Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Because “Ancient Autumn” describes an ordinary scene that can easily be imagined having taken place a long time ago, the scene brings to mind the aspects of readers’ own mundane lives. There is work to be done, children to be taken care of, and places to travel, and most of this happens without anyone stopping to take notice of it. Simic shows a fairly wide spectrum of everyday life in this scene. The men haul a barrel full of an alcoholic beverage, suggesting what may be used as pleasure, yet they are “humpbacked” from the work itself. The woman pins diapers and relieves herself, yet the suggestion of a baby and a white thigh allude to two more pleasurable aspects alongside the necessity of chores and defecation. The children play, but their play is warlike. These aspects—often contradictory within the same action—show aspects of human existence that continue in modern times. Simic’s description of human life shows how little has changed over the course of human history.

The poem may even provide a more cynical view of human existence. While day-to-day existence has continued from the poem’s “ancient” times to today, Simic’s choice of season may suggest that certain aspects of the human condition threaten its own existence. The children who “play soldiers and march in step” are placed as the final image of the second stanza, and it is for their commands that the youth listens. Following this picture of innocence playing at the...

(The entire section is 558 words.)