“To Autumn” is the final work in a group of poems known as Keats’ “1819 odes”. He composed “To Autumn” after a walk near Winchester one autumnal evening. This ode describes, in its three stanzas, three different aspects of the season: its fruitfulness, its labour and its ultimate decline. Through the stanzas there is a progression from early autumn to mid autumn and then to the heralding of winter. parallel to this, the poem depicts the day turning from morning to afternoon and into dusk. These progressions are joined with a shift from the tactile sense to that of sight and then of sound, creating a three part symmetry which is missing in Keats’ other odes.
Autumn is represented metaphorically as one who conspires, who ripens fruit, who harvests, who makes music. The first stanza represents Autumn as involved with the promotion of natural processes, growth and ultimate maturation, two forces in opposition in nature, but together creating the impression that the season will not end. In this stanza the fruits are still ripening and the buds still opening in the warm weather suggested by the imagery of growth and gentle motion: swelling, blending and plumping.
In the second stanza Autumn is personified as a harvester, to be seen by the viewer in various guises performing labouring tasks essential to the provision of food. Autumn is not depicted as actually harvesting but as seated, resting or watching. The personification of autumn can be seen also as an exhausted labourer and near the end of the stanza, as a gleaner. The progression through the day is revealed in actions that are all suggestive of the drowsiness of afternoon: the harvested grain is being winnowed; the harvester is asleep or returning home, the last drops issue from the cider press.
The last stanza contrasts Autumn’s sounds with those of Spring. The sounds that are presented are not only those of autumn but essentially the gentle sounds of the evening. Gnats wail and lambs bleat in the dusk. As night approaches within the final moments of the song, death is slowly approaching alongside of the end of the year. the full grown lambs, like the grapes, gourds and the hazel nuts will be harvested for the winter. the twittering swallows gather for departure, leaving the fields bare. The whistling red-breast and the chirping cricket are the common sounds of winter. The references to Spring, the growing lambs and the migrating swallows remind the reader that the seasons area cycle widening to the scope of this stanza from a single season to life in general.
According to Helen Vendler, ” To Autumn” may be seen as a allegory of artistic creation. As the farmer processes the fruits of the soil into what sustains the human body, so the artist processes the experience of life into a symbolic structure that may sustain the human spirit. This process involves an element of self sacrifice by the artist, analogous to the living grains being sacrificed for human consumption. In “To Autumn”, as a result of this process, the “rhythms” of the harvesting “artist-goddess” “permeate the whole world until all visual, tactile, and kinetic presence is transubstantiated into Apollonian music for the ear” the sounds of the poem itself. What makes “To Autumn” beautiful is that it brings an engagement with that connection out of the realm of mythology and fantasy and into the everyday world. Keats has learned that an acceptance of mortality is not destructive to an appreciation of beauty and has gleaned wisdom by accepting the passage of time.