Listen to Robert Pinsky reading this poem. Ripeness, as though warm days would never cease. Suspension of time, a drugged laziness as the last hours of the ripeness ooze away. Diminishment, shorter days, a grieving music hinting at oncoming cold.
The fulfillment, the hovering, and the finality of autumn are so vivid in John Keats’ “To Autumn” that readers of English cannot be sure how much our perception of the season comes from this poem.
In a letter of Sept. 21, 1819 to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds, Keats suggests that the essential perception of the poem is the visual warmth of fall colors, unlike the visual coldness of spring:
How beautiful the season is now—how fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather. Dian skies. I never lik’d 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.—Robert Pinsky
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‑eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed 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‑brimmed their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on the granary floor,
Thy hair soft‑lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or, on a half‑reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider‑press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Aye, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too— While barréd 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 redbreast whistles from a garden‑croft; And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.