John Keats’ To Autumn and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind
Even though both John Keats’s “To Autumn” and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” are about the same season, they are very dissimilar. Keats’s poem concentrates on the creating power of autumn, and makes it seem a gentle season, while in Shelley’s poem death is a repeating image, and shows autumn’s destroying power.
In “To Autumn”, Keats uses three stanzas of eleven lines each. The first seven lines of each stanza follow an ABABCDE rhyme-scheme. The remaining four lines of the first stanza follow a rhyme-scheme that is different from the other two stanzas. The first stanza has DCCE and the other two have CDDE. Some lines in the poem are indented, whereas others are not. Numbering the not indented lines 1, the lines with one extra spacing 2, and the lines with two extra spaces 3, the indenting of the lines follows exactly the same pattern as the rhyme-scheme, namely 1212-123-2113 for the first stanza, and 1212-123-1223 for the other stanzas.
Shelley’s stanzas are composed of four interlinking triplets, following the principle of terza rima, and one couplet. The stanzas have ABA BCB CDC DED EE rhyme-scheme. Both poems have alliteration to emphasize the quality of the season: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” shows the kind nature of Keats’s autumn, while “O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumns being” shows the powerful character of Shelley’s autumn.
The first stanza of “To Autumn” describes the way in which autumn is able to support life. On the one hand, its about ripeness as things grow older as the year is approaches its end, and helped by the “maturing sun” (l. 2), autumn has to “fill all fruits with ripeness to the core” (l. 6). Too, autumn is an extension of the previous season: the end of summer and the start of autumn are so closely connected that it is difficult to distinguish the one from the other. Summer seems to have been abundant and autumn is continuing that course. This is nature’s last chance of the year to produce new life, and it makes the most of this opportunity.
Yet Keats's autumn is not only the gentle extension of summer it seems to be. Autumn, as a transition from summer to winter, is a barrier “between growth and decay”. The end of the day is described as “the soft-dying day” (l. 25) and it is not certain whether the “light wind lives or dies” (l. 29).
In “Ode to the West Wind”, the destroying side of autumn is voiced. The west wind is a powerful being, it rules even the ocean:
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers
Cleave themselves into chasms, (ll. 36-38)
It isn't odd that death is already mentioned in the second line of the poem: “the leaves dead / are driven” (ll. 2-3). Even the autumnal west wind won't live much longer, as is shown in the second stanza:
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast...