“To Autumn”

April 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

Keats’ “To Autumn” is an ode that concerns itself more with the true nature of reality than many of his earlier works. The Spring Odes—“Ode to Psych”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, and “Ode on a Grecian Urn”—are all representative of consistent searching. The speaker in these odes is often yearning for an answer to several existential questions that mankind can not easily resolve. These questions create overarching tensions throughout the odes and leave the reader in a state of uneasiness. “To Autumn” is Keats’ ultimate solution to these earlier odes. Being the only poem of Keats’ to be ground fully in reality, this ode sets up a type of substantial finality to what he is expressing regarding the nature of life and death. By grounding his ideas in what is inherently true, he can further prove that his answer is just as authentic as reality itself.One of the most important features to note about this ode is Keats’ departure from the common Romantic form. Poetry of this period followed a format that initially presented a narrator in an expressed setting who often drifts off into a visionary reverie. After being led through this imaginative dream, the reader again encounters the initial setting that is somehow altered or resolved. In Keats’ earlier odes, the resolution is often anything but, and instead provides further tension to the conflicts expressed. “To Autumn” varies from this Romantic format greatly. First of all, Keats does not provide a narrator to this poem. This is quite simply an observation of nature. By remaining simplistic and placing the emphasis on reality, the poem is given a truth and accuracy that plays an important role in the moral that Keats is attempting to express.The passing of time is a prevalent theme throughout “To Autumn”. Nearly every sentence is rife with allusion to the passing of days or changing of seasons. References to a “maturing sun” (2) and the passing of “hours by hours” (22) obviously demonstrate how time is transitory. The first stanza ends with a mention of summer and later he speaks directly to spring as a way to reinforce this idea. By referencing the other seasons, Keats is expressing his understanding of the passing of time. He is emphasizing that what occurs in this season will end as the season passes and a new one will take its place. This time and all that we are experiencing is merely temporary. Keats’ references to the other seasons play an important role in how he attempts to express the reality of nature. In reality, the seasons pass from the vivid life and abundance of summer, moving into decay and slowing down in autumn, to the dearth and ruin met in winter, which ultimately returns to rebirth and growth in the spring. Keats asks spring where its songs are, yet consoles the reader that autumn has its own music too, which is presented by the crickets and red-breasts. He also parallels the fertility of the harvest in autumn to the abundance of life seen in the summer (11). As Keats makes reference to both spring and summer, he is reminding the reader that the setting and actions of autumn are merely temporary and lie within this ultimate cycle of death and rebirth. Furthermore, many of the good aspects of these seasons, such as abundance and bloom, are inherent in autumn as well. Here, he is attempting to be optimistic as he is presenting autumn’s nature of death and decay by reminding us that growth and life is forthcoming as well.As the poem structures itself through the flowing of the season of autumn, Keats is observing the nature and actions of the world around him. The first stanza presents a scene of fulfillment and ripening. The Earth is almost unbearably developed to the point where vines “bend with apples” (5) and honeycombs are “o’er-brimm’d” (11). The ending of this stanza leaves the reader with a nearly uncomfortable sense of intensity. Autumn has reached its maturity and is nearly ready to burst with abundance.The second stanza is where the season begins to slow down. As Keats’ observation of nature is ground in the passing of time, the only logical progression from the unbearable fertility is a completion. Here, Keats personifies autumn to demonstrate the stillness of this period. Autumn is seen as a harvester, or perhaps reaper, who has retreated to “sitting careless on a granary floor” (14). It sits patiently watching the cider press and even falls asleep. Even the last line of this stanza “Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours” (22) seems to draw out in its enunciation—giving further suggestion to the idea that the season is coming to a close. Keats is presenting the imagery in such a stagnant manner in an attempt to foreshadow the next phase of the season—the phase of dying.The third stanza presents the true intentions of the season of autumn—the death and decay of the land to make way for winter. By personifying autumn as a reaper with its “hook” (17) and slowing down the activity of the poem, Keats is intentionally planting the idea of death in the minds of the reader. His diction throughout this final stanza even makes direct reference to death. The “soft-dying day” (25), “wailful choir” of gnats that “mourn” (27), and the sinking wind that either “lives or dies” (29) all demonstrate this idea. Keats speaks also of the sounds of “full-grown lambs” (30) bleating loudly from the hills. Here, he is subtly reinforcing an emblem of death as lambs are often brought to slaughter at the end of autumn. This is the final presentation of Keats’ impression of reality—the idea that death is intrinsic and inevitable. This is presented in such a pleasant manner that the reader is proven to understand this to be the true nature of the world. Keats is attempting to show that life is essentially a mixture of the enjoyable and the disagreeable. This poem is realistic in its discussion of death, yet it does so in a beautiful and tranquil manner. His acceptance of mortality is not detrimental to his ability to appreciate beauty. The duality of nature—the mixture of death and life, the pleasant and unpleasant—is the only true reality that Keats has finally come to understand.Herein lies Keats’s essential solution to the tensions of his earlier odes. He has moved beyond his commitment to an idealized imagination as in “Ode to Psyche” and has decidedly placed his truth in what is real and natural. He does not attempt to frustrate himself by subjecting beauty to time as he does in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. Instead, he understands that time is transient, as is the beauty that resides in that time. While everything must eventually enter a state of decay—as in the seasons of autumn and winter—there will ultimately return a type of rebirth and growth—the seasons of spring and summer—that will bring its own sense of beauty and wonder. Finally, Keats has moved beyond his attempts in “Ode to a Nightingale” to escape the pain of the world. “To Autumn” is his embracement of death. He is finally at peace and can understand the cycle of decay and rebirth as not only inevitable, but beautiful as well.“To Autumn” is a favorite of many poets and critics mainly for its graceful and pleasing presentation of the true duality of life. By structuring the poem in the foundation of concrete imagery, Keats essentially is substantiating his portrayal of nature. He presents an unprejudiced observation, or rather, celebration, of nature as it progresses through its seasons. Through illustrating the ripening, fulfillment, decay, and death that occur in this season of autumn, Keats remains accepting of all that is occurring. Even references to the preceding and oncoming seasons are inherent throughout the nature of autumn in a way that demonstrates the ultimate flow of life and death. This poem places Keats at peace with himself and the world around him. By accepting the duality of nature and his own transience, he is able to resolve any inherent tensions addressed in his earlier odes.

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