Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Goldsmith’s main purpose in writing The Deserted Village was to mourn the passing of a way of life. Undoubtedly, he too much romanticizes and idealizes the beauty and simplicity of the village; the purity, innocence, and honesty of its people; and the genuine goodness of their lives. The poet captures the essence of all things good about an agrarian village with common lands, trusting people, and social order and stability; he totally ignores any negative aspects of such an existence, particularly those of pervasive ignorance and incessant hard work—in short, of peasantry. At the same time, he overdramatizes the barbarity and hardship of America and those who went there from such places as England and Ireland.

The poem also can be interpreted as a series of futile indictments. Primarily, the English government is castigated for systematically destroying a way of life that, as Goldsmith recalls from his own youth, was faultlessly good. Developments in agriculture required an end to commonly used land for grazing and farming; in its place, a more productive system required individual ownership and control of small farms. The government had enacted such changes without regard for those whose livelihood and way of living it was uprooting. In his metaphor of Auburn as woman-become-prostitute, it is the English government to which Goldsmith refers when he uses the word “betrayer.”

At the same time, America is held up with contempt...

(The entire section is 572 words.)