To The Nile By John Keats

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The poem "To the Nile" by John Keats is a sonnet. It is written in the form of a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet, consisting of an octave rhymed abbaabba and a sestet rhymed cdcdcd. It is written in iambic pentameter, with initial trochaic substitutions in first two lines and occasional metrical substitutions throughout the poem. 

The poem is written in the second person, with an unidentified speaker using direct address to talk to the Nile. The Nile is personified, addressed almost as a sentient being.

The poem describes the course of the Nile, flowing from sub-Saharan mountains to the Mediterranean sea, and how it fertilizes the desert and caused Egypt to become great, a fertile oasis within a desert. 

In the octave the Nile is described as something alien and almost supernatural, but in the sestet the speaker realizes that despite its role in myth and history, it is not very different from any other river. 

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ansleyclark | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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As an educator addressed in the previous response, Keats's speaker concludes at the end of the poem that the Nile is just like any other river, despite the myths surrounding it. Keats wrote during a time when the British Empire was beginning to take an interest in Africa, just before the British colonization of Africa that occurred towards the end of the 19th century. In this sense, the poem may be a reflection on the way the British exoticized the Nile, Egypt, and Egyptian and African cultures. The British viewed these cultures as mysterious, foreign, magical, and less civilized. 

In the lines "O may dark fancies err! They surely do, / 'Tis ignorance that makes a barren waste / Of all beyond itself," Keats could be hinting at the ways in which these overly romantic fantasies of Africa are grave misconceptions and can lead to errors. Keats then tells us that this river is just like "our rivers," meaning the rivers in England. He could be telling us here that appreciating one's home and native country, rather than fantasizing about faraway lands, is important. He might also be implying that we can better understand these faraway lands if we also notice their similarities to our home culture, rather than viewing them as dark and mysterious.

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