“To Autumn”

John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy ladenhead across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

How is this poem an example of Romanticism? (Answer is well developed paragraphs with specific examples.)

Romantic writers emerged in the 1750s to counter the long streak of reason-based art. They wanted a change from the rationalistic frame of mind to a more nature based and irrational view of life. The main feature of Romantic writing is an inclusion of nature as a source of inspiration. The writers believed that nature contained the answer to everything, and that this was coded in symbols, which they tried to decode in their works. Undoubtedly Keats is a Romantic writer; his themes of nature and the uniqueness of the individual come up in each of the studied poems.
To Autumn is possibly Keat’s most romantic poem that was studied. It is meant to celebrate the season of autumn, showing how it should not be regarded as a lesser season to the others. In the first stanza the overall tone is celebratory because of the diction used, such as “ripeness to the core”, “bend with apples” or “swell the gourd” which produces a sense of imminent bursting. These phrases also show a commonly associated verb to autumn: ripening. Keats presents this first stanza as the beginning of the season when harvest time has come and people should be merry and celebrating autumn’s arrival.

In the second stanza Keats shifts the tone of the poem by beginning with a rhetorical question instead of keeping the entire stanza as one sentence like the first. In this stanza an extended metaphor is started, comparing autumn to a girl or woman. This is made clear by the female personifications such as autumn’s “hair [,] soft-lifted by the winnowing wind” or finding her “on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep”. By personifying the season as a woman Keats brings in another romantic feature since this creates a more intimate relationship between the reader and Autumn. Lastly, Keats incorporates one more feature of the natural world by using drowsy diction, the repetition of words (“hours by hours”) and the alliteration of the “s” sound. By doing this Keats connotes the events which occur in this “middle” stage of autumn which include hibernating animals, or the resting while we harvest the fruits produced in the beginning. Ultimately Keats is setting up the contrast for the next stanza.

The last stanza of To Autumn shows a contrast and balance between two of the most powerful elements of autumn, death and music. Keats begins by personifying autumn yet again, as he tells her that she should not “think […] of them, [she] has [her] music too”. By extending this personification, Keats illustrates an overall human picture of autumn, which aids the reader in understanding how it (autumn) feels at being constantly neglected due to the other seasons. He continues with the death imagery mentioned above, appearing most clearly in words such as “soft-dying day”, the “stubble-plains”, or the wind living and dying. The allusions to death are clearly interpretations of events in autumn such as the dying of the leaves, the flowers and the settling down of the animals. Keats often mentions animals in his last stanza, usually with a reference to their musical value, for example the “Hedge-crickets sing[ing]”, the “swallows twitter[ing]” or the whistling of the red-breast. By doing this he emphasizes the life that is present in Autumn, the amount of creatures that do not hibernate, but contribute to Autumn’s beauty, which should seriously be appreciated.

As can be seen “To Autumn” is certainly a romantic poem, displaying nature at its best and trying to use it as a metaphor for our life. The fact that Autumn’s death still has a fragment of a celebratory mood around it (the last stanza) shows that Keats believes even death need not be so sad, and that one can always find happiness within or after it. Apart from the presence of nature, Keats is also appealing to our human side, by personifying autumn and creating emotions within us. This occurs in all stanzas, as the reader is fascinated by this newfound beauty of Autumn.

How is this poem an example of an ode and lyric poem? (Answer in a bulleted list.)
Displays properties of an Ode when:
  • It depicts the subject matter in a positive light, more often than not glorifying the subject, even when not needed
  • The subject(autumn) is developed in a surprising and significant way, as the images vary from the ones usually associated with autumn
  • The poem is divided into stanzas and has a almost fixed rhyme scheme- the poem follows a ABABCDEDCCE in the first stanza, moves to a ABABCDECDDE which it keeps for the second and third stanza. Even between the first and the last two there is only a minor difference. This difference is perhaps there to illustrate the changes in tone and mood from the first stanza to the second and third.
Displays properties of a lyric poem when:
  • The poem is relatively short, and has a single speaker addressing the reader
  • The speaker mainly expresses personal thought as he characterises Autumn in a very positive, and non-stereotypical light
-Sandeep R.

What have you learned about Keats that helps you understand this poem in a new way? (Be sure to use the school's databases and cite your information. Answers need to be in well-developed paragraphs.)

Keats’ attitude within the poem is interesting, considering the situation Keats found him self during that time period. During this time period, Keats health was declining, he must been feeling his death near(he died within 5 years after this poem being published) and he must surely have known the pain he was still to suffer, as his mother and brother died of the same tuberculosis, he was suffering of. It seems this attitude can be related to his other poem, Ode to Melancholy, written in the same year as this poem. He writes in that poem that one should absorb the melancholy and negativity around oneself and use it for ones own good. This is seemingly what Keats did. He absorbed all the negative experiences in life, such as the death of his mother,father, grand-mother and brother(except grandmother all at a very early age), and his own upcoming death to create, what is perhaps now regarded, one of the best pieces of poetry in human history.

He may have also been able to induce himself with a positive attitude due to the fact that he found the love of his life, Fanny Brawne, to whom he was engaged. This one positive experience may have resulted in a complete makeover of Keats and his attitude towards life, which gave the world the opportunity of having a masterpiece by one a poet, still regarded as one of the best ever.

Works Cited

Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. "John Keats." Literary Reference Center. 23 July 2007. EBSCO. Upper
School Library of FIS. 15 Sept. 2008 <http://search.ebscohost.com/
Lescinski, Joan. "John Keats." Literary Reference Center. 17 May 2005. EBSCO. Upper School Library
of FIS. 15 Sept. 2008 <http://search.ebscohost.com/

-Sandeep R.

What are some of the purposes of this poem? Why did Keats write it in the first place? (Answers should be in bulleted lists, allowing others to "run" with their own ideas.)
  • To Autumn is a simplistic ode written to glorify the natural world. The message Keats conveys is that ripeness and harvest should be celebrated.
  • Autumn is often overlooked because people tend to look forward to the fun and warmth of Spring and Summer, but Keats' appreciation for autumn is apparent in this piece, partially because of the way he personifies the season as a woman.
  • He feels so strongly that autumn is a superior season that he may even be denouncing summer in the last line of the first verse.
  • By discussing the 'juicyness' of this one step in the natural year cycle, he is rebelling against the formality and structure of the poetry that came before him.
  • Autumn comes 3/4 through the year and thus may be representative of a period of time in human life that we call middle-aged or 'over the hill'. This nearly-senior age group is, like autumn, not appreciated by the average person.
  • This poem may be written for readers who spend their whole lives aniticipating death. If Keats had intended to symbolize a fully progressive life, he would have characterized it as an entire calendar year, not just one intense season.
-Lauren Imwold