The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman’s posthumously published “The Cricket” is an irregular ode of 131 lines divided into five sections of unequal length. The titular insect, at first glance almost comically inconsequential, provokes in the poet a meditation on death that leads him ultimately to affirm the value of life.

The introductory section presents a lyrical consideration of sound-producing insects. Both the “humming bee” and the “dogday locust” have their bards, but the cricket, whose voice is “bright” among “the insect crowd,” has not been sung of before. After identifying the cricket as the subject of the ode, the poet also invokes the insect as his muse: “Shall I not take to help me in my song/ A little cooing cricket?”

Although the rest of the poem is written in the first person, the second section utilizes a second-person voice. The speaker addresses his audience directly, inviting the reader to imagine a setting in which “our minstrel’s carol,” the song of the cricket, can be heard and appreciated. First a shady spot beside a brook is pictured, then “a garden bower” with overhanging leaves and vines. In both places, the sleepy afternoon produces a half-waking, half-dreaming state. As consciousness thus becomes receptive to the natural world, the landscape suddenly seems filled with crickets and their singing.

In the third section, the mood of the poem changes as the poet begins to contemplate...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As an irregular ode, “The Cricket” belongs to a time-honored poetic genre. Odes are poems on elevated subjects such as death. Regular odes maintain a predictable stanzaic pattern, while irregular odes uses stanzas (often called “strophes”) and lines of uneven length. Originally a classical form, the ode achieved a new popularity during the Romantic period at the hands of William Wordsworth and John Keats.

In “The Cricket,” Tuckerman uses the formal freedom of the irregular ode to create an almost musical composition. The five sections of the poem alternate in mood and intensity. The first section is light and airy as the cricket is introduced; the second is slower, more somnolent, as a contemplative mood develops. The third section turns suddenly dark and somber as the poet considers death, while the fourth offers limited relief by urging that death has always been a human concern. The fifth section builds slowly from the speaker’s desire to understand the cricket’s song to his triumphant realization that in the face of death, life can still be enjoyed.

While these changing moods originate in the literal meaning of the poem, they are strongly reinforced by its form. Although the meter is predominantly iambic, the irregular style allows Tuckerman to utilize lines of as few as four syllables and as many as twelve. These short and long lines intermix to create a flexible, varying rhythm throughout the poem. This rhythm is...

(The entire section is 553 words.)