John Keats (1795-1821) was part of the Romanticism movement in poetry. In 1816 he wrote “On the Grasshopper and Cricket” as a celebration of the natural world. In this poem, he highlights how these little insects carry on the “song” of nature throughout the year.
“On the Grasshopper and Cricket” by John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead: When all the birds are faint with the hot sun, And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead; That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead In summer luxury,—he has never done With his delights; for when tired out with fun He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed. The poetry of earth is ceasing never: On a lone winter evening, when the frost Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever, And seems to one in drowsiness half lost, The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
The lines I really enjoy in this poem are “The Poetry of the earth is never dead”, and then ‘The poetry of the earth is ceasing never”. With these lines, Keats is noticing that the earth continues to create, sing, and inspire poetry with its presence no matter what the season.
Dan Beachy-Quick (b.1973) is associate professor of English at Colorado State University and the author of seven books of poetry. He is also the author of A Brighter Word Than Bright: Keats at Work. In this book, Beachy-Quick provides a chronological examination of Keats’ life through his poems and letters. And even though I couldn’t find any definitive proof that “The Cricket and the Grasshopper” is a direct response to Keats’ “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”, based on Beachy-Quick’s scholarly pursuits I can only assume it is.
“The Cricket and the Grasshopper” by Dan Beachy-Quick
The senseless leaf in the fevered hand Grows hot, near blood-heat, but never grows Green. Weeks ago the dove’s last cooing strain Settled silent in the nest to brood slow Absence from song. The dropped leaf cools On the uncut grass, supple still, still green, Twining still these fingers as they listless pull The tangle straight until the tangle tightens And the hand is caught, another fallen leaf. The poetry of the earth never ceases Ceasing — one blade of grass denies belief Until its mere thread bears the grasshopper’s Whole weight, and the black cricket sings unseen, Desire living in a hole beneath the tangle’s green.
Beachy-Quick repeats Keats’ line, “The poetry of the earth never ceases” and mirrors the silencing of bird song in the afternoon heat. There is also the parallel between Keats’ “He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed” and Beachy-Quick’s “Desire living in a hole beneath the tangle’s green.” I think it is safe to say this is a poetic response Keats’ work.
NPR’s 2-Minute Listen on Insect Sounds
Not sure what a these insects sound like? Here is NPR’s Renee Montagne two-minute interview with evolutionary biologist Laurel Symes on insect sounds. Listen Here.
- PoetryFoundation.org: Keats, “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”
- PoetryFoundation.org: Beachy-Quick, “The Cricket and the Grasshopper”
- Beachy-Quick, Dan. A Brighter Word Than Bright: Keats at Work
- NPR’s 2-Minute Listen- “Insect Sounds: Telling Crickets, Cicadas And Katydids Apart”
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