Is "To Autumn" by Keats a purely descriptive poem?

Categories: Poems

Keats has made To Autumn a fairly descriptive poem with lots of technical devises to portray the themes he has imbedded throughout. The poem focusses on the season of autumn, set in England in the 1800s and this is obviously conveyed through the language and descriptive phrases he uses. The first line of the first stanza begins to unravel Keats’ perception of autumn in a very positive way ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. ’ Here, Keats is directly addressing autumn, in a rhetorical technique known as an apostrophe.

The images used here are very bucolic. The word ‘mist’ portrays the hazy, dimming setting, which is calm and settling. ‘Mellow fruitfulness’ suggests an abundance of ripening fruits, which is what a traditional English autumn tends to bring. This is showing that what Keats is explaining is fruitful and full of nice, sweet things. This period of Keats life (1819) would have been emotionally straining for him. The year prior to him writing To Autumn, his beloved brother died at just 19.

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Also that same year, Keats met Fanny Brawne and they fell in love.

Due to this, Keats may have been in a very emotionally confused state when writing To Autum. He would have been grieving the death of his brother and also having strong feelings of love and passion towards Fanny Brawne, after becoming engaged to her that same year. The poem conveys a sense of peace and a period of Keats life where he had a very clear feeling of settlement with the world and nature around him, almost as if he turned to nature and the naked world as respite from the emotionally staining life he had already lived in such a short space of time.

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He was very much in touch with nature at this point, and this helps to explain why To Autumn is as personal to Keats as it is. ‘Budding more, And still more. ’ The repetition of the word ‘more’ shows how much fruit there is. It helps to portray the abundance that occurs when autumn does. It goes along with the themes set already in the poem of sheer excess and plentitude. The seasons prior to autumn in the 1800 would have been very sparse when it came to fruits and fresh produce, so Keats here clearly highlights just how abundant the autumn is after the periods of struggle and lack of produce.

In the second stanza, it is clear to see themes of passion and love in Keats’ descriptions. There are clear uses of personification used here, when Keats portrays the autumn to have the traits of an idealistic human being, more predominantly, a woman. ‘Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind. ’ ‘Hair soft-lifted’ gives the impression that the wind is at a light breeze. The alliteration and personification of the words ‘winnowing winds’ allows the reader to imagine how the winds are almost dancing together. The word ‘winnowing’ means to ‘separate the chaff from the grain’.

This suggests what would have been happening around autumn, to help there be an abundance of produce. This conveys the importance of nature and how crucial it is to the survival of people in the 1800s. This could have a strong meaning behind it. Since Keats had by this time lost almost everyone important in his life, he may be referring to the wind as the spirits of his past family, taking comfort in the idea of them being free. This could be of comfort to Keats and since his poetry had only just become rather successful, he may have felt like his family were in a way, watching over him.

To Autumn is also a very analytical poem. Keats analyses throughout, how autumn brings goodness to nature. He pulls apart all the different aspects of autumn and focusses on different forms in order to allow the reader to interpret his perception of autumn. The last stanza has many connotations of death imbedded in the text. ‘The soft dying day. ’ To refer to the day as ‘soft dying’ suggests that it is slowly coming to an end. It is interesting to see how Keats refers to the days end in a way of death. However, this isn’t surprising since he has encountered so much death in his short life.

This suggests that Keats does not feel remorseful towards death, he has accepted it and finds it a very normal idea. Also, the fact he refers to the day as ‘dying’ could be a metaphor for his own family’s deaths. After Keats describing the autumn day to be a beautiful one, seeming as though he is at peace with it, it dies. This could portray Keats’ ideology of everything that is beautiful coming to an end at some point. The theme of death continues along this stanza ‘as the light wind that lives or dies. Here Keats freezes the moment between life and death.

He uses the juxtaposition ‘lives or dies’ to contrast the idea of life continuing and life ending. The usual ideology of death is grief and upset to those who feel the backlash of it. Keats’ use of death as a theme shows the reader that he is beyond the grief and heartbreak. He has allowed himself to come to very natural terms with it and goes as far as to use it in his usual vocabulary in his poems. Death here Is shown to be something that happens all the time.

The ‘day dying’ suggesting how he is expectant of everything dying in the end. It is not of a shock to him anymore. To Autumn really allows the reader to understand and comprehend Keats’ emotions towards death and passion after the events in his life. I would say that as much as the poem is descriptive, it is also very analytical and has many imbedded themes throughout. These other components aside from description are important to allowing the reader to understand Keats’ mental state, and to really understand the feelings and ideas of a Romantic poet.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

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Is "To Autumn" by Keats a purely descriptive poem?. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Is "To Autumn" by Keats a purely descriptive poem? essay
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