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Analysis of ‘In drear nighted December’ by John Keats

In drear nighted December

‘In the drear nighted  December’ is a poem reflecting about the steadiness of nature irrespective of the changes. John Keats contrasts the steadiness with the inconsistencies of man amongst the changing nature of the world. This poem was written in 1817.


About the poet

John Keats (October 31, 1795 – February 23, 1821) was one the most widely anthologized and accomplished of the British Romantic Movement. He lived only for 25 years and his work, compared to other poets of the movement, was scant. Yet his reputation had unbelievable growth over the centuries. His works were entertaining and insightful. While he was alive his poetry became popular mostly because of Leigh Hunt who believed in Keats’ work and published them. Leigh Hunt also introduced him to Percy Bysshe Shelly and William Wordsworth. Shelly advised Keats to publish his works after he had a sizeable collection of poems but Keats, sensing he might not live long went ahead and published his first collection of poems in 1817, at the age of 22.


The poet says that it is a dreary December night but the trees are happy. The trees or the branches don’t remember the summer days when the leaves were green. The greenness was the reason for their happiness then. In the winter the winds with their ‘sleety whistle’ cannot ‘undo’ the trees. The ice freezes the branches but that does not stop them from budding during spring. In the next stanza he speaks to the brook. In the dreary winter night the brook is happy and it does not remember its state in summer. In summer it was bubbling but now in winter it is frozen but it never frets over the ‘crystals’ formed. The tree and the brook are happy the state they are in. In the third stanza he talks about man and woman. He wishes it were the same with men and women but no. They writhe with pain with every ‘passed joy’. John Keats being one among us knows there is no real solution for this. Human beings cannot but feel the fleeting emotions. They are incapable of enjoying any situation that is thrown to them. There is no ‘numbed sense to steel it’. And he adds that poetry cannot be rich if there was no melancholy.

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‘In the drear nighted December’ is poem with 24 lines split into three stanzas, each one an octet. The rhyme for the first stanza is ABABCCCD, the second stanza is AEAEFFFD and the third stanza is GHGHIIID. The line ‘In drear-nighted December’ is repeated and the device is, Refrain. Anaphora, which is repetition of words, is also included in this poem. The words repeated are ‘happy, remember, never, feel’. The tree and brook are personified and Keats is actually addressing them in the poem,

Thy branches ne’er remember

Thy bubblings ne’er remember

Metonym is the use of a closely related idea for the idea itself. Keats has used the word ‘north’ to mean cold winds. Similarly for sun he uses the word ‘Apollo’ and for poetry it is ‘rime’ (rhyme). The technique of synecdoche is also used by the poet. Synecdoche is a device where a part is used to indicate the whole. ‘A happy tree’ is used for all the trees and ‘a gentle girl and boy’ for all of mankind. ‘In drear-nighted December’ is a philosophical poem at one angle and it also highlights the hapless state of mankind who is imprisoned by the vagaries of the world.