This poem, an ode, is the last of Keats’ odes. In it, the poet exhibits a rich mood of serenity by describing autumn as a season of mellow fruitfulness – a season of ripeness and fulfillment. This ode is known for its remarkable sensuous beauty that is crafted by employment of several visual, tactile and auditory imageries together with the personification of autumn as a woman engaged in various autumnal activities.
In the first stanza, the poet has described the bounty of autumn. It is the season of mists and the ripening of fruit. Autumn and the sun work together for the ripening of all kinds of fruits. The vines running round the edges of the thatch and apple trees growing in the cottage garden are weighed down with fruits. Their fruits are ripening during autumn. Besides the gourds are becoming larger and the hazel nuts are being filled with sweet kernels. For the bees, it appears as if there is no end to their happy days – summer – as there are some later flowers still blooming in autumn, providing honey to them, even if their sticky combs are over-brimmed. The beautiful word pictures and various visual and tactile imageries make the stanza a well-crafted one.
In the second stanza, the poet moves from the country cottage to the outside field and describes various activities associated with autumn. He does it by employing personification that one almost visualizes these activities. It is the season of harvest and since most of the harvest works are performed by women, autumn is described as a woman. First, it is seen as a woman doing the work of winnowing. Secondly, one may see it as a reaper, asleep in the half-finished furrow of crops. Thirdly, it may be seen as a gleaner, keeping her corn-burdened head steady as she crosses a brook. Finally, autumn may be seen as a woman standing patiently beside a cider-press for the last drops of apple juice. Unlike the first stanza where autumn was bustling with activities, Autumn is found static in suspended activity or arrested motion in the second stanza and the readers are invited to move from one scene to another in search of Autumn.
In the final stanza, the poet appears to be overwhelmed by a pessimistic idea and asks about the sweet music of spring which is absent in autumn. However, he immediately rectifies himself and says there is nothing to worry about the songs of spring as autumn too has its own music. He then lists the various sounds of autumn which are generally heard in the evening time. The mourning of the gnats, the loud bleating of the full-grown lambs, the singing of the hedge-crickets, the whistling of the red-breast and the twittering of the swallows are the prominent sounds that the poem deals with. Thus, the third stanza is about the music of autumn and the imagery is auditory. If in the first stanza, the positive side of autumn as the handmaid of summer is stressed, here the season is hailed as the prelude to winter.
The theme of the poem is a delighted, sensuous enjoyment of the rich and mature beauty of autumn season. The poet’s imaginative response to the beauty of autumn appears in a series of pictorial personifications of the season. The course of autumn traced in the poem is not restricted to autumn. The movement of the poem from fruition to harvest, from satisfaction to ending epitomizes the very process of life. Even sadness is seen in its true perspective as inseparable from and part and parcel of the complete process. The poem is an acceptance of the beauty and the pain in life, and an affirmation of its dignity. ‘Thou hast thy music too’, is a relevant reminder that each one has his own talent and should attain contentment in life.
a) Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless.
i) Why does the poet address ‘autumn’ as the ‘season of mists and mellow fruit-fullness?