John Keats' "In drear nighted December"

Updated on December 8, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

John Keats


Introduction and Text of "In drear nighted December"

John Keats' poem, "In 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.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

In drear nighted December

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
Writh’d not of 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 rime.

Reading of Keats' "In drear nighted December"


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.


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