Claude McKay's "To Winter" is a Petrarchan sonnet, with the rhyme scheme ABBAABBA CDCDCD. The poet apostrophizes Winter in the same way that John Keats addresses Autumn in his ode "To Autumn," and the first lines of McKay's poem recall Keats's. The poet begins, unusually, by asking Winter to stay, but he then appears to be celebrating the coming of Spring, as he lists the ways in which the weather is changing. The breeze quickens, the days grow longer, the birds sing, and squirrels are to be seen in the trees. All these changes are simply and lyrically described in the octave.
The turn in the sonnet comes precisely as the sestet begins. Although the poet appeared to be celebrating the end of Winter in the pastoral scene he described, he returns to his invocation in the first line. These "pregnant signs" (a neat expression for the rebirth associated with Spring) mean that Winter is about to depart, and the poet does not want this to happen. He then explains:
Oh stay! I fled a land where fields are green
Always, and palms wave gently to and fro,
And winds are balmy, blue brooks ever sheen,
To ease my heart of its impassioned woe.
Claude McKay left Jamaica in his early twenties to come to America. Even there, he associated the South with racism, and was happier the further north he went. Later, he spent time in both the United Kingdom and Russia. At the end of the poem, therefore, the poet admits that he makes an emotional connection between warmer weather and unhappiness. It is notable that the physical description of the land he fled is attractive, in the same way as the coming of Spring in the octave. This emphasizes the personal nature of the poet's reaction to the changing of the seasons.