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John Keats' "To Autumn"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1961.

Portrait of John Keats

Portrait of John Keats

Introduction and Text of "To Autumn"

John Keats' speaker in "To Autumn" is celebrating the unique qualities of beauty along with an indulgent melancholy that permeates the fall season. The poem plays out in three stanzas.

Each well-crafted stanza contains eleven rimed lines. The rime scheme of the first stanza is ABABCDEDCCE. The rime scheme of the second stanza, repeated in the third stanza, makes only a minor shift to produce ABABCDECDDE.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

To Autumn

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 laden head 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.

Reading of "To Autumn"

Commentary

Beauty tinged with melancholy offers an enticing subject in the season of autumn.

First Stanza: Drama of Summary

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.

In the first stanza, the speaker is overheard dramatizing a summary that describes the autumn season along with what may often occur during that colorful time of year: "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."

The speaker allows the season of autumn to "conspir[e]" with the sun in order to create the luscious grapes and other fruits that will be harvested soon.

The season works with the sun to motivate the trees to "bend with apples," and to "fill all fruit with ripeness to the core," and "To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells."

The marvelous season encourages the flower-power of the plants "for the bees," and the bees "think warm days will never cease."

Second Stanza: Directly Addressing the Fertile Season

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 laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

In the second stanza, the speakers then shifts his concern from merely describing to directly addressing the fecund season, as he speaks to autumn as if it were a human being: "Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find / Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, / Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind."

Autumn has now been transformed into a woman, whose "soft-hair" is being blown about pleasantly on a gentle wind. The fascinatingly personified autumn may also be located in the fields that are drowsing "with the fume of poppies."

At other times, this autumn personified may be seen as "a gleaner thou dost keep / Steady thy laden head across a brook." Autumn may also be found "by a cyder-press" as it watches the tasty cider being pressed from the apples that had been seen bending the trees.

Third Stanza: The Season as Friend

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.

The third stanza now finds the speaker shifting his gaze once again: he continues to speak to autumn as if the season were a human being, a friend even. However, the speaker now is making a single-sided comparison of autumn with spring. He queries the season with intensity: "Where are the songs of Spring?" And then he repeats his inquiry: "Ay, where are they?"

The repetition encourages his listeners and readers to sense that the speaker is, in fact, in the process of complaining about the loss of the song of spring, but then he warns the personified autumn not to be bothered about that lack of songs, because autumn possesses a music of its own: "Think not of them, thou hast thy music too."

The speaker then renders a catalogue of the sounds which throng the season of ripe autumn.

As a setting for those sounds of autumn, the speaker creates a marvelous image: "While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day / And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue."

The reader or listener can then intuitively hear the music of a "wailful choir" of small gnats "mourn[ing]," "river-swallows, borne aloft," "the light wind lives or dies."

Readers and listeners can also listen to, "full-grown lambs" bleating, "[h]edge crickets" singing, "with treble soft / The redbreast whistles," and "gathering swallows twitter in the skies."

Keats' marvelous images have provided his audience with more than enough beauty through melancholy to make the fall season a favorite, making that season compete with spring and summer while giving winter a definite run for its money.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes