Death is an inescapable fact of life. All living things die, but humans alone have the ability to reflect on the various ways in which death may be responded to and approached. Death is the end of an era opposed to the end of everything. It is known that our society has special difficulty facing and accepting the reality of death and grief. People find it hard to talk about death for different reasons. Writing poetry about death is a good way of expressing your feelings and your attitude towards it. The word death has two meanings to it; Death is the end of the life of a person or animal and the death of something is the end of it. These are the meanings behind the word death, but people’s attitudes towards death are very different. The poems I have studied are both negative and positive about the aspect of death.
‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness…’ These are the words of John Keats (1975-1982). John Keats had a memorable and inspiring life, in 1818 his brother Tom died. After his brother’s death, Keats started to appreciate life and live it to the full ‘1carpe diam’. Shortly after his brother’s death, Keats died of Tuberculosis at the young age of twenty-four.
During his illness, he became aware of time passing and of change in the world of nature. In the brief time that he had left, he composed some of the most inspirational and best poems ever written. Keats wrote his poems, with his attitudes towards death and released in them. He loved nature and the paranormal world, and he portrayed his interests into his poetry, they appeared in the two poems I have studied by him.
‘To Autumn’ is one of his poems that I have studied, this poem has a very positive attitude towards death, and it shows not a complete end but the end of one thing and the start of something new. The first thing that strikes me is the title of the poem; he has addressed his work specifically to the season. This suggests closeness with autumn ‘Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun’. Keats takes this culture and with the personification of the season into a living, conscious being, with thoughts and feelings. The poem seems like an offering or an even a gift, there is a hint of worship in the title.
The poem is personified as a farmer, talking about the year gone by, about his harvest and the good things nature brings us. Keats describes the harvest in a positive way. Autumn is a short season, and the poem is also quite short at three stanzas long, the poem relates to this with its short and concise structure. Autumn is a beautiful season, with strong, rich colours and wealth; Keats has used a stretched vocabulary to get a picture in the reader’s minds of the season.
The first stanza is relating to our senses of sight and taste. It begins with ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’. Mellow reminds us of warmth and colour and the imagery of it. The images of pears and apples being mellow, connects with the fruitfulness. Sometimes we have to use different senses other than sight; the mist is a further consideration. Taste is a big part of autumn, fruit with ‘ripeness to the core’. The description is showing that for a short space of time, the land is covered with food. Keats likes to paint actual scenes in your mind. He does this by creating an atmosphere of peace and animation, this atmosphere continues through the second stanza.
Both alliteration and onomatopoeia are shown in this stanza ‘thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind’. The onomatopoeia is giving an effect of another sense, sound. The picture given here is one of the sensual experiences that we get from autumn. The alliteration used is the ‘sound’ of the whistling as a drone, giving off a sweet lullaby effect to match the quiet, sleepy atmosphere of the first stanza. The relaxed ambience is shown in the language: ‘Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while they hook. Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers’. The ‘drows’d’ and ‘swath’ contains long, slow vowels which send a rhythm to the poem, showing the concept of autumn, and lazy, long afternoons and the knowing of winter being near by.
So far autumn as been portrayed as very beautiful and forceful way of life. The characters are not given names but are autumn, itself. The poem contains an essence of autumn being in every one of us and the ‘mellowing’ that age brings. Autumn is one of earth’s gifts; this is related to the harvest and the wheat and the corn, and the apples giving us a sweet taste. Keats sees autumn as a festive time of joy and happiness, despite the coming of winter. His attitude towards nature and this particular season shows us of Keats attitude to life itself.
The word ‘maturing’ opens the meaning of ‘To Autumn’. The poem in a way is dedicated to experience, wisdom, knowledge and the ability to accept death. Autumn can be described as growing up; ready to face the challenge of survival, a time when the old live out the last days they have before winter. Autumn could be a metaphor for life; it would represent those of middle age, who have the experience of years to gain from.
The old have been taken over by the energy of the young, Keats has shown us the magnificence and the blessing of autumn and that maturity can offer us the best experience. The harvest is a symbol of the benefits of such qualities and the ‘music’ of the season. Death is a very important fact here. As with winter just around the corner, maturity and age calls the inevitable. Keats reveals his acceptance. He takes a great view of the earth, and he grows a close description reflecting the old times as autumn and as life, draws to a close.