Analysis of to the poem To the Nile by Keats

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A detailed analysis of Keat’s sonnet “To the Nile” by R.C. Fernando,

A detailed analysis of Keat’s sonnet “To the Nile” by R.C. Fernando,

Teacher of English Literate at A!har College, A"rana, Kandy. #hone $

Teacher of English Literate at A!har College, A"rana, Kandy. #hone $

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I thought of providing a detailed analysis of the I thought of providing a detailed analysis of the Poem “To the Nile” by John Keats which is

Poem “To the Nile” by John Keats which is

prescribed for the !" "iterature new syllabus# as prescribed for the !" "iterature new syllabus# as it is a

it is a poem students usually $nd di%cult and forpoem students usually $nd di%cult and for which there are hardly any e&planatory notes which there are hardly any e&planatory notes available either in the

available either in the internet or other sources'internet or other sources'  (

 (ou might feel tou might feel that my analysis hat my analysis is ridiculois ridiculously longusly long for such a short poem' )owever# I

for such a short poem' )owever# I believe that thisbelieve that this will help the teachers as well as

will help the teachers as well as students to readstudents to read beyond the lines and appreciate the real beauty beyond the lines and appreciate the real beauty of the this gem of a sonnet'

of the this gem of a sonnet'

*irst of all we must understand that this poem is a sonnet written in the Petrarchan style *irst of all we must understand that this poem is a sonnet written in the Petrarchan style which contain an ocatave +the $rst eight lines, rhyming abbaabba and a sestet+ne&t si& which contain an ocatave +the $rst eight lines, rhyming abbaabba and a sestet+ne&t si& lines, rhyming cdcdcd'

lines, rhyming cdcdcd' In the Italian or In the Italian or the Petrarchan sonnet# there is the Petrarchan sonnet# there is usually a “volta”usually a “volta” or a “turn” of the line of thought from the ctave

or a “turn” of the line of thought from the ctave to the sestet' In to the sestet' In this sonnet also "inethis sonnet also "ine number - mar.s a change of thought' The poet seems to have awa.ened from his number - mar.s a change of thought' The poet seems to have awa.ened from his reverie or day/dreaming of the charms of the Nile and begins to re0ect on the natural reverie or day/dreaming of the charms of the Nile and begins to re0ect on the natural beauty of the river' The poet addresses the Nile directly# in the style of his great des beauty of the river' The poet addresses the Nile directly# in the style of his great des such as de to utumn or

such as de to utumn or the de on a the de on a 2recian 3rn2recian 3rn'' ne should also understand the historical and the

ne should also understand the historical and the geographicageographical importance of l importance of the Nilethe Nile 4iver in order to understand this beautiful sonnet' )istorica

4iver in order to understand this beautiful sonnet' )istorically# river Nile is said to lly# river Nile is said to be thebe the cradle of one of the

cradle of one of the oldest civili5ationoldest civili5ations in the world6 the s in the world6 the Nile valley civili5ation or theNile valley civili5ation or the 7gyptian civili5ation which developed alongside the Nile 4iver' 2eographically# it is the 7gyptian civili5ation which developed alongside the Nile 4iver' 2eographically# it is the longest river in frica as well as in the world' The Nile 4iver has two branches' ne is the longest river in frica as well as in the world' The Nile 4iver has two branches' ne is the 8hite Nile +the

8hite Nile +the longest branch, which originates in the "a.e 9ictoria and the longest branch, which originates in the "a.e 9ictoria and the otherother branch is the :lue Nile which originates in the "a.e Tana in 7thiopia' lthough shorter branch is the :lue Nile which originates in the "a.e Tana in 7thiopia' lthough shorter than the 8hite Nile# the :lue

than the 8hite Nile# the :lue Nile contributes more than ;<= of the total volume of Nile contributes more than ;<= of the total volume of thethe Nile waters' The two branches meet in Khartoum# the

Nile waters' The two branches meet in Khartoum# the capital of >udan# and $nally endscapital of >udan# and $nally ends in ?airo# 7gypt# where it 0ows into the @editerranean >ea by forming a large# rich delta' in ?airo# 7gypt# where it 0ows into the @editerranean >ea by forming a large# rich delta'  The Nile can b

 The Nile can be called an ie called an internationnternational river as it 0oal river as it 0ows throws through as much augh as much as nine counts nine countriesries in frica including :urundi# 4wanda# Tan5ania# ?ongo etc' The annual 0ooding of the Nile in frica including :urundi# 4wanda# Tan5ania# ?ongo etc' The annual 0ooding of the Nile 4iver had become a blessing in disguise for the 7gyptians# as it

4iver had become a blessing in disguise for the 7gyptians# as it deposited the rich loamdeposited the rich loam mud on the ban.s of

mud on the ban.s of the river which turned it into a fertile landscape# ideal forthe river which turned it into a fertile landscape# ideal for agricultur

agriculture' The e' The building of the swan Aam building of the swan Aam and several other dams and several other dams across the Nile lateracross the Nile later helped to manage the 0ooding to a

helped to manage the 0ooding to a great e&tent'great e&tent'  The Nile 4iver

 The Nile 4iver is also steis also steeped in mythologeped in mythology with )api beiy with )api being its chief ng its chief 2od who is2od who is

associated with 0ooding# thus bringing fertility and fruitfulness' siris and his wife Isis associated with 0ooding# thus bringing fertility and fruitfulness' siris and his wife Isis are also worshipped by the 7gyptians' Keats being a lover of 2ree. mythology may have are also worshipped by the 7gyptians' Keats being a lover of 2ree. mythology may have

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heard of the 2od Nilus# the 2ree. 2od

heard of the 2od Nilus# the 2ree. 2od of the Nile 4iver and of the Nile 4iver and the travel agues of thethe travel agues of the

7nglish 7&plorers such as John >pe.e who undertoo. an e&pedition to the interiors of the 7nglish 7&plorers such as John >pe.e who undertoo. an e&pedition to the interiors of the Aar. ?ontinent as it was then called'

Aar. ?ontinent as it was then called'

)aving said that# now I am going to analy5e the poem line by line so that you can get a )aving said that# now I am going to analy5e the poem line by line so that you can get a better understandi

better understanding of the ng of the poem' The poet begins the sonnet with the poem' The poet begins the sonnet with the line “>on of theline “>on of the ld @oon/@ountains fricanC” In this line the poet personi$es the Nile as the “son” of the ld @oon/@ountains fricanC” In this line the poet personi$es the Nile as the “son” of the old frican @oon/@ountains' In other words# The Nile originates from the @oon @ountains old frican @oon/@ountains' In other words# The Nile originates from the @oon @ountains  Dust li.

 Dust li.e the 4iver @ae the 4iver @ahaweli originhaweli originates from tates from the >ri Phe >ri Pada or the ada or the dams Pdams Pea. @ountain' sea. @ountain' s I mentioned earlier# the two branches of the 4iver

I mentioned earlier# the two branches of the 4iver Nile# the 8hite Nile and the Nile# the 8hite Nile and the :lue Nile:lue Nile are said to originate from the two la.es/ "a.e 9ictoria and "a.e Tana in 7thiopia'

are said to originate from the two la.es/ "a.e 9ictoria and "a.e Tana in 7thiopia' )owever# these la.es are also# in turn# fed by streams 0owing from the mountains' )owever# these la.es are also# in turn# fed by streams 0owing from the mountains'  Therefor

 Therefore# it was di%ce# it was di%cult to ascertault to ascertain the true sin the true source of thource of the Nile 4iver ale Nile 4iver although it wasthough it was historical

historically associated with the legendary “@oon/@ountains” # so called may be ly associated with the legendary “@oon/@ountains” # so called may be due todue to their semi/circula

their semi/circular shape or r shape or because they were snow/capped mountains' )owever# thebecause they were snow/capped mountains' )owever# the e&act origin of the Nile 4iver remains uncertain as the two la.es are fed by so many e&act origin of the Nile 4iver remains uncertain as the two la.es are fed by so many

tributaries' (ou might also wonder what poetic techniEues are used in this particular line' tributaries' (ou might also wonder what poetic techniEues are used in this particular line' ne techniEue is inversion where the word order is changed or inverted' )ere# the

ne techniEue is inversion where the word order is changed or inverted' )ere# the position of the adDective “frican” has been inverted as it normally comes before the position of the adDective “frican” has been inverted as it normally comes before the head noun# in this

head noun# in this case# @oon/@ountains' nother techniEue is personi$cation' The rivercase# @oon/@ountains' nother techniEue is personi$cation' The river is personi$ed as the son of the @oon/@ountains which are li.e parents'

is personi$ed as the son of the @oon/@ountains which are li.e parents'  The ne&t lin

 The ne&t line is “?e is “?hief of hief of the Pyramid and the Pyramid and ?rocod?rocodile”' 8hy is the ile”' 8hy is the Nile called thNile called the ?hief ofe ?hief of the Pyramid and ?rocodileF s you .now the ancient 7gyptians built pyramids as tombs the Pyramid and ?rocodileF s you .now the ancient 7gyptians built pyramids as tombs for the Paraohs +their .ings, and Eueens' These tombs were made with huge bloc.s of for the Paraohs +their .ings, and Eueens' These tombs were made with huge bloc.s of stones which were transported through the Nile river in barges to the pyramid sites' It stones which were transported through the Nile river in barges to the pyramid sites' It would have been impossible otherwise to

would have been impossible otherwise to transport these stone bloc.s through thetransport these stone bloc.s through the rugged desert lands stretching into hundreds of miles' Thus it is right to call the Nile the rugged desert lands stretching into hundreds of miles' Thus it is right to call the Nile the ?hief of the pyramids' Now to the crocodiles' Perhaps you may be aware that the 4iver ?hief of the pyramids' Now to the crocodiles' Perhaps you may be aware that the 4iver Nile is the home

Nile is the home to the largest species of crocodiles in the world' 7specially# the ban.s ofto the largest species of crocodiles in the world' 7specially# the ban.s of the Nile are

the Nile are teeming with these huge crocodiles who are teeming with these huge crocodiles who are also associated with the also associated with the 2od2od siris legends' s such we cannot say that the

siris legends' s such we cannot say that the poet has used e&aggeration or hyperbolepoet has used e&aggeration or hyperbole in this line' )owever

in this line' )owever# the poet has used the techn# the poet has used the techniEue of contrast iEue of contrast here as the Pyramidhere as the Pyramidss are non/living things while the crocodiles are living things'

are non/living things while the crocodiles are living things' In the third line the poet

In the third line the poet says “we call thee fruitful and that very while”' The poet says “we call thee fruitful and that very while”' The poet rightlyrightly calls the Nile fruitful since it is the river that sustains life in the Nile 9alley not only by calls the Nile fruitful since it is the river that sustains life in the Nile 9alley not only by providing food from agriculture and $shing but also by providing them with a mode of providing food from agriculture and $shing but also by providing them with a mode of transport and also by serving as a playground for water sports' The Nile itself was transport and also by serving as a playground for water sports' The Nile itself was

considered as a symbol of fertility# as according to the 7gyptian mythology# the manhood considered as a symbol of fertility# as according to the 7gyptian mythology# the manhood of the slain King siris was supposed to be eaten by a crocodile so that his wife who was of the slain King siris was supposed to be eaten by a crocodile so that his wife who was searching for the scattered body parts of the King could not resurrect him into life as that searching for the scattered body parts of the King could not resurrect him into life as that part was missing' In this line# the poet uses

part was missing' In this line# the poet uses an adDective “fruitfuan adDective “fruitful” as a l” as a noun' “Thee”noun' “Thee” means an old term for “you”'

means an old term for “you”'  The thir

 The third line is a rd line is a run/on line meaning un/on line meaning that it lin.s wthat it lin.s with the fourth ith the fourth line which rline which reads as “eads as “ desert $lls our

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with a dersert' Imagination is sometimes called the “third eye” but here the

with a dersert' Imagination is sometimes called the “third eye” but here the poet calls itpoet calls it “seeingGs inward span”' "iterally it means the inner dimension of our vision or

“seeingGs inward span”' "iterally it means the inner dimension of our vision or

imagination' Ta.en together this line means that our imagination is $lled with a desert imagination' Ta.en together this line means that our imagination is $lled with a desert while we wonder at the fruitfulness if the river' Thus# fruitfulness and barrenness e&ist while we wonder at the fruitfulness if the river' Thus# fruitfulness and barrenness e&ist side by side# another wonder of nature'

side by side# another wonder of nature' In the ne&t line the

In the ne&t line the poet says “Nurse of the swart nations since the poet says “Nurse of the swart nations since the world began#”' Itworld began#”' It means the river Nile has nourished the dar. nations or the fricans since time

means the river Nile has nourished the dar. nations or the fricans since time immemorial' The Nile river has given life not

immemorial' The Nile river has given life not only to one nation but only to one nation but to several countriesto several countries through which it 0ows'

through which it 0ows'  The ne&t lin

 The ne&t line starts wie starts with a rhetorth a rhetorical Euestioical Euestion' “n' “rt thou so frrt thou so fruitfulF” This iuitfulF” This is followed bs followed byy another rhetorical Euestion6

another rhetorical Euestion6 “or “or dost thou beguile!>uch men to dost thou beguile!>uch men to honour thee# who# honour thee# who# wornworn with toil#!4est for a space twi&t ?airo and AecanF” )ere Keats may be referring to

with toil#!4est for a space twi&t ?airo and AecanF” )ere Keats may be referring to

temples dedicated to siris which are scattered along the ban.s of the 4iver' ccording temples dedicated to siris which are scattered along the ban.s of the 4iver' ccording to the legends# Isis# the wife of

to the legends# Isis# the wife of siris# built those temples to enshrine various parts of hissiris# built those temples to enshrine various parts of his slain body scattered along the Nile by his brother >eth who murdered him' The poet in slain body scattered along the Nile by his brother >eth who murdered him' The poet in these lines wonders whether the river Nile has a certain magical charm that ma.es these lines wonders whether the river Nile has a certain magical charm that ma.es

people consider it as a holy river li.e the 2angese river in India which is the most sacred people consider it as a holy river li.e the 2angese river in India which is the most sacred river to the )indus' The poet also sees the 4iver having a rest between ?airo and Aecan' river to the )indus' The poet also sees the 4iver having a rest between ?airo and Aecan' ?airo is the place where the river ends and Aecan must be the place where it begins' ?airo is the place where the river ends and Aecan must be the place where it begins' )owever we get confused here since the word Aecan in 7gyptian lore refers to a group of  )owever we get confused here since the word Aecan in 7gyptian lore refers to a group of  constellations +H to be e&act, and thus meaning the river is having a rest between land constellations +H to be e&act, and thus meaning the river is having a rest between land and s.y which does not ma.e much sense' 8as Keats referring to the Aeccan plateau in and s.y which does not ma.e much sense' 8as Keats referring to the Aeccan plateau in the central India from whence begin rivers such as Narmada and TaptiF Thus can it be a the central India from whence begin rivers such as Narmada and TaptiF Thus can it be a geographica

geographical inaccuracyF I invite you to l inaccuracyF I invite you to consider these Euestionsconsider these Euestions' 7ven the ' 7ven the writers of thewriters of the e boo. issued by the

e boo. issued by the NI7 have made the NI7 have made the mista.e of identifyimista.e of identifying Aeccan plateau as theng Aeccan plateau as the source of the Nile 4iver  a glaring mista.e indeed# since we live in a world far more source of the Nile 4iver  a glaring mista.e indeed# since we live in a world far more advanced +in terms of technology and .nowledge, than that of KeatsG'

advanced +in terms of technology and .nowledge, than that of KeatsG' >o far

>o far +in the +in the octave,# octave,# Keats Keats has trhas treated the Nile eated the Nile reverently or reverently or respectfullyrespectfully' )owever#' )owever# from the line number - which starts the sestet# we can see a LvoltaG or a turn in the line from the line number - which starts the sestet# we can see a LvoltaG or a turn in the line of thought6 The poetGs attitude to the

of thought6 The poetGs attitude to the Nile 4iver changes from one of reverence to aNile 4iver changes from one of reverence to a realistic one'

realistic one'

“ may dar. fancies errC They surely doM” “ may dar. fancies errC They surely doM”

8hat does this line meanF 8ell# literally it means that fancy or imagination can mislead 8hat does this line meanF 8ell# literally it means that fancy or imagination can mislead us' This line reminds us of a similar line in de to Nightingale by Keats6

us' This line reminds us of a similar line in de to Nightingale by Keats6 dieuC the fancy cannot cheat so well

dieuC the fancy cannot cheat so well  s she is famd to do# deceiving elf'  s she is famd to do# deceiving elf'

)ere also Keats is being critical of his own habit of day/dreaming or Lnegative capabilityG )ere also Keats is being critical of his own habit of day/dreaming or Lnegative capabilityG as he calls it'

as he calls it'

ccording to Keats# negative capability is Lwhen man is capable of being in uncertainties' ccording to Keats# negative capability is Lwhen man is capable of being in uncertainties' @ysteries# doubts# without any irritable reaching after fact and reason' )owever# he also @ysteries# doubts# without any irritable reaching after fact and reason' )owever# he also

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 

appreciated reality or LtruthG as he calls it' This is aptly e&pressed in his Lde to the appreciated reality or LtruthG as he calls it' This is aptly e&pressed in his Lde to the 2recian 3rnG when he says#

2recian 3rnG when he says#

::eeaauutty y iis s ttrruutthh# # ttrruutth h bbeeaauuttyy##OOtthhaat t iis s aallll  (

 (e .now on earthe .now on earth# and all ye need # and all ye need to .nowto .now''

 Thus# the po

 Thus# the poet now begins et now begins to doubt his to doubt his “dar. fancies“dar. fancies” or his r” or his romantic imaginatomantic imagination whichion which too. him to the

too. him to the e&otic lands of ancient 7gypt of Pyramids# Pharaohs and the great Nilee&otic lands of ancient 7gypt of Pyramids# Pharaohs and the great Nile steeped in legends' )e now becomes more Ldown/to/earthG and begins to e&plore the steeped in legends' )e now becomes more Ldown/to/earthG and begins to e&plore the 4iver from an artistic or

4iver from an artistic or aesthetic point of viewaesthetic point of view' ' Ne&t he says 6Ne&t he says 6 Tis ignorance that ma.es a barren waste

Tis ignorance that ma.es a barren waste f all beyond itselfG

f all beyond itselfG

)ere he may be wondering at his own ignorance or the ignorance of the 7uropeans )ere he may be wondering at his own ignorance or the ignorance of the 7uropeans whose Ldar. fanciesG about frica consisted mainly of vast deserts and giant pyramids' whose Ldar. fanciesG about frica consisted mainly of vast deserts and giant pyramids'  The poet has

 The poet has even as.eeven as.ed “d “rt thou so frrt thou so fruitfulF” earlieruitfulF” earlier' This obses' This obsession with dsion with desert#esert# according to Keats# is due to LignoranceG as Nile valley is surely a fertile landscape# so according to Keats# is due to LignoranceG as Nile valley is surely a fertile landscape# so fertile that it gave birth to

fertile that it gave birth to the $rst human civili5ation'the $rst human civili5ation'

In the last few lines we can see the typical Keatsian language which is sensuous and very In the last few lines we can see the typical Keatsian language which is sensuous and very much alive to the beauty# sounds and smells of nature'

much alive to the beauty# sounds and smells of nature'  Thou dost b

 Thou dost bedewedew

2reen rushes li.e our rivers# and dost taste 2reen rushes li.e our rivers# and dost taste  The pleasant

 The pleasant sunrise' 2rsunrise' 2reen isles haseen isles hast thou too#t thou too# nd to the sea

nd to the sea as happily dost haste'as happily dost haste'  The poet begin

 The poet begins to see the 4s to see the 4iver in all itiver in all its resples resplendent beauty in ndent beauty in its maDestic Dits maDestic Dourneyourney towards the sea' )e compares the Nile to “our rivers” whose green rushes or the plants towards the sea' )e compares the Nile to “our rivers” whose green rushes or the plants with long leaves are decorated with dew or drops of mist' This is a beautiful visual image with long leaves are decorated with dew or drops of mist' This is a beautiful visual image that appeals to our eyes' The

that appeals to our eyes' The river also tastes Lpleasant sunriseG' This is a combination of river also tastes Lpleasant sunriseG' This is a combination of  visual and gustatory images' The river also contains “green isles”' The repetition of

visual and gustatory images' The river also contains “green isles”' The repetition of

LgreenG produces an eQect of lush greenery which contrasts with the repetition of LdesertG LgreenG produces an eQect of lush greenery which contrasts with the repetition of LdesertG in the octave'

in the octave'  The sonnet a

 The sonnet appropriappropriately ends with tely ends with the line6the line6 nd to the sea

nd to the sea as happily dost haste'as happily dost haste' I am tempted

I am tempted to believe that the word LhappilyG contains a pun or word play since L)apiGto believe that the word LhappilyG contains a pun or word play since L)apiG was the 2od

was the 2od of the of the annual 0ooding in 7annual 0ooding in 7gyptian mythologygyptian mythology''  The poem is w

 The poem is written in elevatritten in elevated language aed language and it is rich nd it is rich in meaning din meaning despite the facespite the fact thatt that Keats wrote this poem in a friendly sonnet competition with "eigh )unt and >helly on  Keats wrote this poem in a friendly sonnet competition with "eigh )unt and >helly on  *eb

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s a nature poem “To the Nile” ma.es us appreciate the beauty of a river and its value s a nature poem “To the Nile” ma.es us appreciate the beauty of a river and its value as a life giving source' 8e also learn how the people in ancient times worshipped the as a life giving source' 8e also learn how the people in ancient times worshipped the river as a 2od or a gift of nature' 8e also get some momentary pleasure by loo.ing at river as a 2od or a gift of nature' 8e also get some momentary pleasure by loo.ing at the lush greenery and the beauty of the river in the morning' The poem thus helps us to the lush greenery and the beauty of the river in the morning' The poem thus helps us to apprecia

appreciate the fertility and the te the fertility and the beauty of rivers at a beauty of rivers at a time when they are beingtime when they are being increasingly polluted due to industriali5ation'

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R R

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-1S 1S

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11 11

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1B 1B

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1H 1H

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1 1

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1< 1<

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1 1

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