200 years ago Keats wrote one of the best-loved poems in the English language

On Sunday 19 September 1819, Keats took his afternoon stroll in Winchester, as he wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds:
“How beautiful the season is now—How fine the air—a temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather—Dian skies—I never liked 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. ”

This is what he composed:

“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 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 a 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 twinèd 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? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too
While barrèd 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.”
Watch the video of Matthew Coulton reading ‘To Autumn’

2 thoughts on “200 years ago Keats wrote one of the best-loved poems in the English language”

  1. This anniversary should have been celebrated more widely. At least the sunset got the point, I live about 20 miles from Winchester and there was a lovely ‘rosy hue’ last night

  2. Keats wrote on Autumnal beauty of nature but actually he was recording his own autumnal state of mind . We know after only two years this brave poetic soul had to succumb to death caused by the killer disease tuberculosis. The poem he wrote on September 19 2019 was included lagter in the volume that contained Lamia and Hyperion and interestingly this volume was found in Shelley’s pocket when his dead body was found after drowning in 1922. The autumnal scene of stubble plains that attracted Keats was loved by him for the serenity and the fullness of non-attachment as he mentioned in his letter that he wrote to Reynolds two days after the draft composition . Keats went to Italy for recovering his health in a warmer condition. So the poem is not just a nature poem of a Romantic youth , it is a real account of Keats’ mind.
    Poetry is the mirror of real life and the poet can play the role of a detached recorder involved and not involved at the same time like tungsten wire in a bulb. The Romantic poets are usually known as expressing their own mind in the poems they write. But it is this way that Keats recorded the reality from his own perception of the reality around himself. Question occurs if this has resemblance with the art of narration of Jane Austen in her novels where she faithfully depicted what she knew in her surroundings. But Austen is a realist, and not certainly so the ever Romantic Keats. Still these two genius have such a fidelity to facts and both of them were minute observer of realistic details.
    The next important point to be noted is Keats’s absolutely different attitude in ‘To Autumn’ which apparently seems to be far away from the mood expressed in ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. In this poem the poet is found craving for a life of sensation. The sensuous descriptions of wine in the beginning and flowers in the middle of that poem finally end with a note of utter sad serenity where the poet wants to be a sod or to cease to exist silently in the embalmed darkness as he is ‘half in love with easeful death.’ Death is easeful and that reminds us of the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore who was also expressed his love for Death ‘moron re tuhu momo Shyama saman’ ( O Death ,you are to me like my beloved Lord Krishna.” Death is the reliever of earthly pains and the nightingale does not know it and so it is happy .The poet wants to escape to the happy world of the nightingale which is in reality impossible. Probably that serenity of mind of the poet is regained in ‘To Autumn’. Today after 200 years of completion of Keats’s Ode to Autumn I feel it is high time to reevaluate Keats and his ‘Negative capablitiies’ which may blur the real differences betwen the Romantic and the Realist in poetry.

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