To Autumn by John Keats

We have entered the Autumn season of gold and red, frost and waning afternoon sunshine. When I walk among the falling leaves, I think the English Romantic poet, John Keats, who penned his last major work in 1819. “To Autumn” is a profound tribute to the season that bids farewell to summer and awaits the winter stillness.

John Keats describes Autumn’s abundance and employs intense, sensuous imagery to elevate the fleeting beauty of the moment. Written after an evening walk near Winchester, I sense in his words a poignant goodbye.

With money running out, John Keats traveled to Rome to save his life. Just over a year after he wrote To Autumn, John Keats died in Rome on February 23 1821. He was 25 years old.

He wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds, describing the scene that inspired him to write To Autumn:

How beautiful the season is now—How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather—Dian skies—I never liked stubble-fields so much as now—Aye better than the chilly green of the Spring. Somehow, a stubble-field 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.

Join me in reciting To Autumn 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 moss'd 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-brimm'd 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-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
   Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, 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.
Posthumous portrait of Keats by William Hilton, National Portrait Gallery, London (c. 1822) (Public Domain)

A special thanks to Paul Andruss for suggesting that I welcome the arrival of Autumn with the poem To Autumn by John Keats

41 Thoughts

  1. John Keats remains one of my top three or four favourite poets. In honour of his poem “To Autumn” here are the first four lines from the third verse of my four verse poem, Autumn Leaves – on a shivery eve – Soon winter’s blast Will cast a haze, To chase the last Of autumn days…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. A wonderful response to John Keats, Jean-Jacques.

      Autumn Leave
      On a shivery eve
      Soon winter’s blast
      Will cast a haze
      To chase the last
      Of autumn days”
      Jean-Jacques Fournier

      What I didn’t know about John Keats was that “Although he is now seen as part of the British Romantic literary tradition, in his own lifetime Keats would not have been associated with other major Romantic poets, and he himself was often uneasy among them.” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/john-keats

      As well, the intellectuals of his time attacked his work as “vulgar Cockney poetaster.” It seems that every age has their uninformed critics.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Pardon my error… should have read… here are the 1st 4 lines of the 3rd verse of my poem, a play on words, Autumn Leaves – on a shivery eve – which I first wrote in June of 2003, slightly later than young Keats version of the autumn season, when he was 25 years old, on February 23 1821.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed “To Autumn” via a North Vancouver nature trail. We traveled through Winchester several years ago during the early autumn. I imagine him walking along the pathways and think of all the poetry that could have been. And then, like you, I am grateful for the rich pieces that he penned in his short life.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Hello Rebecca, this is a beautiful poem and your reading of it is restful and delightful. Autumn is a very pretty time of year with all its gorgeous colours. That being said, I am glad we are in spring here in South Africa. I am a summer child.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am so glad that we have seasons! I will think of you celebrating spring’s awakening while I embrace the season that welcomes tea, books, and crisp walks under trees that shower us with reds and golds. Thank you for joining me on the nature path in North Vancouver – always enjoy our conversations.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging comments, Dave – very much appreciated. I found an excellent website that features letters from John Keats, which provide the context for his poetry. This is an excerpt from his letter to Shelley in response to Shelley’s invitation for Keats to travel to Italy. I try to imagine a young man of 25 acknowledging his eventual passing. Perhaps that is why “To Autumn” captures the essence of autumn and transitions, especially in the last phrase: “And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.”

      “If I do not take advantage of your invitation, it will be prevented by a circumstance I have very much at heart to prophesy. There is no doubt that an English winter would put an end to me, and do so in a lingering hateful manner. Therefore, I must either voyage or journey to Italy, as a soldier marches up to a battery. My nerves at present are the worst part of me, yet they feel soothed that, come what extreme may…”http://www.john-keats.com/

      Liked by 3 people

  3. You read that beautifull Rebecca. I felt the joy of autumn’s abundance and the ache of summer’s end in your voice.
    Like cherry blossom in spring there is something fleeting in autumn, that whispers ‘remember thou art mortal’ in your ear, lest you forget. We had a Keatsean autumn day here. The last bees sought nectar in the parabolic blooms of scarlet and crimson abutilon. Drowsy wasps sunbathed on the whiteashed wall, a ragged butterfly fleetingly gave a curtain call. Keats’ redbreast tugged earthworms from the dewy lawn. Evening coalesced the day’s maretail clouds into a macerel sky as the sun set amid already half naked boughs. The swallows were the only thing missing from Keats’ idyll, having already gathered and gone a few weeks prior. Each year, as I watch them leave for southern skies, they seem to take part of my heart with them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Paul, for suggesting “To Autumn” by John Keats as a welcome to the autumn months. I agree – autumn reminds us that “remember thou art mortal” is the best way to embrace the moments given, to recognize that life is transition, to live authentically.

      “Death twitches my ear;
      ‘Live,’ he says…
      ‘I’m coming.”
      Virgil

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Late summer flowers are feeling the evening chill but are still hanging on for a a few more days in Vancouver – they don’t want to let go…. I agree wholeheartedly, Meg, Autumn is filled with energy, vibrancy and evenings of tea and books.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for giving me the chance to walk along with you on your beautiful walk in a scenic path of autumn. I actually did not want the walk to end. The autumn leaves and the grass along the way show our beautiful British Columbia. The unique walk above and beside the river below shows its vivid blue Thank you for your reading of the poem, a very favorite of many. I also enjoyed the painting, a very thoughtful face! ! ! Again, thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love North Vancouver’s nature walks – there are so many from which to choose. I knew you would enjoy “To Autumn” John Keats. He captured the joy and poignancy of this season of transition. Looking forward to meeting up for coffee in a couple of days.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Such a lovely video of your autumn walk with recitation. Oddly enough,the line that most resonated with me was from Keats’ letter: “I never liked stubble-fields so much as now.” I was taking inspiration video of stubble-fields yesterday in Vermont.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How serendipitous that you were in the stubble-fields of Vermont. Goosebumps!! The Canadian Prairies in Autumn is a glorious site. The smell of fields after harvest against a blue sky that seems to go on forever. It is the seemingly forgettable moments that are unforgettable.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I am delighted that you joined John Keats and me on a nature walk in North Vancouver! In February 1820, John Keats felt the first signs of consumption. All his plans changed. He said that this moment marked the beginning of what he called his “posthumous life.” In the late summer of 1820, doctors told him to move to a warmer climate – he wouldn’t survive a English winter. He first went to Naples and then to Rome. It seemed that he was getting better, but alas, John Keats passed on February 23, 1821. On his instructions, his tombstone was engraved with these words: “Here lies one whose name was write in water.”

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Supremely wonderful, Rebecca!
    Your voice, intent with the poets words… and yes, feelings; I believe have done justice tothispoem.
    The poet, gone too young even for his time, makes rhyme for you.
    Thank you! -John Keats, Rebecca and Paul!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for joining me on my nature walk in North Vancouver, Resa. This is the trail that follows the Capilano River that comes from the North Shore Mountains. It is a great place for a walk. Dear John Keats – he gave us so much in his short lifetime. Sending hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Autumn and its colours has always be my prefered season, Rebecca, because I really enjoy the afteroons’ warmth, the blue sky and naturally the redtails.It was a real pleasure for me to listen to John Keats “To Autumn” and enjoy the gorgeous surrounding:) I didn’t know that the poet died so early!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for enjoying this afternoon walk with me, Martina. When I was researching John Keats’ cause of death I found some interesting information: Consumption or Tuberculosis (TB) “is an airborne infectious disease caused by bacteria that primarily affects the lungs. TB is curable and preventable, yet it is the number one infectious killer in the world, claiming 1.5 million lives in 2018 alone.”TB is one of the top 10 causes of death in the world. https://resultscanada.ca/overview/health/tuberculosis/. I did not know these statistics. Isn’t it interesting that when we start in one area of research, it leads to another and another and another. I continue to learn.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you so much, dear Rebecca, for these details concerning John Keats’ death and TBC.
        You know during the first part of the 20iest century thousands of illustruous people, businessmen, writers ecc. went to the famous mountains- Davos- in Switzerland to get cured from the mentioned illness. Davos got very rich and it seems that many of the sick people did not really suffer from TB! Thomas Mann wrote the famous book “The Magic Mountain” in which he theamtisized this topic!
        https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/the-dark-side-of-davos-s-magic-mountain/7881108
        Un abbraccio Martina

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