To Autumn Questions and Answers
by John Keats

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In "To Autumn" by John Keats, where is onomatopoeia used?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In onomatopoeia, a word actually imitates the sound it is meant to describe. A common example of onomatopoeia is the word buzz, which sounds like the extended "zzz" sound it is meant to imitate.

At the end of his ode, Keats uses words that sound similar to the sounds they are meant to describe. For instance, the word "bleat" sounds close to the sound sheep or lambs actually make, and "whistle" sounds like a robin's cry, while "twitter" sounds like the song of the swallows. "Wailful" carries some of the melancholy sounds gnats can make, and the alliteration in the "w" sounds in "winnowing wind" imitates the whistle the wind can produce.

Overall, Keats uses a great deal of sensory imagery to convey the slow, rich feeling of autumn and its heavy bounty.

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gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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If a writer uses onomatopoeia, he or she (usually a poet) uses words that mimic or echo the actual thing described. For example, the word "run" has nothing to do with the sound you make when you're running, but "buzz" ends with a buzzing sound, and so would be considered onomatopoeia.

In "To Autumn," Keats uses fairly subtle versions of onomatopoeia. I'd say that the vowels in "oozings" late in the second stanza sound like something, well, oozing. When "the redbreast whistles" in the third stanza, that verb sounds like some forms of whistling. In the final line, "twitter" sounds like what birds sound like when twittering, and so would be onomatopoeia. Keats' "wailful choir" in that same stanza works: the word "wail" sounds like someone wailing.

Examples beyond these get subtle indeed, and open to more interpretation. When Keats says hair is "soft-lifted by the winnowing wind," you can hear the air moving in "lifted," but you have to connect wind with lift for that to really work.

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