How does Keats manage to embody such a complex theme in a simple poem?
One of Keats's greatest poems, "To Autumn," is at first glance a seemingly simple description of a season. Keats describes classic autumn scenes in the first and third stanzas, and in the second he personifies autumn and gives the season life through clever human characteristics. To say that the poem is only a series of descriptions would be missing the point, though. Indeed, the poem is also about the inherent (and, in some ways, surprising) beauty of endings and conclusions.
This idea is most forcefully communicated in the final stanza. First, Keats rejects the "songs of spring" (23), which is itself a symbolic suggestion that beginnings (represented here by the birth of a new year) are not the only valuable stages of a cycle. Keats follows this idea up with a description of a beautiful, but melancholy, autumn landscape:
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mournAmong the river sallows, borne aloftOr sinking as the light wind lives or dies;And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble softThe red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;And gathering swallows twitter in the skies. (27-33)