“Ode to Autumn,” by John Keats, 1795 to 1821, was written in the Autumn of 1819, and published in the Winter of 1820. John Keats and Lord Byron both died young. As well, they are considered second generation Romantics. However, Lord Byron focused on the beauty of sexuality as it relates to womanhood while John Keats focused on the beauty of nature as it relates to the countryside.
As a Romantic, Keats had four core values. These values include equality, the thought that the untutored imagination could produce works as stirring as the mind of the trained artist. Spontaneity, is another value, Romantics admired the creative genius of the mind at play. Simplicity, beautiful art should be direct and heartfelt, not artificial or overly embellished. The final value is individualism, self-definition and self-invention over conformity.
“Ode to Autumn” consists of thirty-three lines, three stanzas of eleven lines each. The first stanza is one sentence. The second stanza commences with a question, and it answers that question in one sentence. The third stanza commences with two questions, and it answers those questions in one sentence. The voice presents a “fictional speaker to a fictional listener” (Galliard 184). However, the fictional speaker and listener change from one stanza to the next stanza.
During the Romantic period, poetry usually expressed emotional feelings, coupled with a lyrical format including a meter and rhyming pattern. The meter is five feet per line with nearly all iambs throughout the poem. However, there are some variations in the metering. For example, in line one; it starts with a trochee, “Seasons”, which is presented in the vocative case. As well, as a trochee, it catches the attention of the reader. The rhyming per line is ABABCDEDCCE / FGFGHIJHIIJ / KLKLMNOMNNO. There are rhymes within many of the lines. For example, in line two, there is a consonant internal rhyme of “s” in bosom and sun.
The first stanza is spoken from a third person to any individual. The season of Autumn is introduced in lines one and two: The “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness (1), / Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun” (2). In what season does the reader see mists and deteriorating fruitfulness, coupled with the maturing sun? The appropriate answer would be―in the Autumn. The poem conspires with the reader to stockpile rations by loading, blessing, bending, and filling.
The introduction to the forthcoming spring is identified with such action verbs as swelling, plumping, and setting. Those actions are for the “later flowers for the bees” (9). The season of autumn is reiterated when the third person explains that “Summer has o’er-brimm’d” (11). In other words, the Summer is over, and Autumn has begun.
The second stanza is spoken from a third person, but the third person speaks directly to a reader as identified by the usage of “thee,” or you (12). The question is for the reader to respond: who has not seen you in the store? The third person continues by describing how the reader is sitting on the floor, the readers hair, the reader sleeping, the reader dowsed with the perfume of poppies, how the reader does not mow the next strip of twined flowers, the reader keeping some of the provision, the reader lying his head across a brook, and the reader watching the lasting hours of Summer and the starting hours of Autumn.
The third stanza, presents the poem initially from the perspective of the third person, and he speaks directly to a reader; as identified by the usage of “thou” or you (24). However, it starts with a double question, which means the reader needs to pay attention. Its questions are twofold: “Where are the songs of Spring?” Ay, where are they? (23) According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Ay” may indicate “assent to a previous statement and preliminary assent to a further or more forcible one” (23). Within this context, “Ay” is used as an acceptance to previous statements and an acceptance to later statements.
As the autumn comes upon us, the third person laments to the reader the sounds of spring, which during the autumn seems a long time in coming. It is the third person, who tells the reader not to think of the songs of Spring because the reader has music too. In the autumn, the clouds became larger and loom as the day wilts. The plains bring forth a rosy hue. The sound of the “choir” is woeful, and the animals “mourn” (27). The river becomes shallower; the wind becomes livelier or deathlier; the lambs go into the hills; and the crickets begin to chirp. The third person concludes the stanza and the poem by telling the reader while there are things to lament, that it is with soft music that the redbreast robin whistles in an enclosed garden. The swallows gather, and twitter joyfully as they take to the sky. Therefore, the third person takes the reader from the feeling of despair to the feeling of hope.
In this manner, Keats presents the four core values of the Romantics. He presents equilibrium of equality between nature and man in the form of words that produce dramatic feelings of thought, and emotions through his rich and luxurious usage of the English language. He presents a world without paint, but rather with words. His spontaneity of changing from third person directly to the reader puts the reader on notice, and it is effectively used to drag the reader into the very actions being described, which only creative genius could play. As well, Keats presents simplicity of nature in a form that is much greater than nature itself. Nature becomes something alive, but unlike nature as presented from one day to the next, this is presented and it changes in form from one second to the next as we read from one line to the next. In this manner, this poem is often referred to as a living poem.
This poem is a poem within a poem within a poem. In the first stanza, the poem is told from the point of view of a third-person, and it described the autumn. In the second stanza, the poem is told from the point of view of a third-person, but to a specific reader. In the third stanza, the poem is told from the point of view of a third-person, and where he finally, sings the songs of autumn to the reader. During the Romantic period, the benefits of its experience “transcends its loss” (Galliard 188), and it is in this manner that the “Ode to Autumn” transcends its seasonal loss of summer days to clouds that bloom to its seasonal gains of swallows that twitter in the sky.
“Ode to Autumn”
By John Keats
(1) Season of mists and mellow fruitfulnexx,
(2) Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
(3) Conspiring with him how to load and bless
(4) With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eve run;
(5) To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
(6) And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
(7) To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
(8) With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
(9) And still more, later flowers for the bees,
(10) Until they think warm days will never cease,
(11) For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.
(12) Who hath not seen these oft amid they store?
(13) Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
(14) Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
(15) Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
(16) Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
(17) Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
(18) Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
(19) And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
(20) Steady thy laden head across a brook;
(21) Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
(22) Thou watchest the last oozing hours by hours.
(23) Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
(24) Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, ―
(25) While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
(26) And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
(27) Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
(28) Among the river sallows, borne aloft
(29) Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
(30) And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
(31) Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
(32) The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
(33) And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Gailard, Theodore L., Jr., “Keats’s “To Autumn,” Explicator (Expl) 1998 Summer; 56 (4): 183-184.
Keats, John, “Lines Written in the Highlands After a Visit to Burns’s Country,” The Poetical Works of John Keats, ed. H.W. Garrod (London: Oxford UP, 1956) 30.
Keats, John. “To Autumn.” The Poetical Works of John Keats. Ed. H. W. Garrod. London: Oxford, 1956. 218-219.
Nemoianu, Virgil, “The Dialectics of Movement in Keats’s ‘To Autumn,'” The Modern Language Association 93 (1978): 209
OED, “Aye, Ay” A. int. 2.a. Once of the examples cited is, fittingly from Keats.