Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 538
The poem is essentially a short ode to autumn, melancholy, death, the act of creation, and the nature of time. Many readers and critics consider “To Autumn” to be one of Keats’s finest works, and perhaps among the finest lyrics in the English canon.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
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;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
The poem mainly focuses on the season of autumn and its haunting beauty. Keats personifies autumn and describes it as a living entity in each stanza, but with a slightly changing set of characteristics. In the first stanza, the speaker sees it as a close friend to the sun, as it brings all the fruits and plants to perfect maturity, filling them with life.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
In the second stanza, the speaker describes autumn as a sleeping reaper and even a dozing cider maker. The poem consists of thirty-three lines in total, split into three stanzas of eleven lines. It is written in a melancholic yet relaxed tone, as evidenced by the images of poppy fumes and the final oozings of the “cyder-press.” “To Autumn” is praised for its wonderful simplicity, its captivating rhetoric, and its vivid imagery. It is often described as a beautiful cohesion of sounds, sights, and senses, an effect that perhaps reaches its peak in the final stanza:
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
In the last stanza, Keats describes autumn as a composer or conductor who combines the sounds of gnats, lambs, crickets, and swallows and creates a melody that is awe-inspiring yet bittersweet, for it blends wailing and mourning with singing, whistling, and twittering. The final stanza suggests the impression of a complex and nuanced auditory tapestry. It creates a dense and harmonic verbal surface in a literal sense as well, given the rich rhymes—internal and end—Keats employs.