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crop of the first two lines of 'To Autumn' from the original manuscript image

'To Autumn' is perhaps Keats's most famous and beloved work. It is considered the perfect embodiment of poetic form, intent, and effect. It was written in Winchester on 19 September 1819 and first published in 1820. Keats described the feeling behind its composition in a letter to his friend Reynolds, 'Somehow a stubble plain looks warm - in the same way that some pictures look warm this struck me so much in my sunday's [sic] walk that I composed upon it.' 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;

the first line rhyming with the third. The first part of each stanza follows an ABAB rhyme scheme.Or by a cyder-press. thou hast thy music too. While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day. (Thematically. And gathering swallows twitter in the skies. each stanza is divided roughly into two parts. And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn. and the second part offers room for musing.” “To Autumn” is written in a three-stanza structure with a variable rhyme scheme. but instead to listen to her own music. In the third stanza. Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows. and the second line rhyming with the fourth. often seen sitting on the granary floor. The second part of each stanza is longer and varies in rhyme scheme: The first stanza is arranged CDEDCCE. the speaker tells Autumn not to wonder where the songs of spring have gone. At twilight. In terms of both thematic organization and rhyme scheme. development. and the second part is made up of the last seven lines. Each stanza is eleven lines long (as opposed to ten in “Melancholy”. with patient look. crickets sing. Hedge-crickets sing. In the second stanza. the “small gnats” hum among the "the river sallows. And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue. with whom Autumn ripens fruits and causes the late flowers to bloom. sing from the skies. Where are the songs of spring? Ay. Form Like the “Ode on Melancholy. the first part is made up of the first four lines of the stanza. Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours." or willow trees. and “full-grown lambs” bleat from the hills. and each is metered in a relatively precise iambic pentameter. lifted and dropped by the wind.) . borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies. In each stanza. and swallows. her hair “soft-lifted” by the wind. where are they? Think not of them. and often seen sleeping in the fields or watching a cider-press squeezing the juice from apples. and now with treble soft The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft. describing its abundance and its intimacy with the sun. Summary Keats’s speaker opens his first stanza by addressing Autumn. and speculation on that subject. the speaker describes the figure of Autumn as a female goddess. the first part of each stanza serves to define the subject of the stanza. robins whistle from the garden. this thematic division is only very general. however. and the second and third stanzas are arranged CDECDDE. gathering for their coming migration.

mortality. but it is perched on the brink of winter’s desolation. Keats’s speaker is able to experience these beauties in a sincere and meaningful way because of the lessons he has learned in the previous odes: He is no longer indolent. with its fruitfulness. no longer attempting to escape the pain of the world through ecstatic rapture (as in “Nightingale”). in charactry. “To Autumn” is one of the simplest of Keats’s odes. Despite the coming chill of winter. the image of Autumn winnowing and harvesting (in a sequence of odes often explicitly about creativity) recalls an earlier Keats poem in which the activity of harvesting is an explicit metaphor for artistic creation. and the locales of natural creatures in the third.” In “To Autumn. and books are filled with the resulting “grain. it can be read as a simple. the late warmth of autumn provides Keats’s speaker with ample beauty to celebrate: the cottage and its surroundings in the first stanza. the goddess drowsing among the poppies recalls Psyche and Cupid lying in the grass). but it also recalls a wealth of earlier poems. the fruit recalls joy’s grape.. There is nothing confusing or complex in Keats’s paean to the season of autumn.Themes In both its form and descriptive surface. The selection of this season implicitly takes up the other odes’ themes of temporality. gentle. In this poem.” Keats makes this connection directly: When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain. Before high-piled books. In “To Autumn. “To Autumn” is concerned with the much quieter activity of daily observation and appreciation. the swallows gather for their winter migration. explore. and develop a rich abundance of themes without ever ruffling its calm. uncomplaining summation of the entire human condition.” the metaphor . its flowers. and the song of its swallows gathering for migration.” the harvest is gathered from the fields. and change: Autumn in Keats’s ode is a time of warmth and plenty. it shows Keats’s speaker paying homage to a particular goddess—in this case. the lambs of spring are now “full grown. the deified season of Autumn.” and. The extraordinary achievement of this poem lies in its ability to suggest. Most importantly. in the final line of the poem.. as the bees enjoy “later flowers. the gathered themes of the preceding odes find their fullest and most beautiful expression. the agrarian haunts of the goddess in the second. Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain. In this quietude. The understated sense of inevitable loss in that final line makes it one of the most moving moments in all of poetry. no longer committed to the isolated imagination (as in “Psyche”). Like the others. the act of creation is pictured as a kind of self-harvesting. no longer frustrated by the attempt to eternalize mortal beauty or subject eternal beauty to time (as in “Urn”). In his sonnet “When I have fears that I may cease to be. “To Autumn” takes up where the other odes leave off. and lovely description of autumn. and no longer able to frame the connection of pleasure and the sorrow of loss only as an imaginary heroic quest (as in “Melancholy”).” the speaker’s experience of beauty refers back to earlier odes (the swallows recall the nightingale. Where “Ode on Melancholy” presents itself as a strenuous heroic quest. the pen harvests the fields of the brain.

1. do the odes tell a “story. the fields will grow again. What are some of the recurring motifs that appear throughout the six odes? Given the chronological problems with the usual ordering of the odes (“Indolence. In time. an illustration of a season. But many of the odes intentionally limit the senses they inhabit. The development the speaker so strongly resisted in “Indolence” is at last complete: He has learned that an acceptance of mortality is not destructive to an appreciation of beauty and has gleaned wisdom by accepting the passage of time. the skies empty. Taken together. the fields will be bare. In what ways is “Ode to Psyche” different from the other odes? How do these differences affect the poem’s attempt to describe the creative imagination? Why might the speaker want to use his imagination for Psyche’s worship? 5. But the connection of this harvesting to the seasonal cycle softens the edge of the tragedy. But the “Ode on Melancholy” builds its entire theme on an apparent paradox—that pleasure and pain are intimately connected and that sadness rests at the core of joy. When Autumn’s harvest is over. joy and sorrow. the sense of coming loss that permeates the poem confronts the sorrow underlying the season’s creativity. was one of the last odes to be written). the swaths with their “twined flowers” cut down. a lover’s anger to be soothing. How does the language of “Melancholy” strengthen that sense of paradox? What does it mean for trophies to be cloudy. for developed further. the odes contain some of the most beautiful sensory language in English poetry. How does the “Ode on Indolence” anticipate the themes and images of the other five poems? Given the speaker’s later confrontations with Love. With particular reference to “Nightingale” (which suppresses sight) and “Grecian Urn” (which suppresses every sense but sight). how do the odes create an abundance of believable sensation even as they limit it? 6. song and silence are as intimately connected as the twined flowers in the fields.” often placed first in the sequence. Ambition. But underneath its descriptive surface. pleasure to be aching. the cider-press dry. “To Autumn” is one of the most thematically rich of all the odes. and the birdsong will return. spring will come again. to what extent do you think the odes should be grouped as a unified sequence? 2.” abundance and loss. As the speaker knew in “Melancholy. What makes “To Autumn” beautiful is that it brings an engagement with that connection out of the realm of mythology and fantasy and into the everyday world. and “wakeful anguish” a thing to be desired? 7.” or do they simply develop a theme? Do you think the speaker is the same in each ode? 3. and Beauty—as well as with such themes as mortality and the creative imagination—does the conclusion of the Indolence ode seem ironic? 4. the ode “To Autumn” seems to be little more than description. How does Keats manage to embody complex themes in such an apparently simple poem? . From Psyche’s bower to the nightingale’s glade to the warm luxury of Autumn. On its surface. The odes are full of paradoxical and self-contradictory ideas—the attribution of human experience to the frozen figures on the urn.

Hovering near this dream. but instances of it. is part of . Keats proposed the contemplation of beauty as a way of delaying the inevitability of death. Often the appearance or contemplation of a beautiful object makes the departure possible. the reaping of grain in autumn—all of these are not only symbols of death. Motifs & Symbols Themes The Inevitability of Death Even before his diagnosis of terminal tuberculosis. grows old. Keats focused on death and its inevitability in his work. we can choose to spend our time alive in aesthetic revelry. The speaker in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” envies the immortality of the lute players and trees inscribed on the ancient vessel because they shall never cease playing their songs. Keats outlined a plan of poetic achievement that required him to read poetry for a decade in order to understand— and surpass—the work of his predecessors. beautiful things will never die but will keep demonstrating their beauty for all time. unlike the speaker. these women shall always stay beautiful. Keats explores this idea in the first book of Endymion (1818). the images on an ancient urn. They shall remain permanently depicted while the speaker changes. would I were stedfast as thou art” [1819]). and he chronicled these small mortal occurrences. Keats hoped he would live long enough to achieve his poetic dream of becoming as great as Shakespeare or John Milton: in “Sleep and Poetry” (1817). and eventually dies. however. Keats’s speakers contemplate urns (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”). nor will they ever shed their leaves. shall never stop having experiences. The ability to get lost in a reverie. As a writer. slow acts of death occurred every day. birds (“Ode to a Nightingale”). the speaker leaves the real world to explore a transcendent. The end of a lover’s embrace. or aesthetic realm. as in “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” (1817). Unlike mortal beings. he expresses these concerns in the mournful 1818 sonnet “When I have fears that I may cease to be. Examples of great beauty and art also caused Keats to ponder mortality. was a morbid sense that death might intervene and terminate his projects.Keats’s Odes Themes. small. At the end of the poem. “On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again” [1818]). The people on the urn. looking at beautiful objects and landscapes. Although we must die eventually. books (“On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” [1816]. the speaker returns to his ordinary life transformed in some way and armed with a new understanding. Motifs Departures and Reveries In many of Keats’s poems. He reassures young lovers by telling them that even though they shall never catch their mistresses. to depart conscious life for imaginative life without wondering about plausibility or rationality. For Keats. mythical.” The Contemplation of Beauty In his poetry. and stars (“Bright star.

held fast and permanent by their depiction on the sides of the urn. whether the poet. or one or all the figures on the urn. All the figures remain motionless. “Ode to a Nightingale” uses the bird’s music to contrast the . because we see the musicians playing.Keats’s concept of negative capability. Since the poem’s publication in 1820. As speakers depart this world for an imaginative world. we cannot hear the music. like spring. the season of changing leaves and decay. For instance. Keats’s speakers become so enraptured with an object that they erase themselves and their thoughts from their depiction of that object. lead to the production of worthwhile art. the season of flowers and rejuvenation. including lovers chasing one another. they have experiences and insights that they can then impart into poetry once they’ve returned to conscious life. Each of the five senses must be involved in worthwhile experiences. which is enclosed in quotation marks. is as worthy of poetry as spring. by using our imaginations. would I were stedfast as thou art. the speaker of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” describes the scenes on the urn for several stanzas until the famous conclusion about beauty and truth. and a virginal maiden holding still.” the speaker longs for a drink of crystalclear water or wine so that he might adequately describe the sounds of the bird singing nearby. or smelling. the urn. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn. even though we can touch them by holding the vessel. Similarly. which. Fall. the poet disappears from the work—that is.” the speaker imagines a state of “sweet unrest” (12) in which he will remain half-conscious on his lover’s breast forever. the speaker in “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” compares hearing Homer’s words to “pure serene” (7) air so that reading. Although we cannot literally hear their music. in turn. musicians playing instruments. Keats explored the relationship between visions and poetry in “Ode to Psyche” and “Ode to a Nightingale. critics have theorized about who speaks these lines. In “Ode to a Nightingale. In “Bright star. and they cannot touch one another. Although the poem associates sight and sound. The speaker in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” describes the pictures depicted on the urn. the work itself chronicles an experience in such a way that the reader recognizes and responds to the experience without requiring the intervention or explanation of the poet.” The Five Senses and Art Keats imagined that the five senses loosely corresponded to and connected with various types of art. becomes associating with breathing. Symbols Music and Musicians Music and musicians appear throughout Keats’s work as symbols of poetry and poets. the speaker. the speaker/poet becomes melded to and indistinguishable from the object being described. the speaker describes musicians playing their pipes. we can imagine and thus hear music. The speaker of “To Autumn” reassures us that the season of fall. In essence. The erasure of the speaker and the poet is so complete in this particular poem that the quoted lines are jarring and troubling. or seeing. has songs to sing.” for instance. The Disappearance of the Poet and the Speaker In Keats’s theory of negative capability.

This achievement was one of Keats’s great hopes. then goes on to list specific flowers that are linked to sadness. For Keats. and he described the natural world with precision and care. The beauty of the bird’s music represents the ecstatic. ancient myth and antique objects. He finds in nature apt images for his psychological state. in “Ode to a Nightingale. Keats quietly prophesied: “I think I shall be among the English poets after my death. and the moon rests amid a background of dark blue.” hearing the bird’s song causes the speaker to ruminate on the immortality of art and the mortality of humans. Observing elements of nature allowed Keats. In an 1818 letter to his brother George. such as The Fall of Hyperion or Lamia. the speaker imagines himself capable of using poetry to join the bird in the forest. we can delay death through the timelessness of music. imaginative possibilities of poetry. symbols. often take place in a mythical world not unlike that of classical antiquity. Keats not only uses nature as a springboard from which to ponder. Wordsworth. there was hope that a poem or artistic object from Keats’s time might continue to speak to readers or observers after the death of Keats or another writer or creator. and other types of art. Keats found in nature endless sources of poetic inspiration. such as “Ode to Psyche” and “To Homer” (1818). Coleridge. have a permanence and solidity that contrasts with the fleeting. In “Ode to Psyche. Nature Like his fellow romantic poets. As mortal beings who will eventually die.” . poetry.mortality of humans with the immortality of art. For example. He borrowed figures from ancient mythology to populate poems. among others. and Shelley. The Ancient World Keats had an enduring interest in antiquity and the ancient world. but he also discovers in nature similes. His longer poems. such as the Grecian urn.” the speaker mines the night sky to find ways to worship the Roman goddess Psyche as a muse: a star becomes an “amorous glow-worm” (27). Caught up in beautiful birdsong. The speaker of “Ode on Melancholy” compares a bout of depression to a “weeping cloud” (12). In ancient cultures. Keats saw the possibility of permanent artistic achievement: if an urn still spoke to someone several centuries after its creation. to create extended meditations and thoughtful odes about aspects of the human condition. and metaphors for the spiritual and emotional states he seeks to describe. temporary nature of life.

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