On September 19, 1819, John Keats took a walk near Winchester and was moved by the scenery to write the poetic ode “To Autumn”, which would turn out to be his final major poem.
He wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds two days later: “How beautiful the season is now – How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it … I never lik’d the stubbled fields as much as now – Aye, better than the chilly green of spring. Somehow the stubble plain looks warm – in the same way as some pictures look warm – this struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it”
I819 had been a productive year for Keat’s poetry. In the spring he composed some of his most famous odes, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode on Indolence,” “Ode on Melancholy,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” among them. But by the autumn financial and health difficulties forced him to work less at poetry. He died 16 months later of tuberculosis at the age of 25.
In Calgary, where I live, we had a glorious summer with record-breaking heat. The early bountiful autumn feeling that this poem invokes in the first stanza is very welcome.
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 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 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.
Here is actor Ben Wishaw reading the poem: