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Can anyone explain the themes of John Keats's poem "To Autumn"?  Why did Keats...

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necipfazil | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 30, 2009 at 2:59 PM via web

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Can anyone explain the themes of John Keats's poem "To Autumn"?

 

Why did Keats write this poem and  used many imagery, motifs from nature?. I am taking poetry studies, so if anyone has knowladge on this poem, please help me

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 30, 2009 at 3:55 PM (Answer #1)

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In a letter to a friend named Reynolds, Keats explained that he composed "To Autumn" because

Somehow a stubble plain looks warm--in the same way that some pictures look warm--this struck me so much on my sunday's [sic] walk, that I composed upon it.

"To Autumn," the " perfect embodiment of poetic form, intent, and effect," is an ode, a serious and dignified lyric poem that adheres to a stanzaic form and is fairly long.  Keats's ode is divided into three eleven-line stanzas with the rhyme scheme of abab  cdecdde.  Autumn is personified by Keats, and he employs apostrophe, addressing Autumn as a woman:

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?..../thee sitting careless on a granary floor,/Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind/....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.

There is splendid imagery in this ode.  The "mellow fruitfulness" of the vines and apples, the "mossed cottage-trees," the "plump hazel shells," and "sweet kernel" along with "fume of poppies" suggest the sights and smells of the harvest of fall. In the third stanza as autumn nears its end, the "barred clouds bloom" and "touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue" while gnats mourn "in a wailful choir."  Other sound imagery is found in the bleating of the lambs, the singing of the crickes, the whistling of the "red-breast," and the twittering of the swallows. 

As the stanzas are arranged in the order of the progression of the season of autumn. The first stanza describes the early stages of the season with images of fruit ripening, the "maturing sun," the gourds, the vines, and the hazel nuts all ripen. In the second stanza, the ripening process of the fruit is complete and the fruit is stored as Autumn falls asleep.  But, she awakens to watch "the last oozings [of the cider-press] hours by hours.  It is as if Autumn wishes to capture Time and halt the coming of Winter. Here Keats expresses the theme of the transience of time.  Finally, in the third stanza, winter approaches.  When Keats asks Autumn

Where are the songs of spring?.../Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--

he suggests that Autumn has her own beauty, albeit a passing beauty [theme].  And, again, the theme of the transience of time is implicit in the third stanza as Autum comes to completion:

Thn in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn/Among the river sallows, borne aloft/Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;...The red -breast whistles from a garden-croft; And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

 

 

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kc4u | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted October 31, 2009 at 1:08 AM (Answer #2)

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The last of Keats's Great Odes of 1819, To Autumn exmines, with a near-Classical objectivity, the most recurrent theme of Keats's poetry--mutability/transience. The poem underscores that ripeness and fulfilment matter, though death is inescapable.

Keats portrays the ongoing process of growth and maturation in autumnal nature: the vine-creepers and the apple trees being loaded with fruits; the gourds still swelling, and the hazel-nuts being filled with 'sweet kernel' to their core. Autumn is a prelude to winter, and the season seems to come to an end. Yet the ripening and fulfilment go on; harvesting is held in abeyance; there is, as it were, no end to autumn, and the inevitable death is indefinitely postponed.

As we look at the imagery in stanza 2, the season is personified in the roles of harvesters--the winnower, the reaper, the gleaner, and the cyder-presser. But the harvesting operations are being held up or delayed, and Autumn does not take leave of nature. Mutability and death are certain to come, but 'ripeness is all'.

In the final stanza, the poet assures Autumn that the sounds of her music are no inferior to those of Spring. The gnats, the Robin-redbreast, the grasshoppers & the 'twittering swallows' constitute the finely orchestrated symphony of Autumn, harmonising joy and melancholy. If death is unavoidable and the thought of death is saddening, ripeness and fulfilment of life are a no insignificant source of joy. The swallows twitter as they get prepared for migration but, at the end of the cold winter-days, the swallows would come back.

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rileyb | Student, College Freshman | Salutatorian

Posted November 30, 2011 at 1:41 AM (Answer #3)

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The theme of "To Autumn" is the main message that Keats is trying to convey. With this in mind, it is possible to summarize the major theme of the poem as follows: Autumn's beauty is uniquely wonderful because it is a season that strikes a balance between the vibrant vitality of summer and the coming stillness and death of winter.

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diali | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted November 15, 2012 at 3:31 PM (Answer #4)

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In this poem Keats says that spring and autumn are not compareable because both have their own beauties, charms and glories. He personified Autumn as a beautifu woman sitting carelessly, most oftenly Autumn is taken as a harsh season, the age of fruitfulness and completeness, the age of total saturation and fulfillment. It is parallel to the old age of a man's life in which he becames idle and indefferent to all the things and detaches himself from all the charms of the world but here, Keats, opposite to the natural comparison of autumn to the harshness takes this season a very pleasent one. He says that this is a season which has a music of its own which has a charm of its own. In the last stanza he recalls the spring season and says that autumn is such a marvellous season of a year that we need not to think about the spring. Different sounds of animals and birds are described which is a sign of winter season but infact autumn itself is the first sign of arrival of winter so that may be birds gather at one place to migrate to another one.
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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