'In Drear-Nighted December' by John Keats

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In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne'er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne'er remember
Apollo's summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would 'twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"In Drear-Nighted December" by John Keats: A Masterpiece of Romantic Poetry

Keats' "In Drear-Nighted December" is one of the greatest poems of the Romantic era. Written in 1818, it is a vivid evocation of the bleakness and despair of winter, and a profound meditation on the transience of life, the power of memory, and the human longing for beauty, love and meaning. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the themes, structure, style, and imagery of this remarkable poem, and show how it exemplifies the Romantic vision of art as a source of spiritual and emotional renewal.

The Theme of Transience and Mortality

The central theme of "In Drear-Nighted December" is the transience and mortality of life. The poem opens with a powerful image of winter as a "drear-nighted" season, a time of cold and darkness, when nature seems dead and lifeless. The speaker laments the passing of the year, and the loss of the "roses that in the garden grew", the "sweet-briar", the "violets", and the "lilies fair". He sees the "last oozings hours by hours" of the dying year as a symbol of his own mortality, and of the fragility and brevity of all human existence.

The theme of mortality is further developed in the second stanza, where the speaker describes the "melancholy days" of winter, when the "frosty wind" and the "crystal streams" freeze and turn to "icy fetters". He contrasts this image of death and stasis with the memory of his beloved, who is no longer with him, but whom he still cherishes in his heart. The memory of love is a source of joy and consolation, but also of pain and longing, because it reminds him of the impermanence of all human attachments, and of the inevitability of separation and loss.

The final stanza of the poem brings a powerful resolution to this theme of transience and mortality. The speaker imagines himself as a "dreamer on the hill", who sees "the beauty of the world". He realizes that even in the midst of winter, there is still beauty and life, as the "fair creature of an hour" – a bird – sings "its matins o'er". He understands that this fleeting moment of beauty is all the more precious, because it is so brief, and because it reminds him of the value of life and love, and of the need to cherish them while they last.

The Structure and Style of the Poem

The structure and style of "In Drear-Nighted December" are typical of Keats' poetry, and of Romantic poetry in general. The poem consists of three stanzas of eight lines each, with a rhyme scheme of ababcdcd. This gives the poem a sense of symmetry and balance, and allows Keats to develop his themes in a coherent and focused way.

The style of the poem is characterized by a rich and vivid use of language, and by a strong emphasis on sensory imagery. Keats employs a variety of poetic devices, such as alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia, to create a musical and rhythmic effect, and to evoke the sounds and sensations of winter. He also uses metaphors and similes to compare the world of nature to human emotions and experiences, and to emphasize the transience and fragility of life. For example, he compares the frosty wind to a "breath of misery", and the icy fetters to "frozen tears".

The style of the poem is also marked by a sense of emotional intensity and immediacy. Keats writes in the first person, and the speaker's voice is deeply personal and expressive. The poem is full of emotion and feeling, ranging from despair and melancholy to hope and wonder. The speaker's thoughts and feelings are conveyed through a series of powerful images and metaphors, which create a vivid and memorable impression on the reader.

The Imagery of the Poem

The imagery of "In Drear-Nighted December" is one of its most distinctive features. Keats uses a wide range of images and metaphors to describe the world of winter, and to evoke the emotions and experiences of the speaker. Some of the most striking images include:

These images are powerful and evocative, and they help to create a sense of atmosphere and mood that is characteristic of Romantic poetry. They also contribute to the theme of transience and mortality, by emphasizing the fleeting nature of all human experience, and the need to appreciate the beauty and meaning of life while it lasts.

The Interpretation of the Poem

The interpretation of "In Drear-Nighted December" is complex and multifaceted. On one level, the poem can be read as a straightforward meditation on the transience and mortality of life, and as a celebration of the power of memory and love to sustain us in the face of loss and despair. On another level, the poem can be seen as a reflection of Keats' own struggles with illness and mortality, and as a testament to his faith in the healing power of art and imagination.

One possible interpretation of the poem is that it represents Keats' response to the loss of his brother Tom, who died of tuberculosis in 1818. Keats himself was suffering from the disease at the same time, and was acutely aware of his own mortality. "In Drear-Nighted December" can be seen as a reflection of Keats' sense of isolation and despair, and of his search for meaning and beauty in the face of death.

Another possible interpretation of the poem is that it represents Keats' attempt to reconcile himself to the harsh realities of the world, and to find a sense of transcendence and spiritual renewal in the midst of suffering and despair. The image of the dreamer on the hill, who sees the beauty of the world, can be seen as a symbol of Keats' own poetic vision, and of his belief in the power of art to transform and uplift the human spirit.


"In Drear-Nighted December" is a masterpiece of Romantic poetry, and one of the greatest poems of the English language. Through its powerful imagery, emotional intensity, and profound meditation on the themes of transience, mortality, and the human longing for beauty and meaning, it captures the essence of the Romantic vision of art as a source of spiritual and emotional renewal. Keats' poem is a testament to the power of poetry to transcend the limitations of human existence, and to offer us a glimpse of the eternal and the divine.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry In Drear-Nighted December: A Masterpiece by John Keats

John Keats, one of the most celebrated poets of the Romantic era, is known for his exquisite use of language and vivid imagery. His poem, "Poetry In Drear-Nighted December," is a masterpiece that captures the essence of the season and the power of poetry. In this article, we will delve into the poem's themes, structure, and language, and explore why it remains a timeless work of art.

The poem begins with a description of the bleakness of December, a month that is often associated with darkness and cold. Keats paints a vivid picture of the season, using words like "drear," "frost," and "gray." He sets the scene for the rest of the poem, creating a sense of melancholy and isolation that is typical of the winter months.

However, despite the dreariness of the season, Keats finds beauty in the power of poetry. He writes, "No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, / No comfortable feel in any member-- / No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, / No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds-- / November!" This passage highlights the absence of life and vitality in the winter months, but it also emphasizes the power of poetry to transcend these limitations. Keats suggests that poetry can bring warmth, cheerfulness, and comfort to those who read it, even in the darkest of times.

The poem's structure is also noteworthy. It is written in a sonnet form, which is a traditional poetic form that consists of 14 lines. The first eight lines, known as the octave, present a problem or situation, while the last six lines, known as the sestet, offer a resolution or conclusion. Keats uses this structure to great effect, presenting the bleakness of December in the octave and then offering a solution in the sestet.

In the sestet, Keats writes, "Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn / Among the river sallows, borne aloft / Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; / And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; / Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft / The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft." This passage is a celebration of life and vitality, contrasting with the lifelessness of the octave. Keats suggests that poetry can bring life to the deadness of winter, and that even the smallest creatures can find joy in the season.

The language of the poem is also remarkable. Keats uses a variety of poetic devices, such as alliteration, assonance, and imagery, to create a rich and evocative language. For example, he writes, "The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold; / The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass, / And silent was the flock in woolly fold." This passage uses alliteration to create a sense of coldness and stillness, emphasizing the lifelessness of the season.

Keats also uses imagery to great effect, painting vivid pictures of the winter landscape. He writes, "The tangled bine-stems scored the sky / Like strings of broken lyres," creating a powerful image of the barrenness of the season. He also writes, "The embattled portal of the king," using a metaphor to describe the winter landscape as a fortress that must be conquered.

In conclusion, "Poetry In Drear-Nighted December" is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the essence of the season and the power of poetry. Keats uses vivid imagery and rich language to create a sense of melancholy and isolation, but he also celebrates the life and vitality that can be found in even the darkest of times. The poem's structure, a traditional sonnet, adds to its power, presenting a problem in the octave and offering a resolution in the sestet. Overall, this poem remains a timeless work of art that continues to inspire and move readers today.

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