The Grasshopper and the Cricket
A sonnet-writing contest between John Keats and his friend Leigh Hunt
Did you know that John Keats pronounced his own name with such a thick cockney accent that his friend and fellow poet Leigh Hunt nicknamed him “Junkets” — “Junkets” evidently being the way “John Keats” sounded coming out of Keats’s own mouth?
It’s true. It even inspired the writer Tom Clark to title a book Junkets on a Sad Planet.
On December 30th, 1816, the twenty-two-year-old Leigh Hunt challenged his twenty-one-year-old friend Junkets to a sonnet-writing contest. The subject-matter, they both agreed, would be “the grasshopper and cricket.”
They gave each other fifteen minutes to complete their poems, and the following is what they came up with.
On the Grasshopper and Cricket — by John Keats
The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s — he takes the lead
In summer luxury, — he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
To the Grasshopper and the Cricket — by Leigh Hunt
Green little vaulter in the sunny grass,
Catching your heart up at the feel of June,
Sole voice that’s heard amidst the lazy noon,
When even the bees lag at the summoning brass;
And you, warm little housekeeper, who class
With those who think the candles come too soon,
Loving the fire, and with your tricksome tune
Nick the glad silent moments as they pass;
Oh sweet and tiny cousins, that belong
One to the fields, the other to the hearth,
Both have your sunshine; both, though small, are strong
At your clear hearts; and both were sent on earth
To sing in thoughtful ears this natural song:
Indoors and out, summer and winter — Mirth.
Whom do you think won?