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For a guy who had never visited North America, despite two failed attempts at doing so, Oliver Goldsmith was somehow imbued with an almost pathological hatred for America. Just as pathological was his reverence for the quaint villages of his native Ireland. That so many of the population of those villages chose to emigrate to America, leaving behind these supposedly idyllic villages and the only way of life they had ever known, would remain an enduring source of bitterness for this particular poet. The eNotes analysis the link to which is provided below provides useful insights into Goldsmith’s poem The Deserted Village. What follows is an attempt at amplifying the points made in that analysis through reference to the poem’s text.
The Deserted Village begins with idealized memories of one’s hometown. If Goldsmith were alive today, he would probably find interesting Garrison Keillors’ satirical “memories” of life in the fictional Lake Wobegon. Goldsmith’s opening lines bespeak an almost surreal environment:
Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheared the labouring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting summer's lingering blooms delayed,
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
How often have I loitered o'er thy green,
Where humble happiness endeared each scene!
For a land known as much for misery as for natural beauty, Goldsmith’s Ireland exists on an entirely other plane, with its “sheltered cot, the cultivated farm,The never-failing brook, the busy mill, The decent church.”
Goldsmith next proceeds to contrast this preternaturally beautiful environment with the world beyond Ireland’s borders:
In all my wanderings round this world of care,
In all my griefs—and God has given my share—
I still had hopes, my latest hours to crown,
Amidst these humble bowers to lay me down;
To husband out life's taper at the close,
And keep the flame from wasting by repose.
And then, as he continues down this mythical road towards the most desolate, bleakest place on Earth, North America, his imagination is taken over a vision of this continent that was, to say the least, inhospitable:
Those poisonous fields with rank luxuriance crowned,
Where the dark scorpion gathers death around;
Where at each step the stranger fears to wake
The rattling terrors of the vengeful snake;
Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey,
And savage men, more murderous still than they;
Goldsmith was apparently not an admirer of “progress,” which is fine given the environmental devastation that accompanied economic advancement. His indictment of the negative ramifications of progress, however, overshadow the realities of the Ireland that is familiar to those who labored in its coal mines and endured disease and famine and the indignities associated with English colonization. So, when he laments that “Even now the devastation is begun, And half the business of destruction done,” one should filter his sentiments through the prism of a twice-failed effort at actually leaving for America himself combined with the natural inclination many feel towards looking back to a past that probably never really was.
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