Analysis of Keats’ To Autumn
The poem To Autumn was composed by John Keats, a well-known
romantic poet who was hailed as a genius by Shelly. His odes are among the mightiest achievements of English verse.
In this Ode, from its beginning to the end, matter and manner are not only superbly blended, but every line carries its noble freight of beauty.
In its inception, the poet seizes the essence of autumn---the fruitfulness. He leads readers to touring with him, from the azure sky to the vine-covered thatch-eaves, from the mossed cottage-trees to the fruitful field. The description of the ripe fruits is a highlight in this stanza, such as the red apples, the golden gourds, the brown hazel shells and the later flowers that attracting bees. A colorful early-autumn picture is vividly taken on before the readers.
To the poet, the autumn is not simply the change of season, but has been given life. In the second stanza, the autumn is personified to be a British farmer on a granary floor, a reaper on the furrow, a gleaner by the brook, a peasant by the cider-press. The lively laborer is the incarnation of the intangible autumn, which can be touched and sensed by everyone.
In traditional poems about autumn, the voices in autumn are always sad and bleak. However, Keats‟ To Autumn brims with happiness and harmony. In
the third stanza, the poet tells Autumn not to wonder where the songs of spring have gone, but instead to listen to her own music. At twilight, the “small gnats” hum above the shallows of the river, lifted and dropped by the wind, and “full-grown lambs” bleat from the hills, crickets sing, robins whistle from the garden, and swallows, gathering for their coming migration, sing from the skies. In this harmonious symphony, Keats accomplishes his eternal hymn to autumn and the Great Nature.
If subject matter alone guaranteed acclaim then any poem about a beautiful autumnal day might win devotees. What elevates „To Autumn‟ beyond the ordinary is Keats‟s quite extraordinary deployment of poetic
techniques. To Autumn is written in a three-stanza structure with a variable rhyme scheme. Each stanza is eleven lines long and each is metered in a relatively precise iambic pentameter. Assonance, alliteration, rhythm, rhyme, collocation and imagery are skillfully exploited and combined to create a poem of quite staggering technical attempt: a poem which, far from being straightforward, reveals a complex relationship between poet, subject and reader.
The poem‟s famous opening line, “Season of mellow mists and
fruitfulness” is often quoted as the example of Keats‟s masterful use of alliteration and assonance but these devices are employed throughout the poem. For example: line four, is saved by the almost hypnotic repetition of „th‟ phonemes, the further alliteration of round/run, the repetition of long vowels
(vines, round, run) and the assonance of the /a/ sound in that/thatch. The enjambment of aloft/or emphasizes the first “or” and this emphasis is highlighted further by its repetition and the assonance of mourn/borne/or. All together add musical regularity to Keats‟s practice in prosody.
Knowing that Keats wrote To Autumn shortly before his death, it is
tempting to read the poem as a metaphor for his acceptance of the fate that will soon befall him. Certainly, the circumstances of Keats‟s life give the poem an added poignancy, but even without that knowledge there is sufficient evidence in the poem to suggest that it is more than mere description of a beautiful autumnal day: that it addresses both the „sweet‟ and the „sour‟ nature
of a transitory season and blurs the boundaries between them.