To Autumn Questions and Answers
by John Keats

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What similes are used in the poem "To Autumn" by John Keats?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Similes are comparisons using "like" or "as." This makes them easy to locate in a work of literature, because in the absence of the words "like" and "as," there is no simile. However, not every use of "like" or "as" is comparative, so once we locate these words, we have to evaluate how they are being employed in order to determine if we are in the arena of a simile.
To be like Sherlock Holmes (that's a simile), let's go through this poem analytically. Since it contains one use of the word "like" and one of "as," there are at most two possible similes in the poem. The first is the following:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook
"Like a gleaner" is the first potential simile. In this case, it truly is a simile, or comparison. Autumn is likened to a gleaner, a person who gathers the fruit or grain left behind by the harvesters.
The second possible simile is "sinking as the light wind." Is Keats comparing the "small gnats" to a light wind? Here, the answer is no. "As" can also mean "according to" or "because." In this case, Keats is using imagery, saying the the swarm of gnats (which he calls a "choir,") sinks or rises as the wind grows stronger or dies down:
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies

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Eleanora Howe eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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John Keats' "To Autumn" is full of rich figurative language, and similes are certainly included (as a reminder, similes are comparisons that use "like" or "as"). In fact, one of my favorite literary similes occurs in the second stanza of Keats' poem: "And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep / Steady thy laden head across a brook" (19-20). This is a particularly virtuosic example of a simile, as it also includes some elements of personification. Keats compares the season of autumn to a "gleaner," someone who collected any leftover food from a field after the reaper finished his harvest. As such, while this example of figurative language is certainly a simile, it also employs some personification, as Keats is giving autumn human qualities. This example is just one of the masterful ways that Keats uses figurative language to describe the season of autumn, and I'd encourage you to read the piece for yourself to look for the other inventive ways Keats brings autumn to life. 

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