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Friday, April 22, 2011

Number 133: Earth Day Throw-down (sorta) with Keats and Hunt

On the Grasshopper and the Cricket

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.

--John Keats

On the Grasshopper and the Cricket

Green little vaulter in the sunny grass,
Catching your heart up at the feel of June,
Sole voice that's heard amidst the lazy noon,
When even the bees lag at the summoning brass,
And you, warm little housekeeper, who class
With those who think the candles come too soon,
Loving the fire, and with your tricksome tune
Nick the glad silent moments as they pass;
Oh sweet and tiny cousins, that belong,
One to the fields, the other to the hearth,
Both have your sunshine; both, though small, are strong
At your clear hearts; and both seem given to earth
To ring in thoughtful ears this natural song --
In doors and out, summer and winter, mirth.

--Leigh Hunt

Hap Notes: Yes, it's another little contest posed by Keats and Hunt to come up with a poem expressing the characteristics of grasshoppers and crickets. Let's pause for a moment to think how delightful it is to have poets "dueling" on a subject for good-natured sport.

Keats, by the way, favored Hunt's poem, which is a very humble thing under the circumstances since, once again, Keats sees just a little bit farther than Hunt does. Hunt's poem has its charms as well.

The poems are put up in honor of Earth Day and the reason I thought of the poems at all is because when I think of the word "earth" Keats' poem first occurs to me. (Take a word and then think of the poem it corresponds to that first pops up in the mind- it's a game I play with myself. Sometimes it's a lively game, sometimes, not so much.)

In the poems we see Keats likening the "songs" of the grasshopper and the cricket to poetry and in his last two lines we aren't entirely sure if it is the listener or the cricket who remembers the grasshopper's summer song. Keats tells us that the earth is full of poetry to those who listen. Keats' creatures sing because they must sing, as maybe a poet does, eh?

Hunt's approach is that the grasshopper is an athletic "vaulter" and the cricket a "housekeeper" but both have songs of mirth to gladden the ear. Hunt's creatures are our "tiny cousins" given to earth to sing for us. Hunt is no slouch and it's a lovely poem.

I'll not charge you to write a sonnet about crickets and grasshoppers but it might be fun to try it.

Here's where we have talked about Keats and Hunt in contest before:

As far as crickets and grasshoppers go, they are somewhat related, both from the order Orthoptera. The grasshopper is diurnal the cricket is nocturnal. The grasshopper "sings" by rubbing his legs together, the cricket does the trick with his wings. All grasshoppers can fly, only some crickets can. There are about 900 cricket species and around 8,000 grasshopper species.

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