The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Autumn Day” is a short poem of twelve lines broken into three stanzas of three, four, and five lines. The original poem is predominantly in iambic pentameter (with the frequent substitution of stressed syllables to begin lines) and rhymes aba, cddc, effef.

The title of the poem recalls a familiar literary motif—autumn as the season of moving toward the end of a natural cycle. Autumn often calls up the melancholy feeling of things drawing to their close and reminds one of death. In this poem, the poet brings the reader to consider autumn’s various aspects and what they might symbolize for man on a broader level.

The first stanza emphasizes autumn’s association with endings, and so with death, by pointing out that the warm and nurturing days of summer have been great and full, and that now the creator who controls the seasons must curtail summertime in order to move on to autumn. The shadow being cast on the sundials symbolizes this act of divine curtailment. The almost biblical rhetoric with which the poet addresses the “Lord” in the first phrase adds a serious and spiritual tone to the poet’s meditation. This same biblical tone returns in the last stanza of the poem.

Rainer Maria Rilke, however, also suggests the fullness of autumn as the time of ripe maturity and abundant harvest in stanza 2. The imminence of winter and death from stanza 1 is thus tempered by the ripening fruit and the “southern days”...

(The entire section is 551 words.)