Poets And Poetry

Varieties of Imagery in Keatss Ode to Autumn



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"Varieties of Imagery in Keatss Ode to Autumn"
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John Keats's Ode to Autumn is replete with imagery, each eleven-line stanza of iambic pentameter emphasizing different types of images and different times of day and periods of the personified season.

Stanza one abounds with visual images all of which suggest linked ideas of fullness and ripeness. To enumerate, the opening line concludes with "fruitfulness," which evokes images both of trees and other vegetation loaded and heavy with each's particular variety of produce. Readers also sense the juicy ripeness that fills and swells to bursting each different item of fruition. Vines are loaded and blessed with fruit; apple tree branches bend under the weight of fruit ready to be picked; gourds swell, hazel nuts are "plump" with developed kernels; beehives "o'erbrim" with the nectar of a riot of blossoms.

The visual imagery becomes kinesthetic with the physical sensation of strain. The sun is maturing both in the sense of approaching its solstice and suggesting morning. Even the much used expression "Close bosom-friend" swells with a suggestion of lactation and fertility. It is time for parturition, for harvest what was planted two seasons previously.

With stanza two earlier hints of personification are developed. Autumn is a reaper "sitting on a granary floor" but not grim - merely drowsy with "the fume of poppies.' He is addressed with the pronoun "thee," which is reserved for human beings or their anthropomorphisms. Who among us has not seen him? He has hair that is "soft-lifted by the winnowing wind." Personification is seen to be a combination of visual and tactile imagery and a variety of metaphor. It is midday and he has been busy cutting swathes, operating, the cider press, watching with "patient look . . . the last oozings."

The imagery of stanza three is predominantly auditory but still visual. Autumn is directed not to "Think" of the "songs of Spring" for "thou hast thy music. Add the " wailful choir " that "the small gnats mourn." " [F]ull-grown lambs loud bleat . . . Hedge-crickets sing . . .with treble soft / The red-breast whistles . . . swallows twitter." It is both evening and late in the season. The day is "soft-dying" and the harvested "stubble plains'" are touched "with rosy hue" of sunset and its "barred clouds" that bloom in their own special way.

Time passes. Winter is near at hand. But there is no reason to mourn since the cycle will begin again with the songs of Spring and rebirth.


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