Ode To Autumn Critical Essay

"To Autumn" has a relatively intricate rhyme scheme of abab cdedccee in the first stanza and the 2nd and third stanzas are abab cdecdde. The ode describes autumn and in the second and third stanzas, the poet speaks directly to a personified autumn, a technique called apostrophe. It may be that the rhyme scheme changes a bit in the second stanza to accompany the shift from description to a direct address. 

In the first stanza, Keats...

"To Autumn" has a relatively intricate rhyme scheme of abab cdedccee in the first stanza and the 2nd and third stanzas are abab cdecdde. The ode describes autumn and in the second and third stanzas, the poet speaks directly to a personified autumn, a technique called apostrophe. It may be that the rhyme scheme changes a bit in the second stanza to accompany the shift from description to a direct address. 

In the first stanza, Keats emphasizes the sights and smells of early autumn. These lines are bursting with life and movement, the ripening process itself, literally coming to life. Autumn is compared to a woman in union with a male sun (perhaps a pun on son), their interaction a kind of procreation, making life all around them. During early autumn, farmers are still collecting the harvest, the fruits of labor and the result of life which was planted in the spring. The stanza ends with those fruits personified as well, thinking their "warm days will never cease." 

In the second stanza, the poet talks directly to autumn and imagines her (autumn) patiently witnessing the end of ripening and the completion of the harvest. 

In the final stanza, the poet laments the absence of spring's sounds, but tells autumn that her music is beautiful too. This stanza emphasizes the sounds of late autumn which foretell the coming winter. The swallows gather for their migration. Their twittering is like a church bell marking the close of the day. The stanzas are also arranged within the structure of a day: morning midday and evening. And they are arranged in the structure of a life: conception/birth, growth and death. 

Winter, the end of autumn, is symbolic of death. Despite the morbid sense of this symbolism, the poet accepts the end as it is a natural part of life. In many of Keats' poems, he illustrates how joy and sadness exist together. Being aware of death, one's own mortality, is key to appreciating life. Being conscious of the fact that life is fleeting (that winter/death will come) should lead one to not take it for granted. 

“To Autumn” – A Resounding Proclamation of Life and Hope

   The poem "To Autumn" is an amazing piece of work written by one of the greatest poets of all time, John Keats.  From a simple reading, the poem paints a beautiful picture of the coming season.  However, one may wonder if there is more to the poem than what the words simply say.  After it is studied and topics such as sound, diction and imagery are analyzed, one can clearly say that Keats used those techniques to illustrate the progression of death, and to show that there is still life at the end of life. 
From the very beginning of "To Autumn,” sound appears to be an important aspect of Keats’s technique.  When the words are studied, there is an even mixture of loud and soft sounds.  Some soft sounding words – words that use consonant sounds that are soft when spoken such as an s -- include mists, close, son, bless, mossed, and trees.  There are also the hard sounding words – words that use consonant sounds that are loud when spoken such as a b or t -- like maturing, round, thatch, and budding.  The words do not appear to be randomly used, but they seem to have a pattern: the hard and soft sounds come in pairs.  In the second line, we see, "close bosom friend of the maturing sun.”  Close and bosom go together, with close being loud and soft with the hard c and soft s, and bosom being loud and soft with the b and s.  The words “maturing sun” are not placed together haphazardly either.  Maturing is a very hard word with the m and t sound; sun is a very soft word, beginning with an s.  Also, in the third line Keats says, “Conspiring with him how to load and bless.”  Autumn is conspiring . . . to load (loud due to the p and d sounds) andbless (soft due to the double s sound). Again, Keats pairs a loud and a soft sound.  This gives the whole stanza a generally loud, lively sound with a quiet hiss in the background. This tells of the great bounty of the current time, but adds a quiet feeling to it, such as what Keats was trying to communicate -- that death or a time of quiet is approaching.
   The second stanza has mainly quiet sounds. With words such as oft, store, swathseeks, careless, soft-lifted, and drowsed, the whole stanza is filled with soft s and w sounds.  This makes the stanza very sleepy and slow but with a warm comfortable feeling.  What is most brilliant is that he writes about sleep and then uses words that sound like sleep to describe it.  That makes the reader really experience how he is explaining death with sounds, not just words.  This change from stanza one also goes along with the progression of life.  It started out loud and young, and now has begun to soften, such as life does when one grows older or nears death. 
   The third stanza somewhat follows the course set down by the previous two stanzas, but it also does something surprising.  One may predict that the third stanza becomes softer still, following the progression, yet it does not quite do so.  It does start according to prediction, very quiet and feathery, with words such as stubble-plains, rosy, wailful, sallows, and lives or dies.  This is generally very soft, which continues the progression,  but there is a hitch.  Keats writes,  "And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly-bourn.”The whole line stands out very radically because it is almost all loud sounds, especially bleat, with its b and t along with the voiced long e vowel.  In doing so, he seems to be saying that there is still hope and life even as death is approaching.  This line seems to be the transitional one because, after it, the sound goes back to the pattern of stanza one, supporting the cry of life in the previous line.  He again matches loud and soft sounds, such as treble and soft, red breast and whistles, sallows and twitter.  This gives it the same kind of light and lively feeling as stanza one but only for a couple lines.  So, Keats explains the development of death by going from lively and loud at the beginning, then very soft, and even softer still.Finally, he makes his point of how life exists by changing the sound to lively to end his ode.
   The diction and the imagery also play important roles in the interpretation of the poem "To Autumn.”  Words such as maturing, load, fill, ripeness, swell, plump, and budding give the dawning of the poem a very full and luscious feeling.  Also, the repetition of the word more in the phrase “more and still more” is used to further give the impression of a bountiful time.  All of this gives a feeling of youth and aliveness and goes with the theme because it starts the poem out showing how life is before if begins to slow down into the progression of death.  Very lively personification is also used.  At the start, the Sun and Autumn are called friends and they are talking and conspiring, such as  young children would do.  Also, many of the words are very tactile, such as swell, plump, budding, and bend.  This gives autumn a very real and concrete feeling that is important because although life starts out real as in stanza one, death will follow as a quiet, somewhat mysterious concept. 
   In stanza two the diction and imagery flow right with the sound and the progress of the poem.  They become sleepy and tired with phrases like “sitting careless,” “soft-lifted,” “sound asleep,” “drowsed,” and “laden head.” This gives a feeling of laziness and goes right with the sounds before because they also slow down the feeling and show how death is beginning to approach.  Keats also uses visual diction to create imagery in words like seeks, look, watchest, and seen. These are less concrete than tactile imagery and continue the progression towards the end.  This second stanza helps to make the reader feel the slowing of life and how it begins to slip out of their grasp but only allowing them to see the life and no longer feel it. 
   The last stanza follows the progression of the previous two, but then alters course.  The two questions in the first line, which are part of the diction, sound bitter, acting as the realization of death.  Keats says, "Where are the songs of Spring?  Aye, where are they?"  It is almost as if he is resentfully asking where that melody is now that death, and autumn, are here.  The diction is full of words pertaining to death, consisting of soft-dying day, wailful choir, mourn, and lives or dies.  They, in particular, give the beginning part of stanza three a sense of death.  However, he does not make it all bleak by including imagery such as stubble plains and rosy hue, which paint the approaching death in a softer way while still sad and mournful.  He also used auditory imagery to illustrate the progression with words such as wailful choir, mourn, treble soft, music, sing, whistles, and twitters.  Sound is the most abstract concept employed so far and helps one understand the course of death by showing how it fades into something abstruse.The, when it looks like everything is lost to death, he completely changes course and says, "And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn.”  The lamb bleats out, showing that even when death comes there is still life crying out to be heard.  The word bleat especially illustrates that by just standing out.  He finishes out with the hope of life by including lively images such as crickets singing, red breasts whistling, and swallows twittering.  This ends Keats message of the vitality at the conclusion of life. 
    Keats used the poem "To Autumn" to illustrate the progression of death and the existence of hope and life in the face of impending death.  He uses sound by moving from a mixture of loud and soft words in stanza one, to mainly soft in stanza two, to a complete mixture in stanza three of soft then loud.  He also uses diction and imagery by reflecting the quick and kinesthetic constitution of youth, the slow and full characteristics of the coming death, and the arrested and barren traits of death, and finally, the resounding proclamation of life and hope in the very end. 


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