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John Keats' "In a drear-nighted December"

Updated on November 30, 2016
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

John Keats


John Keats: The Complete Poems

John Keats: The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics)
John Keats: The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics)

This collection includes "In drear-nighted December"



John Keats' poem, "In a drear-nighted December," dramatizes the constancy of things in nature—a tree and a brook—while showing how different the human heart behaves.

Each stanza of Keats' poem consists of eight lines; the rime scheme is unique and must be counted over the entire poem to appreciate the technical skill employed: ABABCCCD AEACFFFD GHGHIIID. The reader will note that the final words in each stanza rime, an unusual touch that enhances the mood of the poem by unifying its suggestions. The rhythm also contributes to the melancholy of the poem.

First Stanza: "In a drear-nighted December / Too happy, happy tree"

The speaker begins by addressing a "Too happy, happy tree." He muses on the tree's memory as he assumes that the tree does not recall summer, a time of green leaves. He asserts that the branches likely do not remember their "green felicity."

The speaker thus asserts that the green leaves were the cause for happiness in the tree. Without the leaves, the tree should possibly lose its happiness or its felicitous state of greenness.

The speaker then asserts that it does not matter the bitterness of winter, in spring those same branches will once again start to bud and again produce that happy greenness of leaves. The cold "north cannot undo them," and the ice that freezes them cannot destroy their creative abilities. Their happiness does not depend upon things they may lose.

Second Stanza: "In a drear-nighted December / Too happy, happy brook"

The speaker then converses with the frozen brook. Just as the tree did not recall its own better condition in summer, the brook also does not remember its summer state. And like the tree, it is a "happy, happy brook."

The "bubblings" of the brook forget about summer and happily go on bubbling even through winter through the ice, never complaining "[a]bout the frozen time."

The brook continues to flow without complaint, without disturbing it surroundings with melancholy. It continues its only occupation, and the human speaker interprets such persistence as happiness.

Third Stanza: "Ah! would 't were so with many"

Finally, the speaker begins to philosophize his musing to the possibility of human beings behaving as the tree and brook in winter in the face of their melancholy times when they must endure loss.

The speaker through a rhetorical question suggests that humans do not confront their times of loss with evenmindedness. They "writhe" when their joy passes them by.

The speaker then proffers the strange and inaccurate claim that poetry has not been composed on the issue of how it feels "To know the change and feel it, / When there is none to heal it, / Nor numbed sense to steal it."

The speaker, no doubt, is suggesting that no solution to the problem is commonly noted, that there is no earthly remedy for the loss of "passed joy." But, of course, poetry is filled with melancholic ponderings of such sadness.

Reading of Keats' "In drear-nighted December"


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