Summary of To Autumn by John Keats

The first stanza brings out the softness of the season which reflects the special characteristics of the time of the year. The stanza gives a rich description of the fruits of Autumn. It is the time of the ripening of grapes, apples, gourds and hazelnuts but the ripening is a process which is visualized not as an end but as part of growing – an act of being blessed by the hand of Autumn with its companionship with the sun. The stanza glorifies not only the abundance of fruit but also the quality of the fruit – juicy and sweet. “To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells / with a sweet kernel”. It may be noted how the season does not anticipate a change or an end to the process of growth and flowering ‘to set budding more, and still more.” What is being celebrated is the spirit and act of giving the best that flourishes at this time of the year. It is also the sweet time when bees turn to flowers to suck more for making more honey.

In the second stanza, Autumn is seen in the person of a winnower, a reaper, a gleaner and a person extracting cider (apple juice). These are activities or operations associated with Harvest and making cider is one of the chief occupations of that time. At first, Autumn is shown as a harvester sitting in a carefree manner amidst the harvest in the field or in the store for grain. During winnowing time, the harvester can bask in the fruits of his labour. In the next image Autumn appears as a gleaner walking homewards with a load on the head. Moving on against the abundance of Autumn, the gleaner takes on the role of a passerby, an on-looker, who cannot resist, watching the flow of apple juice from the cider press.

The third stanza begins on a passing note of nostalgia. But the mood is indeed transient and the poet does not wallow in a sense of loss because the stanza turns to an affirmative attitude, “Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, – ” The remaining lines are a chorus of sounds which are music to the ear because they re-play the harmony that is integral to all visages of life – ‘Gnats’, ‘sallows’, ‘lambs’, ‘hedge’, crickets’, ‘red breast’, against ‘stubble-plains” touched with ‘rosy hue’ of ‘soft-dying day’. The season of Autumn has enriched all that it has touched, creating and evoking a song of praise for the wonder that it essentially is. The poem is woven around rich images of a season which glorifies yet another visage of nature.

Keats describes the season in three dimensions a) how Autumn sets in b) the sights and c) the sounds, corresponding with each of the three stanzas. The ode is remarkable for its imagery which has two characteristics: comprehensive – using all senses and sensuous – rich in the images of the immediately physical sensations. The richness of the fruit and the fertility of the season is brought about through various lines and images, “to load and bless with fruit”, “and fell all fruit with ripeness to the core”, “swell the gourd” and “plump the hazel shells.”

The second stanza weaves into the fabric of the poem myths and ancient images capturing the Autumn activities “who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store”, associating the season with its legends and myths
Each stanza has the first quatrain (Four lines) rhyming ab ab, and the following septet (seven lines), with a couplet, continuing an earlier rhyme word, just before the last line. The eleven line stanza is long enough to express a complex modulation of thought but not so long as to become an isolated poem itself. The poet is himself completely absent in the poem. The power of self absorption, wonderful sympathy, identification with things, Keats called “negative capability” which he saw essential to poetry is aptly illustrated.

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