Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 422

“The Cricket” intentionally establishes its relation to other famous Romantic odes in order to differentiate itself from their thematic resolutions. For a full understanding of “The Cricket,” familiarity with another ode, such as Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale,” is very helpful.

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The first clue that places “The Cricket” in a specific tradition is the invocation to the muse in the opening section. Calls for inspiration are standard in certain kind of poems, such as epics and elegies, although they do not always appear in odes. The poet, however, has included this invocation to link “The Cricket” with other Romantic odes in a gently ironic way: The animal chosen as muse seems deliberately odd since crickets are usually not symbolically connected with elevated poetry. Unlike Keats’s nightingale, the cricket does not soar and sing, but rather crawls through the undergrowth and murmurs.

Curiously, following the ironic invocation, the poem settles down to the materials and practices so prevalent in other Romantic odes. It is almost as if, after encouraging his readers to believe that “The Cricket” would not be typical, Tuckerman changes his plans and his audience’s expectations by writing a poem very much like others of its kind. The description of the setting, the introduction of the theme, and the placement of that theme in its historical context are all common.

In the fifth section, however, Tuckerman reawakens the reader’s initial expectations by veering away from standard practice. As many scholars have pointed out, “The Cricket” provides an alternative to the traditional Romantic notion of a consummation with nature through death. Romantic poets tended to look to death as a way of merging with nature, of becoming part of the totality from which the status of human beings excludes one. The “Ode to a Nightingale” provides a famous example of this tendency when its speaker claims to be “half in love with easeful Death.”

Unlike Keats and others in the Romantic tradition, Tuckerman chooses a limited but ultimately affirmative way of interacting with the natural world. Death would make the poet the “true interpreter” of the cricket since the insect’s song reminds him that all life must end. Nevertheless, to surrender to this reality would mean that the beauties of life, which remain beautiful even though they will fade and die, would have to be devalued. By accepting death as an unavoidable human experience, and yet refusing to give in to grief and sorrow, Tuckerman suggests an almost existential understanding of life that anticipates twentieth century outlooks.

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