Give a stanza-by-stanza explanation of Keats's ode "To Autumn."
John Keats's "To Autumn" traces the beginning, middle, and end of the season. In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker details the bounty of autumn as summer reaches its end. The second stanza directly address autumn and focuses on the work that must be done to collect the fall harvest. Autumn comes to an end in the third stanza, and the speaker ruminates on the passing of time and notices the descent into a darker, colder part of the year.
The first stanza of Keats's "Ode to Autumn" describes the"“mellow fruitfulness" of the season. Fruit is mentioned several times and, as the cells of the honey bee have been "o'er-brimmed," the stanza itself is brimming with words indicating plenitude and ripeness. Trees bend with the weight of the apples. The sun and the season together fill fruit "with ripeness to the core." They "swell" and "plump" the harvest and "set budding" the flowers. Autumn is portrayed as a season of burgeoning life, which is traditionally the way Spring is presented.
The second stanza more explicitly apostrophizes and personifies Autumn. The season is compared to various people, one "sitting careless on a granary floor" where the grain is being winnowed (separated, wheat from chaff) by the wind, one asleep in a field, one gleaning the harvest in a field with a basket on her head, and another watching the cider oozing from the apple press.
The third and final stanza compares the music of Autumn favorably to that of Spring and lists some of its characteristic sounds of gnats, crickets, bleating lambs, and birdsong, ending with the whistling robin and the twittering swallows. Like the visual images in the first stanza, these aural descriptions evoke the unique charm of Autumn.
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In the first stanza of "To Autumn," Keats personifies autumn as one who is friends with the sun. The personified autumn and sun "conspire" on how to bring fruit and vegetation to their most ripe state. It is just before harvest time; the plants are ripe and full. Autumn is in a vibrant state, so vibrant that the bees might "think the warm days will never cease." The notion of mists and "mellow fruitfulness" indicate an early part of the day.
Autumn is directly addressed in the second stanza as "thee." The speaker considers autumn during harvest time. Again personified, the speaker thinks of autumn sitting on a granary floor as the grain is being harvested. Then the speaker considers autumn asleep, made drowsy by the perfume ("fume") of the poppies. Finally, the autumn is watching the apples in a "cyder-press." Since the first stanza gives subtle indications of being early in the day, the second stanza would be midday or afternoon as autumn has spent "hours by hours" watching the harvest, a sense of some time gone by.
After the first stanza of ripeness and the second stanza of the harvest, the speaker tells autumn not to worry about the upcoming winter or the sounds of spring. Even though the end of autumn signals the death of some vegetation and shorter, colder days, autumn's song (sounds) are just as natural as spring's and summers. Interestingly, the speaker encourages autumn to appreciate her (autumn's) sounds in spite of the melancholy symbols that accompany the colder seasons:
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;
Words like "soft-dying", "wailful", and "mourn" indicate a mourning time: the end of autumn. The end of any season indicates change; since this is the natural state of things, the melancholia is joined with a sense of joy. Even though Keats (the speaker) mourned the end of autumn, he celebrated its sights, smells, and sounds for what they were. As the first stanza symbolized morning and the second stanza signaled midday, the final stanza signifies evening or night with the phrase "soft-dying day." The completion of autumn is analogous to the completion of a day; the natural progression of things.
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