To Autumn is a poem by John Keats, concerning the season of autumn, and the effect it has on him, and nature. Keats was writing in the early nineteenth century, and was a poet of the Romantic movement that was current at that time. John Milton, a poet of the Restoration period, wrote O Loss of Sight. He wrote this poem in his later years, during the mid seventeenth century, and was, through his lifetime, a devout Puritan. O Loss of Sight is a part of the dramatic dialogue, Samson Agonistes, in which the story of Samson is portrayed. I will compare the views of God that each of the authors portrays in their poems, and the ways in which they chose to do this. I will comment on the language they use, and the effect it has on the reader.
To Autumn is written with a humanistic view to nature, and God. He is not mentioned at all in the poem, but the seasons and nature are made to be the god of the earth. God is represented in nature and beauty, but not as an actual being, the creator of heaven and earth, but the God of the humanistic world Keats lives in; he is just the seasons, and Fate. O Loss of Sight has more awareness of God, mainly because John Milton was a Puritan, believing in the existence of God.
Even so, the acknowledgement of God in Milton’s poem is a bitter and angry acceptance. Although, like Keats, he does not directly talk to God, as Milton, but the poet addresses God thorough the voice of Samson, the ‘hero’ of his epic: “the prime work of God”. Milton, like Samson was blind later in life, and in these particular lines, Milton writes that the most desirable thing God created – light – has been taken away from him. Milton almost blames God for his state: “inferior to the vilest now become of man or worm”. There is anger at God for taking away the most precious gift to him.
Keats also expresses exasperation with nature (his God) when he writes: “then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn”. The word wailful shows the reader that there is death on the mind of the poet, especially as he continues to say that even the small insects are mourning. Perhaps Keats has come to realise that death will come no matter what, and that it is not something that he could control. Both the poets feel this sense of loss, even of something that they never really had a grasp.
They seem to understand that hopelessness is surrounding them, because they cannot effect that ‘higher being’ that ultimately has control over their lives. Even though Keats momentarily seems to admit that there is a God, the thought is very fleeting, and it is almost as if the poet is trying not to think about the subject. The first line of the third verse is the place where he writes: “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?” The reader can sense the anguish in his voice as he realises that he has not explained everything. But then, in the next line, he says: “Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…” It is here that he dismisses the thought of God.
Milton feels victimised by his deprivation of sight. He bemoans his fate, as he is “exposed to daily fraud, contempt, abuse and wrong”. There is no relief from these indignities, and this is because Milton refuses to let himself accept that God did not spitefully take his sight because of some misdemeanour. Milton seems to believe that he is being punished, and is totally filled with darkness: “irrecoverably dark, total eclipse without all hope of day”. Milton feels that there is a gulf between him and God, and that because he has not light, he is actually darkness itself, both physical and religious. He wonders whether the blindness was a result of his inward darkness, or the darkness came because of the blindness.
Keats also shows that he senses an underlying darkness and evil in nature. The word “conspiring” suggests a sinister nature to autumn, and that the loveliness all around him is not all it seems. The source of goodness is hiding malevolence: “Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells”. The thought of the plants having too much abundance, so much that it is sticky, and obnoxious. The word clammy expresses the writers discomfort at the over abundance of nature. He is not praising it, but is expressing his disdain at nature. Milton also gives the reader a sense of his confusion and bewilderment. He does not feel alive, neither is he dead: “scarce half I seem to live, dead more than half”. This is because he cannot see nature and the things God created.
These are the opposite feelings of Keats, who does not wish to look at nature any more. His attitude changes from the beginning of the poem, when he is very optimistic about nature: “fill all fruit with ripeness to the core”. He is enthusiastic about the good things in nature, but this manner changes towards the end of the poem. He no longer seems to admire nature, and he becomes apathetic towards it: “or sinking as the wind lives or dies”. He does not seem to care any longer about what nature does.
The wind can die if it wants, or it can chose to live; it appears to matter little now to Keats. This is possibly because he has realised his own mortality (he was writing To Autumn at the end of his life). O Loss of Sight echoes these feeling too; but not in the same way. Milton feels that even nature is above him – “inferior to the vilest now become of man or worm” – and so he cannot bear to think about a human, himself, being pushed down to the level of a worm. Nature has an unpleasant and obnoxious side to it that both Milton and Keats express; not only is this attribute given to nature, it is ascribed to God as well.