in this poetry. This poem encompasses a rare unification of beauty of nature at its best and at its worst.
Figuratively taken, this poem serves as the messenger of hope. The poetry of earth is at once an emblem of beauty and endurance. The poet wishes to impart that like the poetry of the earth, hope never dies. That no matter how harsh the trials and tribulations of life are, they can be overcome. There is beauty in even the harshest temperatures. Similarly, there is hope in the bleakest of times.
The sonnet is inherently a Romantic poem. It has all the sensibilities of the much talked about age. The creative energies in the poem are spread like dense foliage. Each line reverberates with the sounds of nature that bursts forth in Keats’s poem. This poem is above all, a repository of the calls of nature, the voice of the grasshopper, of the cricket, and of the songs of the birds. The poem also encompasses two extreme climates, the extremely hot and the extreme cold. Summer and winter are expressed as two unbearable entities, each an imposing, strong figure that has to be fought with. The poetry of earth perhaps is akin to the poetic impulse of Keats himself. Keats mirrors his own innermost thoughts when he expresses the immortality of poetry. The imposing figures of summer and winter can be read as the critics who taunted Keats for his youthful abandon and less than aristocratic blood. In the poem, he says that the poetry of earth will endure all harshest circumstances. He then believes that his poetry will endure the scathing remarks of the critics too. As a response to his harsh critics, he had once said, “This is a mere matter of the moment: I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death”. He believed his poetry should be remembered long after his death just like he believed poetry could never die.
Poetic Devices in On the Grasshopper and Cricket:
‘The Poetry of earth’- This is an instance of imagery. The earth is made up of various sounds, the calls of the birds and beats, the buzz of insects. These sounds are the voice of the earth. This voice is represented as the poetry of the earth.
‘the frost has wrought a silence’- this is an instance of personification. Frost is personified as a person who brings silence in his wake. Here Frost becomes a creator of silence who makes all sounds disappear when he appears.
Rhyme Scheme of On the Grasshopper and Cricket:
It’s a Petrarchan sonnet. The poem is made up of an octave and a sestet. The octave is made up of two quatrains, each following the abba rhyme scheme. And the sestet is made up of two tercets, each following the rhyme scheme, CDE.
The poem is then a message close to Keats’s heart. He believed in the immortality of poetry, beauty, and endurance of life. Keats welds together all these components in this sonnet as an inspiration to his readers and perhaps, to future poets like him.