200 years ago (30 December 1816) Keats and Leigh Hunt held a sonnet-writing contest

This was Keats’s offering in a sonnet-writing competition with Leigh Hunt. Normally they allowed themselves 15 minutes by the church clock.

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.

Charles Cowden Clarke wrote:
The occasion that recurs with the liveliest interest was one evening when — some observations having been made upon the character, habits, and pleasant associations with that reverend denizen of the hearth, the cheerful little grasshopper of the fireside — Hunt proposed to Keats the challenge of writing then, there, and to time, a sonnet On the Grasshopper and Cricket. No one was present but myself, and they accordingly set to. I, apart, with a book at the end of the sofa, could not avoid furtive glances every now and then at the emulants. I cannot say how long the trial lasted. I was not proposed umpire; and had no stop-watch for the occasion. The time, however, was short for such a performance, and Keats won as to time. But the event of the after-scrutiny was one of many such occurrences which have riveted the memory of Leigh Hunt in my affectionate regard and admiration for unaffected generosity and perfectly unpretentious encouragement. His sincere look of pleasure at the first line — “The poetry of earth is never dead.” “Such a prosperous opening!” he said; and when he came to the tenth and eleventh lines:—
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence—
“Ah! that’s perfect! Bravo Keats!” And then he went on in a dilatation upon the dumbness of Nature during the season’s suspension and torpidity. With all the kind and gratifying things that were said to him, Keats protested to me, as we were afterwards walking home, that he preferred Hunt’s treatment of the subject to his own. As neighbour Dogberry would have rejoined, “‘Fore God, they are both in a tale!” It has occurred to me, upon so remarkable an occasion as the one here recorded, that a reunion of the two sonnets will be gladly hailed by the reader.

Hunt’s sonnet follows:

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 ev’n 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─
In doors and out,─ summer and winter,─ Mirth.

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Source <of Hunt’s sonnet>

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On the Grasshopper and Cricket

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