Keats' Poems and Letters

write a critical appreciation of John Keats "To Autumn"

critical appreciation of John Keats "To Autumn"

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Analysis of "To Autumn":

As opposed to Keats' "Ode on Melancholy", for example, this poem does not describe a quest or a challenge; rather, "To Autumn" is composed of quiet, staid musings on a beautiful season. Structurally, this poem is written in three eleven-line stanzas of rhyming iambic pentameter. In the beginning of each stanza, Keats declares a theme, and over the ensuing lines presents varying examples of that theme. The first stanza is primarily one of activity. Autumn and the sun conspire to “load and bless with fruit” (3-4) the vines, “bend with apples” (5) the trees, “swell the gourd” and “plump the hazel shells" (7). This is a picture of abundance and of the fruits of hard work.

In stanza II, Keats uses personification to describe autumn (thought, by some critics, to be represented as a goddess) in the forms of humans at various tasks. The softness of autumn is echoed in a grainer's hair "soft-lifted by the winnowing wind" (15). The next example, of a reaper asleep at the task "while thy hook/ Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers" (17-18), makes reference to living creatures being "spared" death. (This theme is also represented in this poem by the coming winter.) The passage of time, always at the forefront of Keats' mind, is referred to as the worker at a cider-press watches "the last oozings, hours by hours" (21-22). This image could be seen as evoking the last moments before winter, or even death, arrives.

By asking the rhetorical questions “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?” (23) in the opening of stanza III, Keats leads the reader to briefly think of the arguably fairer season. But he ultimately argues that “thou [autumn] hast thy music too” (24). The "music" he describes is not always straightforwardly happy. Gnats "mourn" in "a wailful choir" (27) and their numbers sink or float depending on whether "the light wind lives or dies" (29). (Again, Keats' imagery echoes both the death of the season and physical mortality.) Keats assures us, however, that winter has not come yet, and that the world is still very much vital as "gathering swallows twitter in the skies" (33) in anticipation of their migration. He seems here to favor equanimity in the face of mortality, encouraging the readers to savor rich autumn for as long as they can.