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  • To Autumn - John Keats Poetry - Keats' Kingdom
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Enjoying one’s appearance in dark colour, as Evangeline was finding, is almost more confirmation of Autumn, compared to Spring or Summer.

SparkNotes: Keats’s Odes: To Autumn

A summary of To Autumn in John Keats's Keats’s Odes

Technical analysis of To Autumn literary devices and the technique of John Keats
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SparkNotes: Keats’s Odes: To Autumn (page 2)

Traduit par Lý Lãng Nhân14 Octobre 2002 Song of Autumn The prolonged sobsOf the violinIn the autumnTear up my heartWith languishingMonotone.
If Keats was thinking about dying at a young age, why should he choose to shape such a personal subject matter in the form of an ode; a traditionally public and formal genre? And why should he decide to write in the well-trodden territory of English pastoral writing; autumn being a distinctly conventional inspiration for poets? In 'To Autumn', I think Keats is trying to find a meaningful perspective for the painful consciousness that he might die young, like Tom and Chatterton. By placing his own worries in the context of the processes of nature, he perhaps finds a degree of calmness, and his feelings of frustration and potential self-pity perhaps struggle towards an understanding that his pain is not unique.
The source of such comfort may derive partly from Keats's reading of Wordsworth. Keats was in broad sympathy with Wordsworth's philosophy of man's intimate and mysterious unity with nature. In a letter to Reynolds of 3 May 1818, Keats identifies Wordsworth's Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey as the best example of poetic under-standing of human suffering:
'We feel the 'burden of the Mystery', To this Point was Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive, when he wrote 'Tintern Abbey' and it seems to me that his Genius is explorative of those dark Passages.'


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In this poem, the act of creation is pictured as a kind of self-harvesting; the pen harvests the fields of the brain, and books are filled with the resulting "grain". In "To Autumn", the metaphor is developed further, the sense of coming loss that permeates the poem confronts the sorrow underlying the season's creativity. When Autumn's harvest is over, the fields will be bare, the swaths wit their "twined flowers" cut down, the cider-press dry, the skies empty. But the connection of this harvesting to the seasonal cycle softens the edge of the tradegy. In time, spring will come again, the fields will grow again, and the birdsong will return. As the speaker knew in "Melancholy", abundance and loss, joy and sorrow, song and silence are as intimately connected as the twined flowers in the fields. What makes "To Autumn" so beautiful is that it brings an engagement with that connection out of the realm of mythology and fantasy and into the everyday world. The development the speaker so strongly resisted in "Indolence" is at last complete; he has leaned that an acceptance of mortality is not destructive to an appreciation of beauty and has gleaned wisdom by accepting the passage of time.

In spite of the support of Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve, Théophile Gautier and other young admiring poets Baudelaire isolated himself in bitterness.
Yet the demise is made to seem almost welcoming: the transience to winter - to death - is pleasant and 'soft', a gentle passing that is beautiful to experience and not to be feared. There is no morbidity here, only a quiet acceptance that life on earth must end for each one of us. However, not all life dies. The poem ends with the sounds of various creatures, a stubborn message that the cycle of the seasons will continue and life will return, as the poet reminds us in his final line:

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Sometime, it is illuminating to adopt a biographical approach to criticism. Joe Sutcliffe examines 'To Autumn' in relation to Keats's anxieties about personal difficulties and about criticisms of the personal nature of his earlier poetry.

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'To Autumn' is often interpreted as a peaceful evocation of the beauties of the English countryside, To me, it is more a subtle, troubled attempt by Keats to make some kind of sense out of dying young. It is hard to determine how much of this comes from a consciousness of his own impending death, and how much derives from more general thoughts about mortality. Nevertheless, it seems evident that the poem has a sense of conflict and ambiguity similar to the earlier, more obviously dramatic and questioning odes. The season of autumn is presented as a fertile and beautiful woman ('thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind') but, as with other beautiful female presences in Keats's poems (La Belle Dame Sans Merci, the personified Grecian Urn, Lamia), the charm co-exists with a potential cruelty and indifference.

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On first reading, 'Spares the next swath', in the following line, implies clemency. In factm the image points to a delayed execution for the flowers. There is a similar effect here to that created by the final image of stanza 1, where the bees are offered unexpected and abundant pollen, but are soon to be disappointed in their belief that 'warm days will never cease'. The final image of stanza 2, Autumn watching the cider-press, also contains a hint of cruelty. Her patience is an aspect of her own immortal existence and contrasts with the slow crushing of the apples. The fact that she watches their 'last oozings hours by hours', emphasises the drawn-out nature of their destruction.
Each of these verbal pictures connects back to the opening of the poem and the perhaps surprising use of 'conspiring' in line 3. The sinister, calculating sense of the word fits the presentation of Autumn as a force which blesses with energy and beauty ('And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core') only for that life to be harvested in its prime. This is a knowledge of which Autumn's children are pathetically innocent: the 'full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn' but they do not know what is around the corner. Autumn sits 'careless' on her granary floor: the word means both free and relaxed, and also detached and aloof. The doubleness of 'careless' is similar to Keats's use of 'viewless' in 'Ode to a Nightingale' ('the viewless wings of poetry') where the sense of both incomparably sublime and without clear vision is relevant.