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To Autumn / John Keats

Just in case you think I don't like any poetry before 1920, here is the sumptuous "Ode to Autumn" by Keats. Familiar as it is, it's actually a weird and sonically crazy poem.

How sensuous is all the swelling, ripening, plumping and oe'r brimming of the first stanza?

And then, out of nowhere, we have the middle stanza with the narcoleptic, opium-addled Autumn aslump across winnowing floors and furrows. He/she/they have not often appeared like that before 1819. What does it mean, for example, to "keep/ Steady thy laden head across a brook"?

And then he/she/they vanish and all that is left is the 'songs' - but what songs! Lambs bleat, crickets sing, robins whistle and swallows twitter. But the key, ephemeral sound here comes from the 'wailful' choirs of gnats among the willows, "borne aloft /Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies". What an image, what transient, melancholy music.

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.

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Alistair, such beauty in these words. makes my heart sing. Really want to get to one of your workshops. But we come with two of us:)


patti G
patti G

I love this. In the first, Autumn is full of plumpsiousness, the second is full of laziness and the third full of the music of nature. Beautiful.♥️🙏


Douglas Bagguley
Douglas Bagguley

Lay down to nap

But travelling far

After reading and enjoying



Such a beautiful poem, the words as bounteous as the season. Thanks for posting it, Alistair.



Autumn is absolutely the best season of the year. The light, the turning of the trees, the nippy mornings that open to gently warm afternoons… I crave it every summer.

The craving was not helped by 31° in my Edinburgh home yesterday.

Keats was definitely on to something in his celebration of nature at its best.

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