This week’s poetry post continues our seasonal journey through autumn-themed poems. If you’re an English language learner, don’t miss the vocabulary exercise found at the bottom of the post, along with the links to some additional tools that will help you with this poem.
“To Autumn” was written by John Keats, one the most important poets of the English Romantic movement. Born in London on 31 October 1795, he died in Rome at the young age of 25. (If you’ve ever been to Rome, you can’t have missed the house he lived and died in, right next to the famous Spanish Steps.) In spite of such a short life, he left an invaluable poetic legacy and is now considered one of the finest poets in the English language.
Keats’ life was marked by a series of personal losses, disappointments and poor health, a lot of which can be felt in his works. His poetic voice is typically sensuous and melancholic, reflecting his emotional and physical suffering, as well as a preoccupation with dying, especially in his later poems.
“To Autumn” can be read as an ode to this season, in which the poet praises its bounty – similar to other Romantic poets. However, there is also a sad note, as the beauty of autumn hints at the rot and decay that inevitably follow. As we progress through the three stanzas, we journey from early to mid-autumn, and from there to the very end of the season, here contrasted with spring. This is easy to transpose to human life, symbolising the progression from one’s best, most productive years to that final stage close to imminent death.
It is worth noting that this poem happens to be the last one in his final collection of poems published in 1820. A little over a year after the publication, Keats succumbed to tuberculosis and was buried at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.
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-eves run; To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells. Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep, Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep Steady thy laden head across a brook; Or by a cider-press, with patient look, Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours. Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-- While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft, And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Find the words in the poem with the following meaning:
- an edible part of a nut; seed (n.)
- smooth and soft; tempered (adj.)
- having a full, round shape (adj.)
- a large, round fruit with a hard, inedible skin (n.)
- moist, damp (adj.)
- a very close and intimate friend (n.)
- vapour, smoke, gas (n.)
- a narrow trench made in the ground by a plough (n.)
- something that trickles or seeps out slowly (n.)
- half-asleep (adj.)
- a building for storing grain (n.)
- someone who gathers something in small pieces (n.)
- full of grief and pain (adj.)
- a sound made by a sheep or goat (n.)
- a small stream (n.)
- a colour, or a particular shade (n.)
- sounds made by birds (n.)
- a small insect that resembles a mosquito (n.)
If you have trouble understanding and interpreting this poem, have a look at this line-by-line summary and analysis provided by LitCharts. And if you wish to find out more about Keats, visit my Pinterest board dedicated to him.