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‘To Autumn’ by John Keats, Summary & Analysis

‘To Autumn’ by John Keats, Summary & Analysis
by Mohamed Zayed, a Linguist

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
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

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
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
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.

“To Autumn” is a poem written by the English romantic poet John Keats. In this poem, Keats is inspired by his surroundings, being a young man living in the beautiful county of Hampshire with its beautiful scenery, river and meadows. This poem is the last of the six great odes which Keats wrote in 1819. It is considered one of his finest poems. It is unique in its appreciation and depiction of the serene beauty of the autumn. The poem represents the different stages of nature and the passage of seasons.

The poem consists of three stanzas. Each stanza consists of 11 lines. In the first stanza, the poet describes the general qualities and atmosphere of autumn. Autumn is the time of the year when the processes of growth and prosperity come to completion. It is the time when almost everything becomes mature. In the stanza, the poet also represents autumn as being in harmony with the sun in order to bring about such state of maturity and ripeness into the nature. Yet, growth continues since even the vines of the roofs are still growing and flowering. Trees are rich in apples and all fruits that are mature and ripe as in line 6. Furthermore, in the lines to follow, the poet gives further examples on ripe fruits using images of growth and fullness. Through the end of the stanza, flowers continue to bloom providing an endless supply for the bees to collect nectar. Then, the bees are depicted as so full of the nectar of the flowers.

In the second stanza, the poet is addressing autumn directly as if he is talking to a woman or a figure of a goddess which is manifested in the reverence form of “thee” instead of “you” to address her. In lines 12 and 13, the personification of the woman is extended since the poet states that the woman can be seen by anyone who has interest in observation. Yet, the emphasis of the stanza is not once again on growth and ripeness. Instead, it is focused on harvesting. In the lines to follow, the poet states that autumn can be found in four different guises. First, the woman—autumn—can be found dwelling in a house for grain whilst her hair is being fluttered by the breeze. The second guise is found when the woman is asleep as a result of the magical odour of the poppies flowers whilst in a field of grain. A third guise is found when the woman is represented as a gleaner (a worker) stepping across a small stream whilst carrying a load on her head. The final fourth guise of autumn is a woman who is lying by a cider tree watching its movement for hours.

The third stanza extends the poet’s address to autumn. Yet, the first line of it has a note of regret because the vanished echoing sounds of the spring are twice remembered. Nevertheless, in line 2 the poet says that the passing of spring is something that is ought not to be regretted because, like spring, autumn too has its own sounds and beauty that are of equal beauty and value like those of spring. The rest of the stanza voices three sounds of autumn: the marvellous sunset of autumn in which the fields are coloured in red. At that time, the sound of gnat insects is heard like a group of people or a choir voicing a melancholic song. Also, heard from the trees by the river, there is another sound of gnat insects that is heard through the tones of the gentle breeze. Also, the bleating of sheep can be heard in autumn as well as the singing of the crickets dwelling in the hedges. Moreover, the poet moves to describe the songs of the beautiful robins with its marvellous shapes as well as the swallows that gather in the sky getting ready to migrate for the coming of winter.

It can be noticed that the major theme of the poem is that of nature since the poet is depicting nature as a perfect, rich world especially in autumn. The earth collaborates with the sun to create a perfect, vivid image of the universe. The majority of images in the poem are visual, appealing to the sense of sight and auditory, appealing to the sense of hearing.

As for form and structure, the poem is an ode. An ode is a lyric poem with a formal structure that consists of several stanzas. The poem is written in iambic pentameter. Also, Keats employs elegant diction. The general rhyme scheme of the poem is (abab cde dcce).

As for figures of speech, personification is dominant since the poet personifies autumn as a woman whom he is addressing and fantasizing about. Also, apostrophe is found. Apostrophe is a figure of speech wherein an absent object or a person is being addressed directly, in this case it is autumn as in stanza 2 and 3 of the poem. 

M. Zayed 

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