To Autumn

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"To Autumn" is a poem written by Romantic poet John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821). The work was composed on 19 September 1819 and published in a volume of Keats's poetry that included Lamia and The Eve of Saint Agnes in 1820. "To Autumn" is the final work in a group of poems known as Keats's "1819 odes." Although he had little time throughout 1819 to devote to poetry because of personal problems, he managed to compose "To Autumn" after he was inspired to write the poem following a walk near Winchester one autumnal evening. The work marks the end of his poetic career as he needed to earn money and could no longer devote himself to the lifestyle of a poet. A little over a year following the publication of "To Autumn," Keats died in Rome.

The poem has three stanza s, each of eleven lines, that describe the tastes, sights, and sounds of autumn. Much of the third stanza, however, is dedicated to diction , symbol ism, and literary devices with negative connotation s, as it describes the end of the day and the end of autumn. "To Autumn" includes an emphasis on images of motion, growth, and maturation. The work can be interpreted as a discussion of death, an expression of colonialist sentiment, or as a political response to the Peterloo Massacre. "To Autumn" has been regarded by critics as one of the most perfect short poems in the English literature, and it is one of the most anthologized English lyric poems.


During the spring of 1819, Keats wrote many of his major odes: "Ode on a Grecian Urn", "Ode on Indolence", "Ode on Melancholy", "Ode to a Nightingale", and "Ode to Psyche". After the month of May, he began to pursue other forms of poetry, including the verse tragedy Otho the Great in collaboration with friend and roommate Charles Brown, the second half of Lamia, and a return to his unfinished epic Hyperion .[1] His efforts from spring until autumn were dedicated completely to a career in poetry; he switched between writing long and short poems, and his goal for each day was to compose more than fifty lines of verse. He devoted his free time to studying works such as Robert Burton 's Anatomy of Melancholy to further his own ideas.[2]

Although Keats managed to write many poems in 1819, he was suffering from a multitude of financial troubles throughout the year. These troubles were compounded with his concerns over his brother, George, who, after emigrating to America, was badly in need of money. Keats was distracted by his and his brother's fiscal problems, but on 19 September 1819 he set aside time to write "To Autumn". The poem marks the final moment of his poetry career. He could no longer afford to devote his time to the composition of poems and began working on more lucrative projects.[1] In addition to his monetary problems, Keats's declining health and personal responsibilities provided more obstacles to his poetic efforts.[3]

On 19 September 1819, Keats walked near Winchester along the River Itchen. In a letter to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds written on 21 September, Keats described the impression the scene had made upon him and its influence on the composition of "To Autumn":[4] "How beautiful the season is now – How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it [...] I never lik'd stubble fields so much as now [...] Somehow a stubble plain looks warm – in the same way that some pictures look warm – this struck me so much in my sunday's walk that I composed upon it."[5] Not everything on Keats's mind at the time was bright; the poet knew in September that he would have to finally abandon Hyperion. Thus, in the letter that he wrote to Reynolds, Keats also included a note saying that he abandoned his long poem.[6] Keats did not send "To Autumn" to Reynolds, but did include the poem within a letter to Richard Woodhouse, Keats's publisher and friend, and dated it on the same day.[7]

The poem was revised and included in Keats's 1820 collection of poetry titled Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems. Although the publishers Taylor and Hessey feared the kind of bad reviews that had plagued Keats's 1818 edition of Endymion , they were willing to publish the collection after the removal of any potentially controversial poems to ensure that there would be no politically motivated reviews that could give the volume a bad reputation.[8]


Like many of Keats's 1819 odes, the structure of the poem is that of an odal hymn .[9] While the earlier 1819 odes perfected techniques and allowed for variations that appear within "To Autumn", Keats dispenses with some aspects of the previous poems (such as the narrator ) and ensures that the poem deals only with concrete concepts. There is no dramatic movement in "To Autumn" as there is in the earlier poems, and the poem attempts to discuss the poetic process without a progression of the temporal scene, an idea that Keats termed as "stationing".[10] Some of the language of the poem resembles phrases found in earlier poems Keats had written and there are similarities between the lines of "To Autumn" and lines in poems such as Endymion , Sleep and Poetry , and Calidore.[11]

Keats relies heavily on monosyllabic words and consonantal sounds – especially bilabial consonants – along with an emphasis on long vowels to control the flow of the poem. His syntax lacks hiatus and there is only a single instance medial inversion of an accent within the poem. However, he does incorporate the Augustan inversion (a reversal of an accent at the beginning of a line) approximately 4.2% of the time. Within his measure, Keats incorporates spondees in approximately 13.9% of his verses. The rhyme follows a pattern of starting with a Shakespearean ABAB pattern which is followed by CDEDCCE rhyme scheme however in his second and third stanza it changes to CDECDDE. The verse differentiates itself from his previous odes through use of 11 line stanza s, instead of 10, with a couplet placed before the concluding line of each stanza.[12]

Between the manuscript version and the published version of "To Autumn" Keats tightened the language of the poem. One of Keats's changes emphasized by critics is the change in line 17 of "Drows'd with red poppies" to "Drows'd with the fume of poppies", which emphasizes the sense of smell instead of sight. The later edition relies more on passive, past participles, as apparent in the change of "While a gold cloud" in line 25 to "While barred clouds".[13] Other changes involve the strengthening of phrases, especially within the transformation of the phrase in line 13 "whoever seeks for thee may find" into "whoever seeks abroad may find". Many of the lines within the second stanza were completely rewritten, especially those which did not fit into a rhyme scheme. Some of the minor changes involved adding punctuation missing from the original manuscript copy and altering capitalization changes between the versions.[14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bate 1963 pp. 526–562
  2. Gittings 1968 pp. 269–270
  3. Motion 1999 p. 461
  4. Bate 1963 p. 580
  5. Keats 2008 p. 184
  6. Bate 1963 p. 585
  7. Evert 1965 pp. 296–297
  8. McGann 1979 pp. 988–989
  9. Bate 1963 p. 499
  10. Bate 1963 pp. 581–582
  11. Ridley 1933 pp. 283–285
  12. Bate 1962 pp. 182–184
  13. Bate 1962 p. 183
  14. Ridley 1933 pp. 285–287


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