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Oliver Goldsmith The Deserted Village vs. George Crabbe’s “The Village”

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  • Category: Poems

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“The Deserted Village” by Oliver Goldsmith is a nostalgic poem about the passing of a simpler, happier rural past. It tells the story of a village which had once been happy and flourishing, but which is now quite deserted and fallen to ruins.

As for George Crabbe’s “The Village”, can be perceived as a response to “The Deserted Village”, since, unlike Goldsmith, Crabbe conceived the idea of telling the truth about country folk just like he saw it, showing the rural poverty in a very bleak picture from which he himself came.

In the first place, we have “The Deserted Village”, starting in very subjective verses, with personal reminiscence: “sweet Auburn! Loveliest village of the plain”, “seats of my youth, when every sport could please” (Ferguson and Salter and Stallworthy 627). The village appears entirely stable and serene: “how often have I paused on every charm” (Ferguson and Salter and Stallworthy 627).

However, if we read further in this poem, we get to the point that the poet is merely an observer, waiting for the cheerful laborers who never get back home, but unexpectedly disappear for “amidst thy bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen […] and tires their echoes with unvaried cries” (Ferguson and Salter and Stallworthy 628) the use of the tyrant image and the sound of echoes leaves nature in a ruinous state, since without human labor, nature is seen by Goldsmith dead: “where once the garden smiled”( Ferguson and Salter and Stallworthy 630).

Furthermore, we find many connotations for the Industrial Revolution that made people flee the country to the city seeking employments, and the agricultural industry gaining control by the big landowners “as ocean sweeps the labored mole away”( Ferguson and Salter and Stallworthy 636).

The poem’s imagery of destruction and loneliness “and half the business of destruction done”, “downward they move a melancholy band, pass from the shore, and darken all the strand” (Ferguson and Salter and Stallworthy 635) leaves the poem in a melancholic tone, and the use of heroic couplet holds a kind of pathos since they form a complete thought of the miserable life of the country side. And the use of this rhyme in the heroic couplet “has syntax distinct from that in conventional grammars and parts of speech regularly cross over in rhyme to make the zaniest or most profound observations. The association of words at the ends of lines sets up comparisons that poets use rhetorically to assert and create attitudes of pathos. (http://www.dundee.ac.uk/english/english/212.htm) On the other hand, George Crabbe’s “The Village”, a response to Goldsmith’s poem, since he uses the same kinds of literary devices, such as the heroic couplets and imagery, to show how poor and bleak the villagers’ life is.

In the first place, Crabbe starts his poem by tearing away the earlier poets who idealized the village “Yes, thus the Muses sing of happy swains, because the Muses never knew their pains” (David and Donaldson and Logan 2868), showing us that Goldsmith had no idea how much villagers suffer from poverty.

He adds “Ye gentle souls, who dream of rural ease, Whom the smooth stream and smoother sonnet please; Go! if the peaceful cot your praises share, Go look within, and ask if peace be there ;”( David and Donaldson and Logan 2871) showing that the poets such as Goldsmith actively confront images of wretched horses, kids playing by the fire which are nothing but their own imaginations, presenting Goldsmith as merely a romantic poet that had a very wrong image of rural life.

In addition, Crabbe uses an animalistic imagery to describe human “Here joyless roam a wild amphibious race, With sullen woe display’d in every face;”( David and Donaldson and Logan 2869) to show us that the villagers are mad bout their laboring work, and that criticizes Goldsmith again who portrayed a false image of the rural life.(Sigworth 16) On the other hand, Crabbe allowed his villagers to speak for themselves to portray their true conditions “When, roused by rage and muttering in the morn, He mends the broken hedge with icy thorn” (David and Donaldson and Logan 2871, 2872) and this imagery breaks with the traditional imagery, since it embodies the despair of those villagers. (Sigworth 22) In addition, we notice the use of language in Goldsmith’s poem which is simpler than Crabbe’s, possibly to re-asserts the power of unsophisticated tastes, since for him the increase of luxury was the cause of deserting the village. However, this simple language and imagery enabled the educated and upper class to ignore the pain and suffering of the rural peasants.

Goldsmith may not have been completely right in his description of the rural life, since he may have been a bit of a romantic. However, Crabbe though bleak in his poem, portrayed and criticised “The Deserted Village” using the same literary devices in a more honest “naturalistic” perspective.

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