John Keats' "To Autumn"
Introduction: Beauty and Melancholy
John Keats' speaker in "To Autumn" is celebrating the unique qualities of beauty along with melancholy that permeate the fall season.
The poem plays out in three stanzas. Each well-crafted stanza contains eleven rimed lines. (Please note: The incorrect spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")
The rime-scheme of the first stanza is ABABCDEDCCE. The rime-scheme of the second stanza as well as the third stanza is ABABCDECDDE.
Reading of "To Autumn"
First Stanza: "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"
In the first stanza, the speaker is overheard dramatizing a summary that describes the autumn season along with what may often occur during that colorful time of year: "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-eaves run."
The speaker allows the season of autumn to "conspir[e]" with the sun in order to create the luscious grapes and other fruits that will be harvested soon.
The season works with the sun to motivate the trees to "bend with apples," and to "fill all fruit with ripeness to the core," and "To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells."
The marvelous season encourages the flower-power of the plants "for the bees," and the bees "think warm days will never cease."
Second Stanza: "Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?"
In the second stanza, the speakers then shifts his concern from merely describing to directly addressing the fecund season, as he speaks to autumn as if it were a human being: "Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find / Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, / Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind."
Autumn has now been transformed into a woman, whose "soft-hair" is being blown about pleasantly on a gentle wind.
The fascinatingly personified autumn may also be located in the fields that are drowsing "with the fume of poppies."
At other times, this autumn personified may be seen as "a gleaner thou dost keep / Steady thy laden head across a brook."
Autumn may also be found "by a cyder-press" as it watches the tasty cider being pressed from the apples that had been seen bending the trees.
Third Stanza: "Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
The third stanza now finds the speaker shifting his gaze once again: he continues to speak to autumn as if the season were a human being, a friend even.
However, the speaker now is making a single-sided comparison of autumn with spring. He queries the season with intensity: "Where are the songs of Spring?" And then he repeats his inquiry: "Ay, where are they?"
The repetition encourages his listeners and readers to sense that the speaker is, in fact, in the process of complaining about the loss of the song of spring, but then he warns the personified autumn not to be bothered about that lack of songs, because autumn possesses a music of its own: "Think not of them, thou hast thy music too."
The speaker then renders a catalogue of the sounds which throng the season of ripe autumn.
As a setting for those sounds of autumn, the speaker creates a marvelous image: "While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day / And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue."
The reader or listener can then intuitively hear the music of a "wailful choir" of small gnats "mourn[ing]," "river-swallows, borne aloft," "the light wind lives or dies."
Readers and listeners can also listen to, "full-grown lambs" bleating, "[h]edge crickets" singing, "with treble soft / The redbreast whistles," and "gathering swallows twitter in the skies."
Keats' marvelous images have provided his audience with more than enough beauty through melancholy to make the fall season a favorite, making that season compete with spring and summer while giving winter a definite run for its money.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes