Yesterday's post was "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost, which, while written to evoke spring, works in many ways as an Autumn poem as well. Autumn seemed like the obvious next choice, and what better poem to represent Autumn than this lovely piece by Keats:
by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
As Hugh Grant's character said in Bridget Jones's Diary, "F*ck me, I love Keats."
Keats's Ode "To Autumn" features three stanzas of eleven lines each. All three have the same rhyme scheme for the first seven lines (ABABCDE), but stanza one (DCCE) ends a wee bit differently than two and three (CDDE). Such is the malleability of the Ode. What makes this poem special is not, however, the rhyme scheme; it is Keats's use of language and imagery, beginning with his decision to address the poem to Autumn itself, and to speak about it as a living, present thing.
This poem is lovely as is, but reading it aloud will give you further appreciation for the images and the sounds within it. I wish I could find Alan Rickman reading it, because his voice can turn me into a pile of mushy goo (don't believe me? Have a listen as he reads Shakespeare's Sonnet 130. But I digress.) If you feel funny reading this aloud to yourself, then you can listen to Nicholas Shaw read it for the BBC.
How much do I love some of Keats's descriptions here? So very much that I'm thinking hyphenations should be used far more in everyday life. The evocative nature of "the mossed cottage-trees" alone is enough to stop me in my tracks. The entire second stanza is staggeringly gorgeous, speaking of the autumn hay. "[O]n a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,/Drowsed with the fume of poppies . . ." is better imagery and poetry than many can muster in the whole of their poems, and it's only part of one sentence here (and a fragment, at that).
Keats wrote the poem after spending some time out of doors on a fine autumn day. How do I know? Well, he wrote to a friend of his named Reynolds, and said so: "How beautiful the season is now—How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather—Dian skies—I never lik'd stubble fields so much as now—Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. 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."
I believe that today, I'll take a walk and see what spring in New Hampshire has to offer. I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.*
*Yes, that last italicized bit was Robert Frost, from one of my favorites of his poems, "The Pasture". You can read the full text of that poem in a long-prior post. (Well-spotted, if you already knew where the quote came from.)