Ode to Autumn

To Autumn

To Autumn is a poem written by English Romantic poet John Keats in 1819 (published 1820).

Keats was inspired to write To Autumn after walking through the water meadows of Winchester, England, in an early autumn evening of 1819. There is a story that Keats could not concentrate on his work in his rented rooms because the landlady's daughter was practicing the violin. Driven to distraction, he went out behind Winchester College to walk and to think. He returned and wrote the poem straight away.

The poem has three stanzas of eleven lines describing the taste, sights and sounds of autumn. Much of the third stanza, however, is dedicated to diction, symbolism, and literary devices with decisively negative connotations, as it describes the end of the day and the end of autumn.


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;
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,
 Drows'd 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 cyder-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 red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
   And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


Keats died in 1821 of tuberculosis, only 17 months after this poem was written. These last few years of Keats' life were as productive as the autumn harvest he describes in this poem, writing some of his most important work including Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on Melancholy and The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream. The "wailful choir" of the gnats in the last stanza could be singing a requiem for Keats himself.

Reception and analysis

The poem widely has been considered a masterpiece of Romantic English poetry. Literary critic Harold Bloom described it as "the most perfect shorter poem in the English language." Established poet Tom Paulin argues that the poem is a response to the Peterloo Massacre which occurred earlier that year. The argument follows that the notoriously dark third stanza depicts a shift in the political climate of Keats' homeland towards a more sinister age when such public displays of brutality could happen. American-born British poet and critic Kelly Grovier uses the poem, alongside Geoffrey Hill's poem September Song, to illustrate the political implications of his literary theory of post-temporalism.


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