Sunday, September 14, 2008

Explanation "To Autumn" by John Keats


A note: I stopped teaching CBSE 5 years ago and I'm out of touch. So I haven't really worked on the explanations and edited them. You might find some of the explanations not up to the mark especially this poem. You will surely find better explanations on the net. One such site recommended by one of the readers which is really good and tailor made for CBSE is http://englishportal12.blogspot.in/?view=mosaic 

Keats's speaker opens his first stanza by addressing Autumn, describing its abundance and its intimacy with the sun, with whom Autumn ripens fruits and causes the late flowers to bloom. In the second stanza, the speaker describes the figure of Autumn as a female goddess, often seen sitting on the granary floor, her hair "soft-lifted" by the wind, and often seen sleeping in the fields or watching a cider-press squeezing the juice from apples. In the third stanza, the speaker tells Autumn not to wonder where the songs of spring have gone, but instead to listen to her own music. At twilight, the "small gnats" hum above the shallows of the river, lifted and dropped by the wind, and "full-grown lambs" bleat from the hills, crickets sing, robins whistle from the garden, and swallows, gathering for their coming migration, sing from the skies.

It is written in a three-stanza structure with a variable rhyme scheme. Each stanza is eleven lines long. In each stanza, the first part is made up of the first four lines following an ABAB rhyme scheme. The second part made up of the last seven lines is arranged CDEDCCE in the first stanza and CDECDDE in the second and third stanzas.

"To Autumn" is one of the simplest of Keats's odes. The extraordinary achievement of this poem lies in its ability to suggest, explore, and develop a rich abundance of themes without ever ruffling its calm, gentle, and lovely description of autumn. It shows Keats's speaker paying homage to a particular goddess--in this case, the deified season of Autumn. The selection of this season implicitly takes up the themes of temporality, mortality, and change taken up by the earlier odes of Keats. Autumn in Keats's ode is a time of warmth and plenty, but it is perched on the brink of winter's desolation, as the bees enjoy "later flowers," the harvest is gathered from the fields, the lambs of spring are now "full grown," and, in the final line of the poem, the swallows gather for their winter migration. The understated sense of inevitable loss in that final line makes it one of the most moving moments in all of poetry; it can be read as a simple, uncomplaining summation of the entire human condition.

Despite the coming chill of winter, the late warmth of autumn provides Keats's speaker with ample beauty to celebrate: the cottage and its surroundings in the first stanza, the agrarian haunts of the goddess in the second, and the locales of natural creatures in the third. Keats's speaker is able to experience these beauties in a sincere and meaningful way because of the lessons he has learned in the previous odes: He is no longer indolent, no longer committed to the isolated imagination (as in "Psyche"), no longer attempting to escape the pain of the world through ecstatic rapture (as in "Nightingale"), no longer frustrated by the attempt to eternalize mortal beauty or subject eternal beauty to time (as in "Urn"), and no longer able to frame the connection of pleasure and the sorrow of loss only as an imaginary heroic quest (as in "Melancholy").

In "To Autumn," the image of Autumn winnowing and harvesting is an explicit metaphor for artistic creation. The act of creation is pictured as a kind of self-harvesting in another poem; the pen harvests the fields of the brain, and books are filled with the resulting "grain." In "To Autumn," the metaphor is developed further; the sense of coming loss that permeates the poem confronts the sorrow underlying the season's creativity. When Autumn's harvest is over, the fields will be bare, the swaths with their "twined flowers" cut down, the cider-press dry, the skies empty. But the connection of this harvesting to the seasonal cycle softens the edge of the tragedy. In time, spring will come again, the fields will grow again, and the birdsong will return. Abundance and loss, joy and sorrow, song and silence are as intimately connected as the twined flowers in the fields. 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. The poet 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.


An interpretaion from John:
In the second stanza the poet personifies autumn as a women performing various activities in a way to portray autumn. Also this marks a transition in the poem where in the first stanza it portrays an image of rushing things, activity....in the second the activities start to slow down(use of words like "hours by hours", "sound asleep") And this overall I feel is symbolic of the transition in the seasons as well i.e. from summer to autumn.


If you think this explanation has helped you, kindly donate money to the orphanage for girls that my friend runs. You can know about it at https://sites.google.com/site/annaineomianbuillam/

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

i had a little trouble understanding this poem..i slept off during the class..my bad..
anyway thanks to your explanation i get it now..
you're really good..i bet your students love you..

Anonymous said...

its a really good thing that there are people to help others out n for this i thank you so much..

Anonymous said...

hi thank u for sharing your knowledge with us, for free.
for students like me its a lot.
we greatly appreciate it.
in india we say,
'that if we share material wealth with others it decreases, but the wealth of knowledge when shared, only multiplies and comes back to benifit you.'

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, I have to analyze the poem and I couldn't figure it out until I found your page

Krishna Reddy said...

Where is Thing of beauty

Anonymous said...

Your explanation is not yours but an assimilation of all the contents available in the links related to this topic. Please dont post it as your words and work.

Abe Pat said...

Dear Anonymous,
I hope you would care to read the Acknowledgement which I posted in 2009 by going to the blog archive. There I've acknowledged the fact that I have taken ideas from different sources and the fact that three to four poems are my own explanantions with no reference to any work outside. I've also acknowledged the fact that Ode to Autumn has been compiled from websites. I never thought of writing a blog when I was teaching the poems. The idea occured afterwards and that's why I can't pinpoint the sources from where I got the ideas but used the notes to write the explanations. Finally, though I have used ideas from other sources, by and large the language is mine and a lot of ideas are my own. So before you make an accusation please go through the blog archive and find out whether the writer has acknowledged his sources. Also the whole idea of writing the explanantions is to help students. The explanations are not exhaustive so one can give more explanations. Before I conclude I guess that you are an English teacher and a pang of jealousy has made you write the comment. You could have introduced yourself and written to my email id directly instead of being an anonymous commentor. Anyway thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

thnx a lt sir ......u r doing a grt job

abhishek said...

thnx for the explanation. i don't know why anonymous is criticising you sir when you are helping so many students. keep up the good work.thank you!

Anonymous said...

sorry for pin pointing a mistake . when our teacher taught it , she said that second para was "personification of autumn as a YOUNG MAIDEN"

so can you please check and tell us what is correct

i think young maiden is correct because last lines of 2nd para say that as a gleaner, drowsed with fumes of poppy from neighbouring farm, at cider press waiting patiently etc

can you please confirm us and tell??

Abe Pat said...

There is nothing called 'correct' interpretation in poetry. Any interpretation is welcome provided it is substantiated by the text. So what your teacher taught is perfectly OK as there is certainly a suggestion of a young maiden. The whole poem is a personification of Autumn and in the second stanza there is surely a suggestion of it being personified as a young maiden. What Keats does so subtley is talk about all the activites of autumn in a sensuous discreet manner through personifaction as a young gentle maiden in the second stanza.

John said...

Nice explanation
just wanted to add......
In the second stanza the poet personifies autumn as a women performing various activities in a way to portray autumn
Also this marks a transition in the poem where in the first stanza it portrays an image of rushing things,activity....in the second it
activities start to slow down(use of words like "hours by hours","sound asleep")

And this overall i feel is symbolic of the transition in the seasons as well i.e from summer to autumn

Abe Pat said...

Thanks John. Your reading of the second stanza is interesting and pertinent. I'm adding this to the explanation and acknowledging you by putting your name.

Anonymous said...

sir is the foll. interpretation about "barred clouds...."sensible?

Barred clouds gives life to end of the soft dying day which is softly and soberly coming to an end. similarly AUTUMN also comes to an end in a melancholic way as in the second stanza itself the speed of the autumn comes down.

Anonymous said...

i wrote an answer in the way yu interpretd but ma teacher says its wrong and she woudnt giv me marks for it ??!?!?!?

Anonymous said...

Explained in a simple and clear manner.Thanks a lot.Helped me before exams.

Anonymous said...

paper II exam is on tomorrow,
your help is like a silver lining amidst the black clouds of dumbness.
thank you, think am gonna pass. :)

Cma™ said...

uwaaah~

thnx a bunch for dis...

i've been frettin abt dis poem since d veryy beginin of d year :P

dis is quite an elaborate poem.....

gets ur mind runnin n imaginin towards various Possibilities...


Thnk you<3
:)
aptly explained..

Anonymous said...

Ur explanation may suit a pg student to write in his pp. Coz it uses complex sentences. It s tough. Cd have written in short, simple sentences.

For XII class, interpretations can be minimum and that shd hav been already known to the teachers.

Remember pl teachers r conservative. They don't like their students to explore the poems, but just want them to rehash what s already written - of course, in their own way.

V must keep their attitude in mind when we attempt to explain the poem.

Of Keats' poem, it s a dull one. He uses so many words or images which r useful only to say he wants to achieve sensuousness. But v cant fault a poet like him. Coz he has not written this poem for us but for him only. He gave expression what had struck him when he saw the season in all its intricate aspects.

U write-up cd hav begun with a few references to the English weather. Coz. the poem s about English weather. Many of the aspects he points out on which he waxes eloquent r beyond our comprehension unless v get some introduction to the weather he s talking abt. Indian Autum s different from English one; and our urban students know little abt it; and the poem demands imagination to visualise.

As of now, in ur explanation, the seasons r confusing. Or perhaps I am not so intelligent to understand u.

Fatima said...

A little simpler and more systematic explaination would have been better. Your other explaination of 'Of Mothers,Among other things ' is really helpful though.


Im still stuck in this poem.:|

Raghav said...

Sir, thanks a lot for such a good explanation of poetry please post the explanation of "A thing of Beauty" and "Keeping quiet"

Afeefa said...

Your explanations of the poems 'The Survivors' and 'Ars Poetica' helped me score well in my exam (I didn't understand when it was explained in class).Right now I'm going through 'Ode to Autumn' by John Keats.I'm sorry to say, I don't find this explanation as good as the above 2. I don't say it's bad but a better explanation of each stanza would've have been more helpful. I'm a 12th std. student and I thank You for helping me score better in the English exam! :)

Anonymous said...

the poem is really very interesting and is really very romantic..........
every one should read it.....

Anonymous said...

your explanation is too hard to understand for a dumb like me..
please explain it in more simple words..
:D

Gauthami Govindan said...

your explanation helped me a lot. thanks a ton ,sir!