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To Autumn Themes

The Power of Nature

The poem employs apostrophe in directly addressing the season of autumn; further, the poem continually personifies autumn as a human capable of particularly human actions. The speaker praises the season with a series of descriptions of the elements of nature that can be observed during this season. The vivid imagery employed by the speaker celebrates the beauty of nature; this beauty, in turn, has a powerful impact on the speaker, whose tone communicates a feeling of awe towards the many natural images found in the poem. Images of ripe fruit, ready for harvest and consumption, and blooming flowers combine with descriptions of the sounds of animal life, like the bees and the lambs that coexist peacefully with the flora of the autumnal natural world. Together, these aspects of the natural world in autumn inspire reverence in the speaker. 

The Passage of Time

The three stanzas of the poem move through progressive stages of the season of autumn. Through the descriptions of the changes in the natural world that take place as time passes, the speaker of the poem subtly suggests to the reader that all life, including his own and the reader’s, is gradually moving towards death. Hours pass, then days, and eventually, seasons and years. In the first stanza, which takes place at the start of autumn, images of the natural world are vibrant and buzzing with energy; as the season progresses into the third stanza, the sun is setting and the birdsong combines with the hum of insects into a sad song of endings.

The Consolation of Beauty

The poem’s tone is not completely elegiac, despite its keen understanding of the passage of time. The speaker tells autumn that “thou hast thy music too,” and the movement toward winter at the poem’s end is tempered by the loveliness of nature in the midst of its transformation. Indeed, much of what allows autumn’s beauty to be so prominent in the poem is the way the speaker so carefully attends to its detail and presence—its “moss’d cottage-trees,” its (personified) “hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind,” the “treble soft” of its red-breasted robins. In this way, the poem, like the “soft-dying day” itself, is bittersweet: bitter for the sense of death that looms at autumn’s end, and sweet for the way autumn’s beauty softens this inevitability.

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The double progression through the day and the season point to a theme that recurs in many of Keats’s poems, the theme of transience. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and “Ode to a Nightingale,” this theme is treated with anguish and rebellion; in “To Autumn,” the theme is treated with serenity and acceptance.

The first stanza tries to prolong summer, yet the sun is qualified by the adjective “maturing,” hinting that he matures the harvest as well as grows old himself. The second stanza pictures autumn as a reaper, a harvester of the now-ripened crops; the image of the reaper also calls up death itself. Death, however, is momentarily suspended, found sleeping in a “half-reaped furrow.”

In the last stanza, the notion of death, the natural completion of the process begun in the first stanza, gathers strength as gnats are mourning, the sun is setting, and the swallows gather to escape the coming of winter. The idea of rebirth and spring is subsumed in the question “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?” Yet the music of autumn, of completion and death, is not only accepted but also enjoyed for having its own fulfilling sounds. Death is not to be shunned or feared but accepted as the natural end of life.

Another theme, closely linked with the theme of transience, is the juxtaposition of...

(The entire section is 944 words.)