To Autumn by John Keats | Summary and Analysis

To Autumn by John Keats | Summary and Analysis

To Autumn by John Keats


To Autumn is the last, and in some respects, the most impeccable Ode that John Keats wrote. It was written on September 19, 1819, and published in the Lamia volume in 1820. In September 1819 Keats wrote to John Hamilton Reynolds:

“How beautiful the season is now-how fine the air-a temperate sharpness about it! Really without joking, chaste weather: Dian skies! I never liked stubble fields so much as now-aye, better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow, a stubble field looks warm in the same way that some look warm. This struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.”

To Autumn Summary

Stanza 1

In the first stanza the poet describes autumn in its aspect of vegetation. Autumn is the season of mists and ripe fruits. The autumnal sun causes all sorts of fruits-grapes, apples, gourds and nuts to ripen and become sweet and juicy. “Later flowers” blossom in this season and bees go on sucking honey out of them till they begin to think that summer is yet continuing and will never come to an end.

Stanza 2

In the second stanza the poet describes the different occupations of autumn as embodied in personality-as a reaper, as a gleaner, as a harvester or as a cider-presser. The harvester is found sitting carelessly on the granary floor with his hair ruffled by the gentle wind. The reaper, after the morning’s hard work is found asleep drowsed with the fragrance of poppy. The gleaner is seen carrying home the load of the day’s pickings on her head and gracefully balancing herself as she crosses a brook. The cider presser is found sitting beside the vat and watching the apple-juice ooze hour after hour.

Stanza 3

In the third stanza the poet describes the music (sounds) of autumn. The music of autumn is not less sweet than that of spring. When the sky and stubble-plains are lit up with the soft rosy hue of the setting sun, we can hear the mournful sound of gnats by the riverside, the loud bleating of grown-up Jambs on the hills, the shrill chirping of the crickets in the hedges, the whistling of robin red-breast in the house-garden and the twitter of the swallows in the sky.

To Autumn Analysis

The Ode to Autumn is the last and the most perfect of Keats’s Odes. It celebrates autumn in its glory and beauty. The first stanza gives us sensuously beautiful pictures and conveys to us the full ripeness of autumn. In the second stanza we have the familiar figures of autumn, all representing different aspects of the season: the harvester, the tired reaper, the gleaner and the cider presser all characteristic personifications of Autumn. The third stanza recreates for us the symphony of the autumnal sounds–the mournful choir of gnats, the bleating of full-grown lambs on the hills, the chirping of hedge-crickets, the whistling of robin red-breast in the garden and the twitter of the swallows in the sky.

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The Ode is the most impersonal of all the poems of Keats, for he is, in this Ode, merely an exquisitely recording medium. It gives us a vivid description of an English autumn, with all the warmth and richness of the season. It breathes the spirit of happy contentment and joyous serenity which we hardly see in Keats’s work. The enjoyment of autumnal beauty is here disturbed by no romantic longing, no aspiration for the ideal existence, no looking before and after, and no pining for what is not, no foreboding of winter, no regret for the spring that is gone and no prophetic thought of other springs to follow. The old romantic regret raises its head in the line:

“Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?” But it is immediately silenced:

“Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.” Keats surrenders completely to the beauties of autumn. He is fully satisfied with the joy of the present moment.

The Ode to Autumn is a representative poem of Keats. It illustrates his concept of beauty, his sensuousness, his Hellenism and his verbal magic. To Keats “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Autumn is the part of the revolving cycle of seasons and as such it is truth. So though autumn is thought to be an ugly season, a season of mist and cold, Keats finds in it as much beauty as in spring, because it is as real (i.e. true) as spring,

Keats’s sensuousness is in evidence here. His descriptions of the different ripe and juicy fruits-grapes, apples, pumpkins, nuts-appeal to our senses of sight, smell and touch. The heavily stressed words-load, bless, bend, swell, plump and the attendant images carry strong physical sensations. The third stanza recreates the symphony of autumnal sounds, Keats’s sensuousness is here, as in other odes, tinged with the reflection that ripeness and maturity is followed by death and decay, that the joy of autumn is transient that autumn will give place to winter, just as it has replaced summer.

The Ode illustrates Keats’s Hellenism. His attitude to Nature is essentially Greek. Like the ancient Greeks he accepts the abundant gifts of autumn with a feeling of blessed thankfulness, and sees autumn as embodied in personality as a reaper, harvester, a gleaner or a cider presser.

The Ode to Autumn is a vast picture gallery. Such words and expressions as “mellow fruitfulness”, “maturing sun”, “hair soft-lifted”, “barred clouds”, “clammy cells”, etc. conjure up the pictures of the ideas sought to be conveyed. As we read the line, “And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn”, the picture of the full-grown lambs bleating in their dwelling on the hills flashes across our vision.

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