The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The Deserted Village is a long poem, its 430 lines distributed among twenty-five verse paragraphs of varying length. All the lines are given in heroic couplets. It is clear that Oliver Goldsmith as poet is the persona of the poem. The first-person narration is used to express a lamentation, as it were, for the passing of a way of life.

The meaning of the title is readily evident; it not only lists the poem’s subject, but suggests its theme as well. Roughly, the poem can be divided into three main sections: a description of the village as it used to be at the time of the poet’s youth; a description of the village “today,” in the poet’s maturity; and the concluding section that somewhat details life in America, where the occupants of Auburn have gone.

“Sweet Auburn” has been identified as Lissoy, Ireland, the poet’s hometown. In the first paragraphs of the poem, Auburn is, strangely enough, described as if it were an English town—a fact that makes for what often has been called the only genuine weakness of the work. The details and images of life in this rustic village are consistently English: Indeed, the poet directly refers to England at the beginning of the fourth paragraph. He creates a picture of rustic life in England when times were simpler; land was owned and used commonly by farmers; the people were good and united by common purpose, integrity, and society; and all lived in accord with nature.


(The entire section is 527 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The Deserted Village is written in heroic verse. As such, it contains many elements of both lyrical and pastoral poetry in terms of its subject matter and expression. Goldsmith’s superbly written lines at times have lyrical qualities; his depiction of rustic characters and life—particularly repeated references to the swain (a somewhat mildly disguised allusion to his own childhood) and milkmaid—loosely qualify the poem as a pastoral in terms of its subject. Nevertheless, the poem is heroic because of its rhyme scheme and meter as well as other poetic conventions of the form.

The couplets display near-perfect end rhyme in most cases (an exception occurs in lines 205 and 206 wherein “aught” is rhymed with “fault”). Many lines contain alliteration, such as in the phrases “The whitewashed wall,” the “clock that clicked,” and “double debt.” The poet frequently employs assonance (“Amazed the gazing rustics” and “importance to the poor man’s heart”). The poem is written in iambic pentameter.

Perhaps Goldsmith’s second most important poetic device is his use of metaphor. Central to an understanding of the poem itself is the realization that “Auburn” is representative of all such small villages of the time of which the poet writes. That the town is idyllically and fictionally described in the first section (England) while realistically and autobiographically, though romantically, described in the...

(The entire section is 447 words.)