AD's English Literature : John Keats' "To one who has been long in city pent" : Read from the Perspective of Nature Worship

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

John Keats' "To one who has been long in city pent" : Read from the Perspective of Nature Worship


The themes of the Keatsian lyrics cover a great range: nature, country, home, family, friends, conduct, love, God whatever emotion can touch. In the poet's heart and mind it has smoldered until it bursts out in the flame of expression. What range of kind and of intensity there is to human emotion! However, Nature Worship, a kind of poetic devotion paid either to nature as a deified collective entity or to all things in nature, including the elements, celestial bodies, plants, animals, and humanities best exhibited in Keatsian poetry. His To one who has been long in city pent can also be read from that perspective of Nature Worship.

In the poem To one who has been long in city pent Keats describes the experiences of a man who has long been shut up in the city and who has come to a countryside for a brief spell. The experience of the man enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds of nature in a countryside is the experience of the poet himself. Keats was born and bred in London. The dull monotony of the city life seemed to cramp the poet in him. So he always felt an attraction for the beauty of nature in the countryside.

This poem reminds us of the following lines in Milton’s Paradise Lost( book 9):

“As one who, long in populous city pent,
Where houses thik and sewers annoy the air,
Forth issuing on a summer’s morn, to breathe
Among the villagers and farms.”

A man long confined in a city, cannot enjoy the beauty of nature to his heart’s content. Here he cannot clearly see the blue sky overhead, his vision obstructed by tall buildings, dust and smoke. But when he comes back to countryside, he finds an altogether different picture. There is nothing to obstruct his view. So he finds it extremely pleasant to “look into the fair and open face of heaven.” The clear unclouded sky looks so bright in the light of the morning sun that it appears to smile cheerfully. This “smile of the blue firmament” fills his heart with great delight. And out of the delight he spontaneously offers god his heart felt prayer for such beautiful natural settings here: 

“    'Tis very sweet to look into the fair
    And open face of heaven,--to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.”

English Countryside
He scrolls here and there to see and enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds around the countryside. When tired of rambling, he finds a pleasant resting place surrounded by natural beauties. Wherever he casts his eyes in the countryside, he finds nothing but the diversified forms of nature. He lies down on a soft grassy land. The grasses, moving to and fro in the gentle breeze, seem to be wavy. So the poet says, “Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair of wavy grass.” Reclining on wavy grass, he reads an attractive story of “love and languishment.” The reading of a sweet love story in the midst of such beautiful natural surroundings is enjoyable indeed. Such a man, according to the poet, is the happiest man on earth:

“Who is more happy, when, with heart's content,
    Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair
    Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair
And gentle tale of love and languishment?”

In the evening the city dweller returns home, after enjoying the beauties of nature in the countryside for the whole day long. While retiring, he listens to the sweet songs of nightingale. The word Philomel refers to the young girl, Philomel in Greek mythology. She was changed into nightingale by god. Through this Hellenism, Keats asserts the the proximity of Nature and paganism together: 

“Returning home at evening, with an ear
    Catching the notes of Philomel,--an eye
Watching the sailing cloudlet's bright career,
    He mourns that day so soon has glided by:”

 The man looks above and sees small patches of cloud dancing in the sky. The rays of setting sun tinge the small pieces of clouds with the purple colours. This beautiful sight of cloudlets floating in the sky like ships sailing in the seas has been painted here poetically. The happy day passes away and city dweller returns home. He feels sad that such a sweet and pleasant day has passed away so soon.Keats here beautifully compares the passing of the day to the quiet and imperceptible falling of the angel’s tear from the sky. Here an angel’s tear refers to a dew drop “That falls through the clear ether silently.” In other words, the city dweller feels that the day has rendered him immense joy and pleasure; but it has passed away so soon. The day has passed away as quietly and imperceptibly as the falling of a dew drop from the clear sky above:

“    He mourns that day so soon has glided by:
E'en like the passage of an angel's tear
    That falls through the clear ether silently. ”

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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