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'To Autumn' is often interpreted as a peaceful evocation of the beauties of the English countryside, To me, it is more a subtle, troubled attempt by Keats to make some kind of sense out of dying young. It is hard to determine how much of this comes from a consciousness of his own impending death, and how much derives from more general thoughts about mortality. Nevertheless, it seems evident that the poem has a sense of conflict and ambiguity similar to the earlier, more obviously dramatic and questioning odes. The season of autumn is presented as a fertile and beautiful woman ('thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind') but, as with other beautiful female presences in Keats's poems (La Belle Dame Sans Merci, the personified Grecian Urn, Lamia), the charm co-exists with a potential cruelty and indifference.
Romanticism was a movement, which was marked primarily by its rejection of the enlightenment ideologies and scientific methods, as well as its emphasis on the natural world, emotions, artistry and the personal expression....
John Keats - poetry, annotations, notes - Keats' Kingdom
On first reading, 'Spares the next swath', in the following line, implies clemency. In factm the image points to a delayed execution for the flowers. There is a similar effect here to that created by the final image of stanza 1, where the bees are offered unexpected and abundant pollen, but are soon to be disappointed in their belief that 'warm days will never cease'. The final image of stanza 2, Autumn watching the cider-press, also contains a hint of cruelty. Her patience is an aspect of her own immortal existence and contrasts with the slow crushing of the apples. The fact that she watches their 'last oozings hours by hours', emphasises the drawn-out nature of their destruction.
Each of these verbal pictures connects back to the opening of the poem and the perhaps surprising use of 'conspiring' in line 3. The sinister, calculating sense of the word fits the presentation of Autumn as a force which blesses with energy and beauty ('And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core') only for that life to be harvested in its prime. This is a knowledge of which Autumn's children are pathetically innocent: the 'full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn' but they do not know what is around the corner. Autumn sits 'careless' on her granary floor: the word means both free and relaxed, and also detached and aloof. The doubleness of 'careless' is similar to Keats's use of 'viewless' in 'Ode to a Nightingale' ('the viewless wings of poetry') where the sense of both incomparably sublime and without clear vision is relevant.
This historical time period has been long since been the victim of film directors and romantic novelists, which has lead to the common, but false, idea of the medieval period consisting of knights and damsels in distress, wizards and dragons, and castles and battles....
John Keats's 1819 odes - Wikipedia
The title is the first striking aspect of this poem. Keats has addressed his work specifically to the season; it is not an 'ode to', which would make it less personal, but a direct communication instead. This suggests an intimacy, almost a friendship, and here the elements of classic mythology, which sit at the roots of Romanticism, are apparent. The ancient Greeks had many deities that represented natural objects and occurrences - Helios, the sun god, or Hephaestus, god of fire, for example - in an attempt to explain the world around them. Keats adopts this culture with the personification of Autumn into a living, conscious entity with thoughts and feelings:
In this sense, the indication that Autumn is a deity suggests that the poem is, in fact, an offering or a gift - adding a hint of worship to the title, as opposed to a simple message to a familiar acquaintance. The word 'bless' emphasises this as it has distinct religious overtones.
Autumn is a short season, and, at only three stanzas long, this reflected in the short and concise structure of the actual poem. However, Autumn is also a time of richness and abundance before the scarcity of winter and Keats has used extensive vocabulary and language to draw a detailed picture in the mind of the reader of this brief, colourful season.
The first stanza concerns itself with extolling the beauty and floridity of Autumn, appealing to the senses of sight and taste. The visual sense is the first to be addressed - 'Mists and mellow fruitfulness'. The use of 'mellow' conjures up an associated colour; one of warmth and age, the parchment yellow of ripened pears perhaps, or the sienna of fallen leaves - all of which fall under 'fruitfulness'. However, we are reminded to keep our other senses aware with the mention of 'mists' - sometimes our vision can be clouded and we have to rely on something other than sight. Taste is an obvious choice for the season of harvest: Keats refers to the 'sweet kernels' and fruit with 'ripeness to the core'. However, most description is used to fully conveying Autumn's bounty giving the impression that, for a short time span, the land is overwhelmed with nourishment:
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John Keats' Ideas - The Keatsian Theology
'Maturing' is the key word here that unlocks the deeper meaning of 'To Autumn'. It denotes experience, wisdom, knowledge and an ability to accept the inevitable. Autumn can be described as the 'twilight months' of the year; a time when the buds have bloomed and are in their full glory; a time when the young have grown and are ready to face the challenges of survival; a time when the old live out their last days before the onset of winter. If Autumn were a metaphor for life, then it would represent those of middle age, who have the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom of years of experience to draw from. The old are often overshadowed by the energy and vitality of the young; yet Keats, by richly describing the glory and blessings of Autumn, tells us that maturity an experience can offer just as much, if not more. The final stanza makes this point clear:
To Autumn - John Keats Poetry - Keats' Kingdom
This suggests that the essence of Autumn is in everybody and with it the maturity and 'mellowing' that age brings. The activities suggested are all connected with the harvest, a time when the earth's gifts can be collected and used to survive - the gathering of the wheat and corn, the pressing of the apples to produce a luxurious drink. The poet sees this time as one for joy and festivity, despite winter's deathly grip on the verge of tightening. Destroying nature would literally destroy the essence of survival, and co-existence is an important theme here. This attitude towards nature, and especially towards this particular season, speaks much of Keats' attitude to life itself. To celebrate fertility, as he does, is to celebrate new life. Why, then, does he choose the son where death begins to make itself known? The rich colours of the leaves add to the glory of the but they are like a swansong: a sign that the vegetation is dying.
English Literature Essays Resources Links & Books
These illusions were expressed through performance as “moods of Romanticism.” (5) The Romantic period of the early 19th century emphasized the alienation of an individual, the spectacle of that isolation, and the Romantic ideal that perfection remains mysterious and unattainable, as opposed to the late 18th century’s Enlightenment ideals that held rationality and tangible beings most profound....
SparkNotes : Keats’s Odes : Ode on a Grecian Urn
The slow vowels in 'oozings' and 'cyder-press', coupled with the 'patient look' and 'watchest' make the time seem indeed like hours on end. The whole stanza is designed to create the sensation of a lazy, warm afternoon, rich in stimulation for all the senses, made all the more precious by the knowledge that the chill of winter is not far away. The overall image of Autumn so far is one extolling the great beauty and bounty of this particular season. Keats' deep respect for nature runs throughout the poem: the idea that nature 'blesses' us with her gifts shows the poet's understanding of the dependence of all living things on the earth's fertility and fruitfulness. He treats it almost with reverence, addressing it as if it were a living force and a presence - a view that displays the romanticism of Keats' poetry.
There is no resentment at the way humans are ultimately tied to the earth. Instead, Keats chooses to celebrate the fecundity that keep us alive, expressing gratitude rather than hostility. The need to live in harmony with nature is stressed vividly with the scenes in the second stanza. Note the characters are not described as people, but as Autumn itself.
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