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Summary

John Keats's "To Autumn" is an ode to the fall season, comprising three stanzas and utilizing a regular rhyme scheme and meter. The speaker begins by describing autumn as the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness." In the first stanza, the speaker details autumn's association with his "Close bosom-friend," the sun, stating that the pair work together to ensure that vines are laden with fruit and apples are able to grow ripe. This stanza identifies a number of different types of fruits and vegetables which will be ready for harvest in autumn, including gourds and hazelnuts. According to the speaker, autumn and the sun motivate "later flowers" to bloom for the bees, so that by the end of summer and the cusp of autumn,

. . . they think warm days will never case,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

The second stanza begins:

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Here, the speaker addresses autumn directly for the first time. Fittingly, then, the speaker proceeds to personify autumn repeatedly in this stanza, imagining autumn "sitting careless on a granary floor," "on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep," and watching "the last oozings" of apple cider in the press "with patient look." As seen in the above quotes, whose actions are all relatively passive—sitting, sleeping, and watching—autumn's personifications in this stanza are characterized by stasis and slowness, as if to emphasize autumn's closeness to the end of harvest and the natural world's decay toward winter and cold. Autumn and its surroundings are also shown to be tactile and sensuous, however—its "hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind," its sleeping form "Drows'd with the fume of poppies," its body surrounded by "the next swath" of wheat "and all its twined flowers." These descriptions foreshadow the speaker's descriptions of autumn's inherent beauty in the next stanza.

The third and final stanza serves to highlight autumn's particular elegance—as opposed to the season poets may traditionally valorize (that is, spring). The speaker begins,

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too . . .

The tone of these lines is almost consoling, particularly in the speaker’s continual direct address of autumn. Many of autumn's beauties are described in this stanza: softly tinted clouds, emblematic perhaps of sunset and the end of both the day and the growing season (autumn itself); "stubble-plains" of what’s left of the grain after harvest; "small gnats" and willows along the river; and the sounds of "full-grown lambs," "Hedge-crickets," and robins and swallows. These images are characterized by a muted subtlety that is nevertheless beautiful—the "rosy hue" of the sunset clouds, the "light wind" that "lives or dies," the "treble soft" whistle of the robin and "twitter" of swallows gathering before their yearly migration. Despite the closeness to death that much of the stanza's diction hints at—the gnats' "wailful choir" and mourning and the rosy color of the "soft-dying day"—the poem does not end on a morbid note. Rather, its emphasis on closeness, presence, and the natural cycles of things gives the end of the year's harvest and growth a bittersweet sort of consolation.

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

John Keats wrote one of his best poems, “To Autumn,” on Sunday, September 19, 1819. Its remarkably quick completion exemplifies Keats’s accomplishments generally. The poem was written rapidly in a life notable as one of the briefest and most compact of all the great poets’ lives. It is the last of the odes that Keats composed from May to September of 1819 and thus one of the last poems he ever wrote. At the beginning of the following year, the signs of his tuberculosis appeared, and on February 23, 1821, he died in Rome at the age of twenty-five. Keats’s poetic career lasted only five years, and he wrote intensively for only three of those years.

Keats wrote five poems that he called odes during these middling months of 1819; “To...

(The entire section is 1,788 words.)