To delights of summer, to the harvest,
To Autumn is a celebration not of the ordinary autumns, but an idyllic and perfect representation of the season. This essay aims to unravel and clarify some of the ideas and intentions in Keats’ ode. I will be closely analysing how Keats develops poetic instruments such form, tone, rhythm, rhyme and imagery. The poem consists of three verses that display a temporal structure. The progression of time from morning, to afternoon and then evening and through the season itself, from the fading delights of summer, to the harvest, to the inevitable harshness of winter is identifiable.
Each of the stanzas represents different aspects of the season, indicative of the poet’s appreciation of nature’s cyclical and transient disposition. The poem commences with an apostrophe to autumn as “[the] season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” (1). This is a conventional opening fitting the form of a poem of this kind, in the sense that it a celebratory poem, specifically addressed to the object of its praise. The alliteration on the “m” signifies the calmness and serenity of autumn. “Fruitfulness” suggests the munificence and generosity of autumn; this also prepares the reader for the references to “fruit”, later in the poem.
The season is introduced with the idea of time moving on. The mention of the “maturing sun” is homage to ripening quality but also a comment on the ageing that indicates summer is also coming to a closing stage. By personifying both the sun and its “close bosom friend” (autumn), Keats is alluding to the harmony that exists in the autumn period. The use of the word “bosom” has connotations of a nurturing, maternal quality associated with the mother’s breast. This intimate relationship between the two suggests that they secretly work to fecundate.
“Conspiring”, here has none of the hidden menace usually associated with the word. Keats, grounded in the classics is perhaps using the Latin derivation of the Within this stanza Keats gives a sensuous picture of the abundance that nature provides in the autumnal months. This bountiful nature is contained in the verbs that Keats employs, which are connected with ripeness and plenty. The “moss’d cottage-trees” that “bend with apples” implies that the trees are so full of ripe and plentiful fruit that the branches are bending under this weight.
The words are clustered together into an almost clotted texture. The alliteration in, “fill all fruit with ripeness to the core” with the ‘f’ sound being long drawn-out suggests over-brimming. Verbs like “plump” and “swell” are coupled with the feeling of generosity and utter content. They also give the feeling of pregnancy. The relationship between the sun and the season takes on a sexual dimension, with the impregnated autumn producing offspring such as “a sweet kernel”.
Sweetness members the fabric of the stanza as the ‘conspiracy’,… to set budding more, And still more, conveys endless blossoming of new flowers rhythmically by the heavily stressed, “and still more”. The blooming of summer’s “later flowers” is a joyous occasion for the “bees”, who are still reaping the benefit. The buzzing of the vivacious bees is mirrored in the “trees”/”bees” rhyme. This is reinforced by the sibilant of “days”, “cease” and “summer”, the musical quality of which prepares the readers for a repertoire of autumn’s “music”. The senses are amalgamated and confused in the stanza.
This synaesthesia hints to an expression of desire for fusion and completeness. The approaching winter does not seem to pose a threat to the bees, as “they think that the warm days will never cease”. This is the first mention of the transient spirit of nature. The bees are oblivious of the impending winter as they carry their functions and duties in the present. Compared to the cooperation of the sun and autumn, it can be argued that the conspiring of the sun and summer takes a slightly menacing meaning. It is they who conspire to create this illusion of everlasting lushness.