John Keats once said about Lord Byron “He describes what he sees – I describe what I imagine, mine is the hardest task” To Autumn is evidence of his way of thinking, as the poem is a vivid, lyrical portrayal of the English autumn, as he imagined it.
The poem celebrates autumn as a season of abundance, a season of reflection, a season of preparation for the winter, and a season worthy of admiration with comparison to what romantic poetry often focuses upon – the spring. The poem is rather literal in its meaning as it does not convey a deeper level of meaning that relates to the reader. The poem fails to “move” the reader in a philosophical, idealistic or moralistic way, and therefore bears no significant message to the reader.
That is not to say that the poem lacks meaning or metaphorical significance, the poem was written to convey a sense of purpose to life and the worth of death. The poem achieves this by using descriptive and vivid expressions to describe the essence of autumn.
The poem uses powerful language to achieve effect. It often makes use of imagery, exaggerated language and onomatopoeia to create an atmosphere of the English autumn, for the reader. Language such as this excerpt from the first stanza,
And fill all fruits with ripeness to the core,
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
This type of language, especially adjectives such as ripeness and plump, provide the reader with an excellent description of the landscape. Onomatopoeic effect and alliteration are used rather well in the following example,
... all its aspects. The poets describe a variety of items in the season of Autumn which allow the reader to be able to imagine ... add further to the new images of Autumn that the poem introduces the reader to. On a half-reaped furrow sound asleep, Drowsed ... indeed allows for readers to enter into new worlds, both poets, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley use language techniques effectively to ...
Thy hair soft lifted by the winnowing wind;
This use of language creates a rather humble and peaceful atmosphere for the reader. It emphasises the harmony of autumn and this effect, which is used often throughout the poem, could also be a metaphor for the slow down of life during autumn, and the imminent death of the season.
The poem follows the traditional framework of an ode. It is overly lyrical and has a rhythmic device, generally common to all three stanzas, with the exception of the first stanza. The poem follows a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDED CCE for the first stanza, and ABAB CDEC DDE for the second and third. It is unclear why Keats chose to follow a different rhyme scheme for the last two stanzas, but it is certainly not an accident. D and C “swap” rhythmic positions from line eight onwards. The poem employs iambic pentameter, each line as ten syllables.
The poem compares autumn to spring in the third stanza.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
This is where the true meaning of the poem is conveyed. Obviously Keats had recognised the almost cliché use of spring, as new life in romantic poetry, and of the poetry before this era. His motive behind this poem is to employ an understanding that the autumn, which represents the end of life, is just as important as the spring, which represents new life. The autumn has it’s own music too. The personification of autumn in this poem is used to give the reader an alternative view of the seasons, and life in general.
It could be speculated that To Autumn is a metaphor for existence. Death, or ending, is just as important as life, or the beginning, for without one, there could not be the other. But I believe that it could be simply, that to appreciate the simple things in life, such as the warmth of summer or the new life of spring – the decay of life, and the almost monotonous experience of autumn, is essential to existence.