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To Autumn

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About the Poem

‘To Autumn’ is a poem by John Keats (31 October 1795 - 23 February 1821), an English Romantic poet. The poem was written on September 19, 1819, and was featured in a volume of Keats' poetry that also included Lamia and The Eve of St. Agnes in 1820. ‘To Autumn’ is the final poem in Keats' ‘1819 Odes’, a collection of poetry. Despite having little time to devote to poetry in 1819 due to personal concerns, he wrote ‘To Autumn’ during a walk near Winchester one autumnal evening.


His poetic career came to an end with this work, as he needed to get money and could no longer devote himself to the life of a poet. Keats died in Rome just over a year after the publication of ‘To Autumn’.


Let us look at the poem in brief in this article.


The Poem: 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.


To Autumn


About the Poem

The poem is divided into three eleven-line stanzas that depict a journey through the season, from late crop maturation to harvest and the final days of October as winter approaches. The personification of Autumn, as well as descriptions of its wealth, sights, and sounds, add to the vision. It has similarities to the work of English landscape artists, with Keats himself praising the warmth of "certain pictures" in the fields of stubble he saw on his walk.


The poem has been regarded as a meditation on mortality, an allegory of artistic creation, Keats' response to the Peterloo Massacre, which occurred the same year, and as a nationalist declaration. ‘To Autumn’, one of the most widely anthologised English lyric poems, has been praised by critics as one of the best short poems ever written in the English language.


Theme of the Poem

In three stanzas, ‘To Autumn’ describes three separate qualities of the season: its fruitfulness, labour, and eventual decay. There is a transition across the stanzas from early autumn to mid-October, and finally to the arrival of winter. Parallel to this, the poem illustrates the passage of time as the day progresses from morning to afternoon and finally to dusk. It also is a depiction of human beings transitioning from childhood, to adulthood and then to old age.  These progressions are connected by a change from the tactile to the visual and finally to the auditory senses, forming a three-part symmetry not found in any of Keats' previous odes.


Autumn is symbolically described as one who conspires, ripens fruit, harvests, and makes music as the poem unfolds. Autumn is depicted in the poem's first verse as being involved in the encouragement of natural processes, such as development and eventual maturation, two opposing forces in nature that, when combined, give the sense that the season will never end. The fruits are still maturing and the buds are still opening in this verse, despite the warm weather. According to Stuart Sperry, Keats emphasises the tactile sense in this poem, which is represented through the imagery of expansion and gradual motion such as expanding, bending, and plumping.


Autumn is personified as a harvester in the second verse, and the observer can see her in numerous guises performing labouring activities necessary for the production of sustenance for the future year. There isn't much action, and everything moves slowly. Autumn is shown as reclining, resting, or watching rather than harvesting. Autumn is personified as a tired labourer in lines 14 to 15. The gleaner's steadiness in lines 19 to 20 near the end of the stanza emphasises the poem's motionlessness once more. The day's advancement is reflected in movements that all suggest afternoon drowsiness: the harvested grain is being winnowed, the harvester is asleep or returning home, and the last droplets of cider are released from the cider press.


Autumn's noises are contrasted with those of Spring in the final stanza. The noises that are portrayed are primarily those of the evening, rather than those of Autumn. In the dusk, gnats howl and lambs bleat. Death is slowly approaching alongside the end of the year as night comes in the final moments of the song. The full-grown lambs will be gathered for the winter, just like the grapes, gourds, and hazelnuts. The fields are bare as the twittering swallows gather for their departure. Winter sounds include the whistling red breast and the chirping insect. The references to Spring, growing lambs, and migrating swallows remind the reader that the seasons follow a cycle, expanding the scope of this stanza from a particular season to life in general.



Summary of the Poem

Autumn is addressed by the poem’s speaker in the first stanza, who describes its abundance and intimacy with the sun, with whom Autumn ripens fruits and brings late flowers to bloom. The speaker characterises Autumn as a feminine goddess who is commonly seen sitting on the granary floor, her hair "soft-lifted" by the breeze, sleeping in the fields, or watching a cider-press squeeze the juice from apples in the second stanza.


Autumn is told not to wonder where the spring songs have gone in the third stanza, but to listen to her own music instead. At twilight, "small gnats" hum amid "the river sallows," or willow trees lifted and dropped by the wind while "full-grown lambs" bleat from the hills, crickets sing, robins whistle from the garden, and swallows sing from the skies, assembling for their upcoming migration.


Conclusion

‘To Autumn’ is a beautiful nature poem by one of the greatest romantic poets of English literature, John Keats. This poem teaches its readers to appreciate nature’s beauty and abundance. The changing seasons reflect the transience and maturing of humans from childhood to old age and finally death. To read and learn about similar poems, head over to our website today!

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FAQs on To Autumn

1. What did Keats address in the poem?

Keats' ode to autumn covers the age-old and universal issue of life's cycle, depicting the human experience of maturity and death through the metaphor of seasons. When it comes to falls, Keats tackles the increased awareness of one's mortality that typically occurs during our most crucial moments.

2. How many stanzas does the poem consist of?

The poem is divided into three eleven-line stanzas that describe a journey through the season, from late crop maturation to harvest and the final days of October as winter approaches. The personification of autumn, as well as descriptions of its wealth, sights, and sounds, add to the vision. It has similarities to the work of English landscape artists, with Keats himself describing the fields of "certain pictures" in the fields of stubble he encountered on his walk.