“To Autumn” is an ode divided in three eleven-line stanzas. John Keats employs an elaborate rhyme scheme, setting off with a semicolon the first four lines as a syntactic unit rhyming abab from the next seven lines, which rhyme cdecdde. An ode is a serious and dignified lyric poem, usually fairly long, written in an elevated style and adhering to a stanzaic form.
In this ode, Keats personifies autumn, attributing human qualities to the season. The first stanza gives a general personification of autumn; in the second and third stanzas, the personification is intensified by apostrophe, a direct address to autumn. Moreover, autumn is personified as a woman whose union with the male sun sets the ripening process in motion: “Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;/ Conspiring with him how to load and bless/ With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run.”
In the first stanza, Keats presents the early stages of autumn; the weather is still warm. Late flowers bloom, and the bees think summer will never end, since “Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.” Everything in the stanza comes to repletion: the sun, the vines, the trees, the gourds, the nuts, and the hives are brought into ripeness.
In the second stanza, the ripening process is fulfilled. Autumn, directly addressed as “thou” in line 12, is seen amid her harvested grain or found sleeping on a “half-reap’d furrow,” deceived by the late-blooming poppies that lured the bees in the first stanza to the same deception. Awakened, autumn watches the oozing of apples in the cider press “hours by hours,” as if in halting the time she can hold off winter’s arrival.
The last stanza presents autumn having progressed past ripeness and harvest, heralding the coming of winter. Keats, alluding to spring, admonishes autumn to appreciate her own sounds and her own beauty, exquisitely evoked by the late autumn sun setting on the harvested fields: “While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,/ And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue.” The sounds of late autumn are the mournful sounds of natural completeness. The day that had begun so “mellow” in the first stanza is shown “soft-dying” in the last.