How does John Clare portray autumn's sights and sounds in his poem "Autumn"?

Quick answer:

John Clare captures the sights and sounds of the autumn season in his poem "Autumn" through description, figurative language, and imagery. First, he highlights movement and vitality among dying plants. Second, he uses personification and simile to emphasize glimpses of life still remaining in the maturing landscape. Third, he presents auditory, tactile, and visual imagery to convey sounds and sights of fall.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In “Autumn,” Clare celebrates life within a dying landscape during a season that many people view as a time of death. Through descriptions of motion, figurative language, and imagery, the poet communicates the oft-overlooked vitality of the autumn season.

Clare opens the poem with a direct contrast between movement and stillness.

The thistledown's flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill.

Despite the lack of wind, airy down carries thistle seeds about, activating propagation of life at a later time (perhaps the following spring). Through personification, thistledown seems to be on a mission of fertilization: “Flying,” “lying,” or resting and then “mounting.”

Clare presents fall as a season of ripeness and maturity. In the simile “The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot,” water erupts intensely, perhaps as a result of summer’s residual heat. We can hear the water bubbling. The simile “The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread” indicates that a scorching summer has passed, leaving the earth dry like bread past its prime. We can hear the ground crackling as it may open up. On top of this ground is desiccated grass:

The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.

Formerly green grass is personified as a beaten and hunched over corpse. Again, we can hear the yellow, bent grass crunching underfoot.

Yet despite these typically pessimistic images of fall, Clare imbues them with life and a sense of play, not death and decay. For example, the inactive, seemingly fruitless

fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

The poet emphasizes the beauty and vitality (“glitter like water”) of unused land. The cobwebs (“gossamers”) energetically flit around with gaiety.

In the final stanza, Clare captures the end of summer and movement into autumn through tactile and visual imagery.

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we're eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

The “hot iron,” burning rivers, and hot ground continue the poem’s heat motif. The “glitter,” “gold,” and “liquid gold” repeat the earlier images of beauty and ripeness. Most importantly, the energy of life still glows within the dying landscape because life will return. “Eternity” is present—everything is merely preparing to enter hibernation over the winter and will reemerge in the spring.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial