Stylistic Analysis of John Keats’ “In a Drear-Nighted December”, Anka Shahid

Stylistic Analysis of John Keats’ “In a Drear-Nighted December”

by Anka Shahid, University of the Punjab, Lahore

The aim of my study is based upon the stylistic analysis of the poem “In a Drear-Nighted December” written by a renowned English Romantic poet John Keats. This analysis is made on all levels; Lexical, Grammatical, Figures of Speech, Schemes and Phonological Sound Patterns, and Context and Cohesion to analyze what the poet intents to convey by portraying beauty in desolation. Stylistics techniques and methods are used to unfold the hidden sorrow of poet’s thoughts. The use of literary devices and the figurative speech enhances the impact of the poetry at the reader’s mind.


According to H.G. Widdowson, “Stylistics involves both literary criticism and linguistics as its morphological making suggests: the “style” component relating it to the former (literary) and the “istics” component to the latter (linguistics)”. It is a study of literary style, and how it changes within different contexts. It gives a different insight to a poem and tells us how appropriately the words and language are used in any piece of writing. Stylistics analysis will help to analyze language habits, to explain and classify the particular choice of words, sequence of words and the way of utterance

Biography of the poet:

John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) was an English Romantic poet. He was one of the well-known figures along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley.Keats becomes distant from life when he saw people dying miserably at Guy’s Hospital where he worked plus the deaths of his brothersbecause of tuberculosis leads him more detached from love and life.

The poetry of Keats is regarded as sensuous, particularly in the series of odes. We can clearly see it in his poem, “In a Drear- Nighted December” that the poet uses a number of adjectives to paint a silent frozen night of December in which a tree and a brook are happy because they are ignorant of the beauty of the Spring time. That happiness is ironic because the tree’s branches are bare and the water doesn’t flow in that brook. Time has frozen there. Keats is sad because humans show the same aloofness when difficult times come in their path. They become distant. The poet has suffered such miseries in life that he says that the pain of a human sorrows can never be “said in rhyme”.

Lexical Categories:

One of the purpose of this research is to analyze the poem under the light of both Lexical categories general and Lexical categories specific. The poet uses simple vocabulary, formal and descriptive language to uncover a scene of a drear-nighted December. Free and bound morphemes are used to show the different forms and the internal structure of words as shown in the table:


Similarly Derivational Affix is used to create (or derive) a new word by changing the meaning.

e.g. Re-member makes “remember”

Although, “re” is “a prefix, occurring originally in loanwords from Latin, used with the meaning ‘again’ or ‘again and again’ to indicate repetition, or with the meaning ‘back’ or ‘backward’ to indicate withdrawal or backward motion” while, “member” means “a person, animal, plant, group, etc., that is part of a society, party, community, taxon, or other body”.

On the other hand, Inflectional Affixes are used to give extra linguistic information about the “night”, the “tree”, the “brook”, time and sufferings:

  • -(e)d (regular past tense marker) as in (Past tense Morpheme)

nighted, writhed, passed and numbed

  • -(e)s as in

branches, thawings and bubblings

  • ’s (possessive marker) as in

Apollo’s summer look

  • -ing as in (Progressive Morpheme)

thawing, budding, bubbling, forgetting, fretting and petting

Likewise, the words like “crystal”, “frozen”, “the sleety whistle”, “north” represent the setting of the poem that the poet is taking a walk in the cold night of the winter in which he feels that the frozen cold surroundings reflects his own distant feelings. Certain nouns, pronouns, verbs and adverbs are used in the poem:


Grammatical Categories:

Exclamatory sentence, “Ah! Would’t were so with many/ Agentle girl and boy!” and interrogative sentence, “But were there ever any/ Writhed not at passed joy?” are used to give a dramatic effect to the poem. The poem is consisted upon three sentences and all of them are compound having equal number of lines.The poem consists of three stanzas of eight lines each. There is a full stop at the end of the last line of every stanza of the whole poem. The poet has used commas, semi-colons and colon to give pauses as the whole stanza is in the form of a single complete sentence. Two or more independent clauses are joined by conjunctions or semi-colons. Similarly, noun phrases like “drear-nighted December”, “happy tree”, “frozen thawings”, “happy brook”, “frozen time” and “numbed sense” are used with prepositional phrases like “In drear-nighted December”, “with a sleety whistle through them”, “But with a sweet forgetting”, “about the frozen time”, “To know the change and feel it”, “to heal it” and “to steal it”.

Figures of Speech:

Personification is used to give living qualities to non-living things to intensify the impact of the poem. The “tree” and the “brook” are presented as “happy” which is an attribute associated with the humans. Similarly, the poet says that the “branches” of the tree and the “bubblings” of the brook don’t “remember” the spring time. This trait of remembering the past and memory are also linked with humans.

Also, Keats uses irony in the poem. He pictures a “happy tree” and “a happy brook” and states that both are happy because of their “sweet forgetting” as they don’t remember the spring times when life emerges on the trees and the water of the brook flows. It is ironic in a sense because they are living in a “frozen time”. The branches of the tree are bare. There is almost no life in that scenery as everything is still. In that setting the word “happy” seems to be out of place as for me the theme of the poem depicts sadness and misery.

The technique of metonymy is used. Rather than writing the cold winds the poet just writes “north”. Similarly, for sun he uses the word “Apollo” and for poetry he uses the word “rhyme”.

The technique of synecdoche is used in which a part is made to represent the whole. “a happy tree” is depicting all the trees of winter season which are barren, “a gentle girl and boy” represents not a specific girl or boy but represents all. Similarly, “any” and “none” are also synecdoche.

There is repetition throughout the poem that provides rhythm and music in the poem like “Too happy, happy tree”, “Too happy, happy brook” and “Never, never petting”.The rhythm also contributes to the melancholy of the poem.

Schemes and Phonological Sound Patterns:

We see phonological deviation in the poeme.g. “ne’er” and “would’t” to change the sound of the word for the convenience of rhyming. As we see in the previous example that the middle part is omitted which is known as Syncope.

Similarly, one can trace the Phonological Parallelism throughout the poem. Alliteration, assonance, consonance and rhyme are used to furnish the poem with music. “er” sound is repeated as “never, never petting”, “were there ever”. Similarly consonants are there e.g. “With a sleety whistle through them” and “would’t were so with many”. On the other hand rhyme gives a sing-song rhythm to the poem e.g.

  • “undo”, “through”, “glue”
  • “brook”, “look”
  • “December”, “remember”
  • “forgetting”, “fretting”, “petting”
  • “prime”, “time”, “rhyme”
  • “feel”, “heal”, “steal”

The repetitive structure in the first two stanzas can be seen in the following table:


Also, anaphora can be seen as the first part of the poem is repeatedin order to achieve an artistic effect:

  • 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 bubblingsne’er remember Apollo’s summer look; But with a sweet forgetting, they stay their crystal fretting, never, never petting about the frozen time.

Coherence & Cohesion:

Cohesion is the grammatical relationship between parts of a sentence essential for its interpretationand Coherence is the order of statements relates one another by sense (thought development). Cohesion refers to the unity of grammar. Sentences are linked together by link words as we see Addition in the poem, “A gentle girl and boy”, “To know the change and feel it”, “too happy, happy tree” and “too happy, happy brook”

Negative addition: nor is also used e.g. “Nor frozen thawings glue them”


Stylistics analysis encourages readers to interact with textual structure to infer meaning. As we see that the whole poem is coherent as there is a consistent relationship among parts of the poem. There is a unique rhyme scheme present in the poem: ABABCCCD AEACFFFD GHGHIIID. John Keats’ poem, “In a Drear-Nighted December,” embellishes the steadiness of things in nature while presenting how different the human heart behaves.