October 17, 2011

A Poem for the Day: "To Autumn" by John Keats

    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-eaves 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 cider-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.

    (September 19, 1819)


This is thought to be the most anthologized poem in the English language, and I can certainly see why.  It is a beautiful portrait of the fall season.  John Keats (1795-1821) wrote this poem in Winchester in mid-September 1819, and in a letter to his friend, J.H. Reynolds, on September 21st, he said--
"How beautiful the season is now--How fine the air.  A temperate sharpness about it.  Really, without joking, chaste weather--Dian skies--I never lik'd stubble fields so much as now--Aye better than the chilly green of the spring.  Somehow a stubble plain looks warm--in the same way that some pictures look warm--this struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it..."

(Letters of John Keats. A Selection, ed. Robert Gittings, 1970)
A lot of folks have interpreted this poem as an allegory of artistic creation, a meditation on death, or even some form of political statement; and maybe it is all of those things, I really don't know.  I just know that it is an absolutely beautiful poem that is pretty much perfectly constructed.  It is an example, in my humble opinion, of Keats' consummate skill in achieving poetic perfection in writing odes.  These three stanzas, each with eleven lines (versus the 'normal' ten lines), written in iambic pentameter, with a pair of rhyming couplets in each stanza just above the last line.  This is just classic from start to finish.  Read it a couple of times slowly.  Even better, read it aloud to yourself and fully experience the lyricism and rhythms.  You'll get it, and all of the sudden you'll determine that you want to read more of Keats' poetry.  You won't be disappointed, I promise.

The photograph I've attached to this posting is one I took a couple of years ago on a late-fall afternoon outside of Lincoln, Nebraska.  This photograph of the recently harvested Nebraska corn-field reminds me of the light of "..the soft-dying day..." touching "...the stubble-plains with rosy hue..." that Keats described so eloquently in this poem.  If you like, please do 'click' on the photograph for a larger view.  Enjoy the photograph and the poem!


  1. Beautiful poem about the most beautiful of seasons. Thanks for sharing, Christopher :)

  2. Maybe I'm not looking deep enough, but I simply see and hear the season in this poem, keenly. I don't see a lot of contemplation on death or art. I think sometimes an autumn is just an autumn. :-)

    But -- now I want to reread this work as death, etc. I love that poetry offers so many interpretations, and relies so certainly on the perspective of the reader.

    I love Keats!! And this poem is a favorite of mine.

    Also, beautiful photograph!

    Cheers, Chris. :-)

  3. Hard to say whether the poem or the photograph is more beautiful! I've just rediscovered poetry this year and appreciate your thoughts on this one. Autumn is my favorite time of year.

  4. Brenna, Jillian, and JoAnn--

    Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving your thoughts and comments! I am so glad that you all liked the poem, it is one of my faves.

    Jillian, I do think the poem can be read, and interpreted, on several levels; but this is one of those poems where I just sit back and enjoy the poem's imagery and construction and simply marvel.

    I still fondly remember a two-semester course I took in college on the English Romantic poets. It was truly and eye-opening experience. It was also quite humbling as I remember it seemed as though it took me forever to catch on to the 'interpretation' part of it all. Bear in mind that I was a geology major in a class full of English majors, but I hung in there and got an 'A' in the class, both semesters! ;-)

    Again, thanks for your visit! Cheers!

  5. This is the poem that made me fall in love with Keats when I was in school. I just love the way it appeals to the sense of sight, sound, taste and touch. It's a very sensual poems and I always feel rather heady when I read it. I don;t that Keats intended any other meaning besides just describing how much Autumn meant to him. Layers don't seem plausible in this poem...

  6. Risa, I tend to agree with you about not trying to look too deeply into this poem. It may sound cliche, but it is what it is--a beautiful homage to Fall. It is always wonderful to find another fan of Keats' beautiful poetry. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Have a wonderful weekend. Cheers! Chris