To Autumn

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.

Writing Ideas

1. “To Autumn” is an ode—a celebratory address to a person, place or thing. Think of something commonplace that you experience everyday and write an ode commemorating some aspect or quality of it. See Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market” and Kevin Young’s “Ode to the Midwest” for other examples.

2. Personify a season and write a poem describing it. Think about what physical attributes your season might have, and what personality traits. How would it behave?

3. Keats allegedly wrote “To Autumn” after a particularly inspiring country walk. Try taking a notebook and going for your own walk out in a natural place. Pay attention to the sounds, sights, and smells around you and describe them in your poem.

4. Invent a rhyme scheme and write a poem that follows it for at least two stanzas. What is difficult about writing poetry that follows strict patterns? What is easy?

Discussion Questions

1. Keats uses personification—assigning human characteristics to inanimate objects—to create a portrait of a season. How is autumn characterized? What kind of person might autumn be?

2. What is the rhyme scheme of the poem? Does it follow any patterns that you recognize? Why might the rhyme scheme vary—and what effect does it have on you as a reader to have some rhymes close together and others far apart?

3. What kind of “music” does fall make? What are the seasonal details Keats chooses to include and how do they color the emotional tone of the poem?

4. Look closely at the stanzas of “To Autumn”: how many sentences does each contain? What is the setting, or time period, of each? How do the three stanzas work together to show different aspects of autumn?

Teaching Tips

1. After sharing a one or two sentence summary of the poem, have students work in small groups to paraphrase it. Beginning with the first two stanzas, which describe the poet’s personified “autumn” who conspires with the sun, sits “careless on a granary floor,” and “watches the last oozings,” have students put the list of what autumn does into their own words. Have them pay special attention to the speaker’s choice of verbs as they read. After these activities, have students consider the motive behind the speaker’s address to autumn in each stanza.

2. Have students paraphrase and then illustrate the first two stanzas before stopping to discuss the change that occurs in the third. Then have them paraphrase the poet’s description of autumn’s music in the last stanza before determining an illustration. Ask, for example, how does autumn’s question, “where are the songs of spring?” change the speaker’s motive for talking in the last stanza? Ask, what might an illustration of this last stanza look like? Would a personified autumn appear in it? What are the similarities and the differences between this last stanza and the previous two that might make this illustration more challenging? Have small groups share their illustrations with classmates, explaining their choices.

3. Keats’s ode addresses the age-old and universal theme of the cycle of life, using the metaphor of the seasons to depict the human experience of growing to maturity and dying. In speaking of autumn, Keats explores the heightened awareness of one’s mortality that often comes in the midst of our most vital moments. Have students consider the speaker’s unique take on this revelation in the last stanza. How does the speaker depict the singular beauty of autumn’s music? After exploring the beautiful if haunting images, ask what commentary does he seem to make about autumn as the predecessor of winter? How does he use sensory images to capture the rare beauty of the season brimming with music that is unheard at other times of the year? What observations on the human experience might these images suggest?

More Poems by John Keats