Do you agree that John Keats' poem "To the Nile" is composed only to celebrate nature?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although there is some appreciation of nature in "To the Nile," John Keats seems to take a different direction overall in this sonnet about Egypt's famous river. At first the sonnet acknowledges the ancient fame and reverence, even worship, that belongs to the river. Yet he immediately juxtaposes that praise with the irony that the idolized river presides over a desert—a piece of nature he seems to have little appreciation for. He then considers the meaning of "fruitfulness." People have called the river fruitful, yet he wonders whether that is merely because, compared to its surrounding landscape, it offers "rest for a space 'twixt Cairo and Decan."

At the beginning of the sestet, Keats becomes more direct in his disparagement of the over-appreciated river: "O may dark fancies err! They surely do." He states that anything that cannot extend its fruitfulness to the world "beyond itself" is ignorance. By application, we assume Keats thinks that those who find the Nile so worthy of praise and worship because of its supposed "fruitfulness" are ignorant. He then goes on to acknowledge, almost as an afterthought, that the Nile has the same beautiful properties that make him appreciate "our rivers," that is, English rivers. But the point is not to dwell on how lovely rivers are, but rather that the Nile is, if anything, not as impressive as English rivers because it is unable to extend its fruitfulness "beyond itself."

Taking Keats' reaction to the river metaphorically, we can see that he has more to say about the tendency of people to worship something that is not worthy of worship than he has to say about appreciating nature.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial