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In Keats' Ode, why is autumn season called "mellow fruitfullness"?

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Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In his ode "To Autumn", Keats describes the season in vivid terms as being full of "mists and mellow fruitfulness." This creates a rich sensory impression of autumn, characterizing it according to the misty, foggy mornings and evenings which often mark the transition between summer and winter, particularly in the United Kingdom. Indeed, autumn is a transitional period in general- mist and fog are often used to symbolize obfuscation or dreaminess, and here they seem to signal the languid turn of the seasons.

Fruitfulness, meanwhile, is another defining characteristic of autumn. "Mellow" is an interesting choice of word- it usually means easy, or friendly. For autumn to be fruitful in a mellow way, then, suggests that this fruitfulness comes easily to it. It is a rich season, abundant with harvest, a time in which it is easy to find apples falling from trees and crops ready to be picked and turned into food. Autumn is not a harsh season, like winter, when the earth is hard with frost and food is hard to find in the wild. Autumn being mellow and fruitful conjures images of it as a welcoming, pleasant period.

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The first stanza of Keats' ode To Autumn is replete with sensory images that seek to illuminate the spirit of life found in the season of autumn.  The opening line of "Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness" indicates a rich tapestry of natural life present.  Mellow fruitfulness is an opening that develops Keats' imagery of ripe apples and orchard of vines with fruit ripening.  There is a life spirit that is present in the first stanza's description of autumn.  The "close bosomed friend of the sun" brings to mind the sun drenched fields of the autumn sun as an almost inevitable partnership between the season and the sun.  Filling all the fruit with "ripeness to the core" as well as the description of autumn as a season that is to "swell the gourd" help to bring life to autumn.  The opening description of "mellow fruitfulness" helps to highlight autumn's nature as a season that can facilitate and embody growth and emergence, a description that is an integral part of Keats' ode.

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