To Autumn Themes
The main themes in "To Autumn" are the power of nature, the passage of time, and the consolation of beauty.
- The power of nature: The poem expresses reverence and awe for the great changes wrought by nature as autumn brings its riches to the landscape.
- The passage of time: The stages of autumn are illustrates by the poem's three stanzas, from ripening to harvesting to the turn towards winter.
- The consolation of beauty: Keats's lines celebrate the great beauty of autumn even as they evoke a somber sensibility.
Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Power of Nature
The poem employs apostrophe by 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 poem also depicts the many ways in which humanity is dependent on nature for its survival. As a time of harvest, autumn brings to mind the sustenance humans glean from the earth, and Keats brings this truth to life with images of apples and gourds, granaries, and oozing cider. The last human-touched image of the poem is that of “stubble-plains,” or fields of grain that have already been cut in harvest. This image presages the onset of winter, when people will rely on the goods of the harvest to survive during the barren months to come.
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 details—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, sweet for the way autumn’s beauty softens this inevitability.