Read the full poem and a partial analysis of ‘To Autumn’ by John Keats below, and explore your own thoughts about the season in question – is the world really an interconnected system that functions on natural laws as he claims?
‘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-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.
- Mellow – calm and mild
- Thatch-eves – the edge of a thatched roof
- Gourd – pumpkin or squash
- Kernel – the inner part of a seed or nut
- O’er-brimm’d – over brimmed, overflowing (contraction)
- Oft – often
- Granary – where grain is stored for making flour
- Reaping – the act of harvesting also suggests the grim reaper
- Furrow – rows or lines that are created by harvesting fields
- Drows’d – slept (drowsed)
- A gleaner – someone who gathers or collects – either objects or information
- Thou dost – you do
- Laden – laying heavily
- Brook – a small river
- Wailful – wailing
- Gnats – biting flies
- Sallows – the light pale brown flat parts of a river
- Bourn – boundary
- Red-breast – a robin, a bird with a red chest
TASK: What does Autumn mean to you? Explore your own thoughts and experiences about the season of Autumn.
Stanza 1: Oh, you are a season of mists and calm fruitfulness. You’re the close friend of the maturing sun, plotting together with the sun about how to fill the vines that run around the edges of thatched cottages, by blessing them with loaded fruit. You bend the mossed trees around the cottages with heavy apples, filling all the fruit with ripeness right down to its core. You swell the gourds (pumpkins), fatten the hazelnut shells with sweet nuts, and set even more nuts after that budding and flowering. And even later than that you create more flowers for the bees, until they think that the warm days that they’ve been enjoying will never stop – because summer has spilled over their clammy hives.
Stanza 2: Who hasn’t often seen you among their stores of harvest food? Sometimes, a person looking for you might find you there, sitting carelessly on a granary floor, your hair lifted softly by the wind. Or you might be sound asleep in a half-harvested row of grain, drowsy with poppy fumes, while your harvesting tool’s blade spares the next row of wheat and its flowers from being cut. And sometimes, like a collector, you keep your laid-down head across a small river. Or, next to a cyder press with a patient look – you watch the last drips of cyder oozing out of the barrel, hour by hour.
Stanza 3: Where are the songs of spring? Yes, where are they? Don’t think about them. You have your music too — while barred clouds bloom over the soft-dying day. And they touch the rough fields with rosy colour. Then, in a wailing choir, the small gnats mourn among the river, flying aloft or sinking as the light wind lives or dies. Full-grown lambs bleat loudly from his; Hedge-crickets sing, and now with robin whistles in a soft treble from a garden-croft; And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
The speaker of the poem is nameless, and keenly observant, using vivid sensory imagery to evoke the atmosphere of Autumn. He sees the world as an interconnected system that functions on natural laws – the sun and the season unite “to load and bless / With fruit the vines” that wind around the charming tiny farmhouses, bend the apple branches with overripe fruit, and swell, plump, and fill everything in sight to the brim. The speaker acknowledges that humans, too, are part of this network.
In the second verse, Autumn is personified as a daydreaming farmhand. He lounges about the barns and snoozes in the aromatic dust of the half-harvested fields. He watches the last drops of cyder ooze out of the cyder press.
In the third stanza, the view of nature expands to include species ranging from tiny gnats to chirping robins to bleating lambs. The speaker selects descriptions that place these creatures into the cycle of the seasons. There is beauty in this season of abundance, where life seems at its most vivid just before it dies off over Winter. For example, we could say that Autumn’s sleepy slumber foreshadows a kind of death, but it also is beautiful and serene.
TASK: What is the tone of the poem and would you say that it changes over time? If so, how does it change, and from what to what? Use quotations in your answer.
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