Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Keats's Autumnal Gem

American baseball player Reggie Jackson was dubbed "Mr. October" because he performed so well in several different World Series. Fair enough. But before that, poet John Keats might have earned the same moniker, or at least "Mr. Autumn," for having written his great ode, "To Autumn." I thought of the poem today as, like a lot of people, I caught that hint of fall--you know, something about the air-temperature, the look of some foliage, the knowledge that a tide of students is going back to school.

Here are the opening lines, which should be indented in a certain pattern (but the blog-machinery doesn't like to cooperate with that sort of thing):


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 round the thatch-even 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.

In this stanza as in the rest of the poem, Keats blends a deliberate, stately rhythm with a palpable sense of exuberance. The language of the poem itself seems almost to burst, full of ripeness. It's hard to achieve this kind of stateliness, common to odes, in contemporary poetry because there is a kind of demand for irony and cynicism. I happened to re-read the poem in Keats: The Complete Poems, edited by Miriam Allot, and published by Longman in 1970. The annotation of the poem reminded me taht the poem was written in September 1819 and was "the last of K.'s major 1819 odes" ( page 650).
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