Geographical Allusions and Myths found in the poem: To the Nile by John Keats.


The poem: To the Nile by John Keats is an addressing to one of the greatest and the longest rivers in the world, the Nile. Due to its geographical and mythical allusions some students may find it hard to grasp the complete meaning of the poem. Therefore, the main focus in this blog post is to give the reader a comprehensive description on those difficult areas.

If you haven’t analyzed the poem yet; you can read - The analysis of the poem ‘To the Nile’ here.

In this post we are going to elaborate some important facts about the Nile and its importance to the people, about the Moon Mountain, the relationship between the Nile - Pyramids and crocodile as well as about the Myths and Gods associated with the river Nile.  

You can watch the same content in video form or if you prefer reading you can continue reading:

The Nile

The Nile is the longest river in the world. It flows across more than 4000 miles in the African continent. Its basin is huge and includes parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya. As the poem reveals it starts at Deccan (but its not!) and ends at Cairo into the Mediterranean Sea. The name Nile came from the Greek word ‘Neilos’ which means ‘valley.’ The ancient Egyptians call the river by the name: ‘black’ because of the rich soil settles after its annual flood which is the root of the Egyptian civilization that is considered as one of the oldest civilization in the world.

The Nile was the life in Egypt and other most tribes around the river as it provided the basic needs and protection to the people. When The Nile was annually flooded, the river banks and the adjoining land are covered with the fertile substances carried by river water making the valley a fertile land for farming and cultivation.

People grew Wheat and Barley which grew well on the fertile lands after flooding. The Nile provided all their fundamental needs and space for trade and recreation. They traded through the river and shared their agricultural and industrial products. This made the Egyptian civilization rich in every way among other African countries. Therefore, people had every reason to honour and worship the Nile as a god who provided them without fail. However, the Myths and Gods associated with the river further evoked more honour and reverence.

Let’s go into the poem:

“We call the fruitful, and that very while,

A desert fills our seeing inward span:”

In the Octave, we can see the word ‘fruitful’ referring to the Nile’s ability to make the land fruitful- providing the people the fundamental needs for living. However, the Desert-Sahara which covers a vast area of the top of African Continent, creates doubt in the mind of the speaker. Just like asking: “If you are so fruitful, why is there a desert around you?”


Moon Mountain

The other geographical allusion we find in the poem is Moon mountains:

“Son of old Moon Mountains African!”

The poet personifies the river as the sun of Moon mountains. What really the Moon mountain is? It is an ancient term referring to a legendary mountain or mountain range in East Africa which is the source of the Nile river. Though various identifications have been made, the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda is considered as the Moon mountain. The river Nile Originates from Lake Albert which is at the foot of these mountains. As Rwenzori mountains give birth to the Nile, it is a true personification as ‘the son of old moon mountain’


The Pyramids

Next historical implication in the poem is the relationship between the Nile and the Pyramids.

“Chief of the Pyramid and Crocodile!”

Archaeologists believe that the huge sandstone bricks were transported from a distant quarry through the Nile in rafts to build the Pyramids. As it helped to build this gigantic monument, it has been called as chief of the Pyramids.

Further, it is called as the chief of Crocodile. If you surf through the internet, you may find that the Nile is abundant of the world’s largest crocodiles and hippopotami. These crocodiles too have a relationship with myths to god Osiris which made them sacred; we will explain about it in the latter part of the post. So, who actually is the owner of these sacred and dangerous animals as you think?


The Gods and Myths

The Nile is steeped in Mythology with several gods including Gods of Egypt. Due to the myths associated with the river, it has been considered as a place with divine touch, hence reverend with awe and honoured by the natives lived by and around the river.


Hapi is the god worshipped by many who is directly associated with the river. Hapi is the Egyptian god in charge of the Nile’s annual flooding. Hapi is the most respected and vital god as the flooding was necessary to make the land moist and fertile which was beneficial for the farmers that lived by the Nile.    


Osiris, Seth, Isis and Nephthys

Osiris was the ruler of the fertile lands of Egypt and much loved by humans whereas Seth, the brother of Osiris who was banished into the desert and made to rule it. Due to the feeling deprived, hatred for not being loved, Seth killed his brother Osiris. He slayed the body into several parts and scattered them through every part of the Egypt including the river Nile. Isis, the wife of Osiris with Nephthys, her sister went to find the body parts to give him life. However, they could not find the genital as it was eaten by a kind of fish or crocodile in the river. Therefore, the term fertility is attributed to the river and the crocodiles and those fish were forbidden to kill and eat. Having failed the mission, Isis had built temples along the river for the slain body parts. The people worshipped the temples in the name of the god Osiris and other gods. According to the poem, poet may be questioning like: Does that mean, are the people tricked and forced to worship the god even after….?   



In Egypt, Pharaoh was closely connected to the activities of the Nile and was considered as a god in human form. Once when there was a drought and famine occurred, a god came into the dream of Pharaoh and asked him to build temples in order to finish the drought and famine.

This and above ideas support to get the sense of the Octave in the poem where Keats questions the potentiality of the river:


“Art thou so fruitful? Or dost thou beguile

Such men to honor thee who worn with toil

Rest for a space ‘twixt Cairo and Deccan?”


Poet questions whether the myths associated around the river have any truth or are they fabricated stories to make people honour the river. He does this by contrasting the infertility associated with fertility as the Nile flows through a vast desert!

Hope this post would help you to expand your vision in the poem and to unwrap the meaning easily. If you have more things to add or feel contradictory, please feel free to comment and join the discussion.

 You may like to read: Transitory nature of human attitude in the poem: ‘To the Nile’ byJohn Keats.

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