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What are the classical Greek allusions in John Keats's "To Autumn"?

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arghyapikai | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted September 10, 2010 at 6:58 PM via web

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What are the classical Greek allusions in John Keats's "To Autumn"?

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kmcappello | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted September 14, 2010 at 8:43 AM (Answer #1)

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Keats wrote the poem "To Autumn" late in his poetic career, and it has been referred to as one of the most perfect poems in the English language.  The poem consists of three stanzas.  The first stanza references the bounty of early autumn before the harvest, the second personifies Autumn as a harvester, though one in stasis, and the third stanza describes the chilly end of the season and the promise of winter, which is also the promise of death.

The personification of Autumn could be considered an allusion to the mythology of ancient Greece.  However, compared with his other odes, "Ode to a Grecian Urn" and "Ode to Psyche,"  this poem does not include as many overt allusions to ancient Greece.  Rather, the poem subtly recalls the myth of Persephone, Demeter, and Hades.  In this myth, Demeter, the goddess of the earth, casts the land into a permanent winter when her daughter, Persephone, is kidnapped by Hades.  Persephone is eventually able to return from the underworld, but only for half the year.  In celebration, Demeter brings Spring and Summer to the land.  But when her daughter must return to the world of the dead, Demeter brings death to the earth in the form of Autumn and Winter.

Keats's poem offers up an acceptance of this cycle of life and death.  In the final stanza, the speaker addresses a personified Autumn by saying:

Where are the songs of Spring?  Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too

By noting this, the speaker realizes that the approach of death brought by Autumn can be just as beautiful as the promise of life found in the Spring.

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