‘To one who has been long in city pent’ is a sonnet written by John Keats appeared in his Poems, published in 1817. The poet has used this poem to exalt the virtues of nature and the beautiful life prevails in the countryside. The poem describes the experiences of a man’s short visit to the countryside
John Keats, in his poem ‘To one who has been long in city pent’ describes the experience of a city-dweller, who goes on a holiday to the countryside. Having been living in the city for a long time, the person finds life at the countryside, mind-blowing and nature, awe-inspiring. The speaker captures the delight of the city-dweller beautifully as he moves and breathes in the open air and his heart is filled with the joy of the sky that is free from dust, smoke, and the bustle of city life. The city-dweller feels the happiness of heaven on earth. Eventually, the day ends he returns home. On his way back too, he enjoys the sweet song of the nightingale and the clouds floating about the sky. The day rolled by quickly, that the poet compares it to the tear of the Angel flowing down through the clear sky unnoticed.
Theme and Setting
John Keats’s poem ‘To one who has been long in city pent’ set in the backdrop of the countryside. The poet has chosen the virtue of nature and the untiring beauty and freshness of the countryside as a core theme of the poem. He beautifully contrasts urban and rural life through nature imagery. The atmosphere in the country gives the serenity of heaven. The poet depicts the presence of spirituality in a close connection to nature. The theme and setting of the poem reflect the following words of John Milton in Paradise lost book IX.
“As one who, long in populous city pent,
Where houses thik and sewers annoy the air,
Forth issuing on a summer’s morn, to breathe
Among the villagers and farms.”
Form and Structure
Keats’ poem ‘To one who has been long in city pent’ is a sonnet written in fourteen lines in a stanza following the Petrarchan sonnet form. It follows the Rhyme Scheme of ‘ABBAABBA’ in the octave and ‘CDCDCD’ in the sestet. Except for the third line, the whole poem is written in ‘Iambic pentameter.’ Compared to the regular sonnet form where the shift occurs only in the 9th line, where the shift happens in the third line. From being in “city pent”, the theme shift to rejoicing in nature, along with religious references like heaven and prayer.
Poetic and Literary Devices Used
The tone of a poem decides the attitude of the poet towards the subject or audience. The poet begins with the tone of reverence that switches to the excitement in the middle of the poem. As the poem ends one could hear the disappointment in the tone of the poet.
The speaker of the poem uses the rhetorical questions in the second quatrain to validate his view that a happy man is the one who lives in harmony with nature. He has brought in end-stopped and enjambed lines to bring about the sense of completion and peace. The rhetorical questions balance the poet’s viewpoint and helping the readers follow as he goes on.
The poet has used contrasting diction in the poem to bring the balance between city life and country life. He has used simple words along with the elevated word meaning. For example, “firmament” in the fourth line, describing the tale as “debonair” and elevated reference to “Philomel” or the nightingale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses is used by the poet to compare nature with a place of worship. On the whole, the poet’s application of both common and elevated words strikes the perfect balance and appeals to the wide range of audiences.
Metaphor and personification
The poet’s adept use of metaphor and personification lends itself to the peaceful flow of the poem from start to finish. For example, in the first four lines, heaven is personified as having a “fair and open face” and a “smile” as well. Again the poet compares the quickness of the day to “the passage of an angel’s tear.” Collectively, the poem itself is an extended metaphor throughout the whole text, symbolically comparing to life alongside nature.
Allusion & Imagery
The poet makes a reference to Greek mythology in the tenth line when he tells about listening to the song of a nightingale as he returns to city life “With an ear/catching the notes of Philomel.” According to mythology, Philomel is a minor goddess of music who was transformed into a nightingale. This allusion also contributes to the sensory image of hearing a nightingale sing.
Lines 1 to 4
To one who has been long in city pent,
‘Tis very sweet to look into the fair
And open face of heaven,—to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.
The first four lines of the poem ‘To one who has been long in city pent’ shares a person’s experience of the countryside who has long been confined to city life. The line ‘who has been long in city pent’ explores the limitations of the city life. They cannot clearly see the blue sky overhead, for their vision is stymied by tall buildings, dust, and smoke. City dwellers are busy running about their without having much time to stand and still. The same person when he comes to the countryside finds a different life altogether. He pleasantly looks at the “fair and open face of heaven.” The clear unclouded sky looks so bright that it makes the city dweller as if it is smiling at him.
Lines 5 to 8
Who is more happy, when, with heart’s content,
Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair
Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair
And gentle tale of love and languishment?
In lines 5 to 8, the man enjoys the beautiful sights and sounds around the countryside to his hearts full. When he becomes tired of rambling about the countryside, he rests in a place again surrounded by natural beauties. He lies down on soft grassy land. The grasses, moving to and fro in the gentle breeze, seem to be wavy. Reclining on wavy grass, he reads an attractive story of “love and languishment.” According to the poet, he is the happiest man, for he finds the diversified forms of nature.
Lines 9 to 11
Returning home at evening, with an ear
Catching the notes of Philomel,—an eye
Watching the sailing cloudlet’s bright career,
In lines 9 to 11, the poet further explains how the city dweller fills his ear and eyes with the beauty of nature. He has enjoyed the beauties of nature in the countryside for the whole day long. In the evening, while going back to the city, he listens to the ‘notes of Philomel’. ‘Philomel’ refers to the young girl in Greek mythology, turned into a nightingale by God. He looks above and sees the cloudlet’s floating in the sky reflecting the rays of setting. Keats here metaphorically compares the floating cloudlets to the ships sailing in the sea.
Lines 12 to 14
He mourns that day so soon has glided by:
E’en like the passage of an angel’s tear
That falls through the clear ether silently.
The lines 12 to 14, briefly captures the disappointment of the city dweller. He sadly longs for the day, for it has gone so quickly before he could realize that the day has gone so fast. The poet beautifully compares it to the tears of Angel that runs quietly and unnoticed. The passage of the tear could not be traced as it slides down through ‘the clear ether’. In the theological or philosophical sense, the ether refers to the essence of the universe. Again, the poet reiterates the closeness between nature and spirituality.
About John Keats
John Keats, the notable English Romantic lyric poet, lived between October 31, 1795, and February 23, 1821. Despite having a short life, he dedicated much of his time to the perfection of poetry. His poetry is marked by vivid imagery, deep philosophy, and sensuous appeal. He attained immortality through some of his best poems like Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, La Belle Dame sans Merci, and On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.