Poetry and music in nature do not perish.This is the theme that Keats developes in his poem "The grasshopper and the cricket",where he says that summer and winter are not to be taken as opposites-they are but parts of the same,wonderful cycle of seasons which keeps repeating itself.Every season has its own beauty and melody,which one must learn to discern for only then one can appreciate and admire the continuity of the stream of life.
In the octet,Keats calls the grasshopper the poet of summer and dedicates these eight lines to him.On a scorching day when the blazing rays of the sun threatens to sap every drop of energy,Nature's musicians-the birds stop singing their delightful songs and seek refuge in the cool shade offered by the leafy boughs of the trees.Exhausted and made languid by the intolerable heat,they fall silent,even then the music of earth doesnot come to an end for it is,at this hour that one can hear the tiny grasshopper chirping merrily,as he frisks about from hedge to hedge,luxuriating in the gaiety and abundance of the season.
Undisturbed by the heat,he expresses immense joy as 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 grasshopper,the poet of summer keeps alive the poetry of earth in this scorching season.
In the sestet,Keats dubs the cricket,the poet of winter.He assures that the poetry of earth doesnot ever cease,for the poets of nature are assigned to keep it alive during the different seasons.Winter arrives with its icy touch,imposing a death-like silence on surroundings for nature is now bleak and desolate,with the curtain of frost.The snow lies like a mantle on the groundand all creaturs seek the shelter of their own homes.Eve then,the tireless bard of winter keeps the music of earth alive.Breaking the painful silenceof a long,cheerless winter evening comes the cricket's shrill notes from somewhere near the stove.His joyous song permeates the surroundings,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 describe's the image of a man half asleep,beside the stove,hulled by the warmth of the fire and the monotonous drone of the cricket,he is about to doze off into a slumber,In this semi-conscious 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 wintertill the grasshopper takes over again with the re-emergence of summerIn 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.
John Keats' Sonnet "On the Grasshopper and the Cricket" was written on December 30th 1816. The message of this poem is foregrounded in these two lines:
"The poetry of earth is never dead" which is the opening line of the octave and the poem; and "The poetry of earth is ceasing never"which is the first line of the sestet. Keats asserts emphatically that no matter what the season, whether it is the peak of scorching summer or the bitterly cold winter season the music and 'poetry' of Mother Nature will be omnipresent and add vitality to the environment.
The octave and the sestet compare and contrast a hot summer day and a bitterly cold and lonely winter evening. It's so hot that the usually chirpy and active birds have taken shelter amongst the shady trees and the whole countryside seems to be quiet, but just then one can hear the ever active grasshopper chirping away merrily in the hedges.
Similarly when one is cosily sheltered in the comfort of his home in front of a warm stove from the cold frosty winter and is beginning to feel lonely, the silence is shattered by the shrill chirpings of the cricket which adds meaning to the lonely winter evening without filling it up by reminding him of the music of the grasshopper in the summer months.
The most obvious literary device which Keats uses in this sonnet is the device of CONTRAST. The contrast works at both the formal level, that of the octave and the sestet and at the metaphorical level where the grasshopper represents the season of summer and the cricket represents the season of winter.