Critically  analyse H.W.Longfellow's "Nature."

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Longfellow's sonnet is Petrarchan, meaning that it is organized into an octave (eight-line grouping) followed by a sestet (six-line grouping).

In the octave, the speaker describes a scenario that will become the basis of a comparison in the sestet and reveal the poem's meaning. A mother leads her child to bed, "half willing, half reluctant" as he looks back at his broken toys on the floor; he is unconvinced by the promise of new toys, weighing whether or not they will be as satisfying.

The sestet offers the comparison; Nature leads us gently to our deaths as we lose what is important to us along the way. Our "playthings" could be our youth, our good health, our relationships, and our faculties that are taken from us, one by one, as we age. We approach our deaths ambivalently, not entirely sure that the uncertainties of the afterlife will be a satisfying replacement for what we know, our earthly existence. 

lit24 | Student

The theme of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's (1807-1882) sonnet "Nature" is the tenderness and gentleness of 'Nature' in guiding human souls from this world to the next.

He has synthesized and synergized the thematic metaphors in a compelling manner to effectively convey this theme.

The two metaphors in the octave [the first eight lines]  'a fond mother' and 'her little child' are harnessed  in the chronotope of the arrival of the bed time of the child. Death in this world is compared to the bed time of the child. Just like how the child would like to continue playing forever with its toys without going to bed, adults also would like to continue to be busily engaged forever in their mundane activities without any thought of a higher reality.

But the kind and affectionate mother knows how essential sleep is for the good health of her child and very gently coaxes the child to leave its "broken playthings" behind and puts the child to sleep. Similarly, death very gently leads us away from all our earthly attractions and distractions and leads us into the mysterious but higher "unknown."


So Nature deals with us, and takes away Our playthings one by one, and by the hand Leads us to rest so gently,

Longfellow's conception of death leading adults to a higher and mysterious reality is platonic and agnostic. It is not a Christian view of life after death in which sinners will go to hell and the righteous to heaven. Longfellow's views on the 'after life' in this poem are non-judgmental and apply to all humanity.

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