"Ode to Autumn" by John Keats (1795-1821):An Analysis

Updated on December 7, 2017
Glenis Rix profile image

Glenis studied for a B. A. (Hons) in English literature after taking early retirement. She was awarded her degree at the age of 67.

An Apple Orchard in Autumn


I love the changing seasons here in England but early Autumn is one of my favourites. There is both an atmosphere of nostalgia for the warmer, sunny days of summer and of anticipation. It's when the new academic year begins, bringing new opportunities for both young and old. When I was a child there were a few fruit trees at the bottom of my father's garden. I still recollect the perfume of the newly harvested Cox' s Orange Pippins; helping to separate the apples into boxes for storage in the shed, where they gradually mellowed throughout the following months.Clouds of wasps buzzed around the Victoria plum tree, drilling into the ripe fruit and making we children reluctant to approach though we loved the delicious sweetness of fruit fresh from the branch, and the plum pies that mother would later bake. When we strolled along the lane to the nearby hamlet and church on Sunday mornings, the wheat crops had been gathered and the hay was piled in stacks in amongst the stubbled fields.(Who could forget the frequent reports of self-ignited hay stack fires in the local newspaper). This poem is a reminder of those days. It was the first to which I was introduced after entering secondary education. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I.

Wasps in the Plums


Some Background Information about Ode to Autumn by John Keats

In a letter to a friend, Keats wrote that the fields of stubble that he saw when walking reminded him of a painting. I think the poem has a melancholy tone, which I too feel during the Autumn months, but which in his case is perhaps an indication of the personal problems that Keats was experiencing at the time of writing. It was the last poem he wrote because circumstances forced him to give up the life of a poet to earn a living. One year later the poet died in Rome, at the age of twenty-six. On the advice of his doctor, he had left England for warmer climes because he was suffering from tuberculosis. He is buried in the same cemetery in Rome as Shelley. Some have read this poem as an allegory of death. I prefer to regard it as simply a beautiful lyric poem in praise of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

The Corn Harvest

The Corn Harvest by Pieter Breugel the Elder
The Corn Harvest by Pieter Breugel the Elder | Source

Ode to Autumn by 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-eaves run;

To bend with apples the mossed 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'erbrimmed 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-reaped furrow sound asleep,

Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers;

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cider-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 redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies

Red-rumped Migratory Swallows

John Keats by William Hilton National Portrait Gallery
John Keats by William Hilton National Portrait Gallery | Source

Definition of an Ode

An ode is a poem in exalted praise of something or someone. It usually a direct address, in the case of Ode to Autumn to the personified Autumn season.

Definition of Personification

Personification is a figure of speech that ascribes human qualities to an object or animal.

Some Technical Details of Ode to Autumn

  • The form of Ode to Autumn is three stanzas, each stanza comprising eleven lines
  • Each line is ten syllables in length. The metre is largely iambic pentameter ( da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM) - the rhythm said to most closely resemble natural speech patterns and, incidentally, the rhythm often employed in Shakespeare's plays)
  • In terms of rhyme, each stanza is split into two parts. The first four lines following an ABAB pattern. The rhyme pattern of the following seven lines is varied in each stanza
  • The first four lines of each stanza introduces a theme, which is then developed and mused about in the following seven lines
  • The tone of the poem is celebratory, lauding Autumn's abundance, but it also reflects upon how transitory life is.

Summary of the First Stanza of Ode to Autumn

The first line ends with an exclamation mark, the traditional way of starting a declamatory poem. The line addresses one of the four seasons, which we already know from the title of the poem is autumn, and connects it with the ripening effect of the summer sun.

Note the extensive alliteration and the personification of autumn and of the sun.

There is poetic imagery, deployed to stimulate one or more of the five senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch) in each of the following seven lines, which brim with fecundity and fruitfulness. References to ripe apples weighing down the branches of trees, all fruits and nuts mature and sweet, bees feasting on flowers. Note the allusion to honeycombs in the last two lines that create an image of honey oozing from the comb in the phrase o'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Summary of the Second Stanza of Ode to Autumn

The first line of the second stanza is a direct rhetorical question, addressed to Autumn, suggesting that the signs of autumn are everywhere. The next three lines describe the process of threshing grain, a process carried out after the autumn harvest. There is both a metaphor and alliteration in the fourth line image of the cloud of dust thrown up by the process - Thy hair soft-lifted hair by the winnowing wind

Note of explanation - The ancient process of wind winnowing, still used in England when Keats wrote this poem, and still used in undeveloped societies today, throws a cloud of hairs, fine dust and straw, into the air.

Lines 5-7 describe a half-harvested field, which in the days before chemical controls would have been awash with wild poppies, and when the fields were hand-harvested with hooked scythes.

Lines 10-11 describe the process of pressing juice from harvested apples, using a cloth and wooden press, for the making of cider. A number of orchards in Somerset, England, have reverted to this traditional way of making cider.

Perry's Cider Mill, Dowlish Wake, Somerset


Summary of the Third Stanza of 'Ode to Autumn'

The third stanza repeats the device, employed in the second stanza, of a rhetorical question to personified autumn. It starts with a statement that autumn is just as beautiful as spring and an urge not to look backwards. This is a melancholic verse - note the adjectives soft-dying and wailful.
It speaks of living or dying and ends with the migratory flight of swallows and the appearance of robins, symbols of winter. The sentence might be read as allegorical. Keats must have known at this stage of his life that he had tuberculosis, in those days incurable. One year after the publication of the poem, in 1820, he was dead.

A Film About Keats

If you are a fan of Keats I recommend Bright Star, a gentle biographical film about his life. It was made in 2009 and stars the talented and award winning British actor Ben Whishaw.

© 2017 GlenR


Submit a Comment

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 2 months ago from UK

    Hello, Audrey. Thank you for your positive feedback.

    I see that you have some hubs about training the voice which I intend to visit in the hopes that I may eventually be able to fulfil my long held wish to join a choir.

  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 2 months ago from idyllwild ca.

    Marvelous! Your summaries of each poetic stanza is so very helpful and very interesting. I'm a big fan of Keats. I had no idea he died so young. Thank you so much.


  • Claire-louise profile image

    Claire Raymond 5 months ago from UK

    A brilliant dissection, it reminds me so much of my A-Level years, kind of nostalgic, thank you.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 5 months ago from UK

    Jo, Re. Appreciation, I find that I appreciate a lot more of the simple things in life now that I am older. Perhaps it's because it's due to a combination of a less hectic life and a sense that life is much shorter than I could ever imagined when young.

  • jo miller profile image

    Jo Miller 5 months ago from Tennessee

    I enjoy all changing of the seasons but autumn is probably my favorite. There's definitely a slowing down for us this time of year. Summers can be a little hectic here. I seem to appreciate the changing of the seasons more now that I am retired and living close to the land as we do.

    Thanks for another poetry lesson. Great poem. Keats is one of my husband's favorite poets.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 5 months ago from The Caribbean

    Thanks for the memory of school days with the Romantics, my favorite poets. Living in the Caribbean and not having experienced the changes of seasons, I decided that autumn was the best based on Keats' Ode. Now that I have experienced the seasons I still prefer autumn, perhaps due in part to that early memory. Oh, the power of good poetry!