What is the theme of "To Autumn" by Keats?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of "To Autumn" is the transitory quality of nature.

In one of the marvelous letters written by Keats to friends, he explained that he composed "To Autumn" because

Somehow a stubble plain looks warm--in the same way that some pictures look warm--this struck me so much on my Sunday's walk, that I composed upon it.

The three stanzas of Keats's ode depict this tempered warmth of Autumn with its own beauty, although like the other seasons it is transitory.

In the first stanza Autumn has "conspired" with Summer, its "close-bosomed friend," a personification with suggests the mating process since fruit is then produced. Then, in the second stanza, the bounty of nature is harvested and Autumn sleeps after all her work, her

hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind....Drowsed with the fume of poppies....

Finally, in the third stanza Keats underscores the importance of the role of Autumn and harvest time: "thou hast thy music too." For, there is a ground choir of gnats that "mourn among the river sallows," along with the robins, grasshopper, and crickets, who sing while the"twittering swallows" gather in the sky. These creatures express the melancholy in delight which Keats often felt. Autumn is the most bountiful of seasons, rich in its fruitfulness and the music of its sounds; however, winter does approach, signaled by the gathering swallows in the skies. Like all seasons and all life, it is temporal.