"Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too." So often, people look back upon their youth and wish that they still had it before them. Our natural tendency is to fear old age, to see it as the precursor to death, rather than a time of life, desirable in its own right. However, in John Keats' poem, To Autumn, he urges us not to take this view, but to see old age as a beautiful and enviable state of life, rather than something to be feared.
First of all, it must be established that Keats is even speaking about old age. After all, he does not directly refer to it in the poem. Therefore, if he is speaking about it at all, it must be indirectly, through the use of metaphor, and indeed, one sees that this is the case. The poem refers to autumn as being a "season of mists" (1) which would indicate a time of faded perception, which old age tends to bring. The senses begin to fail as the body gets older. The line adds that this season also includes "mellow fruitfulness" (1). One aspect of the word "mellow" involves sweetness and ripeness, but it also implies the gentleness often associated with maturity, both of which would refer to an aged condition, as both ripeness and maturity only come through
age. The poem later personifies Autumn as "sitting careless on a granary floor" (14). Granaries hold grain that has already been harvested and threshed. It is in the last phase of its existence before its "death" by consumption. Likewise, old age is the last phase of human existence. Also, a common characteristic of old age is baldness. In the poem, autumn's hair is "soft-lifted by the winnowing wind" (15). To winnow something to is eliminate the unnecessary parts, like chaff from grain. For hair to be "winnowed" would involve removal of part of it, down to the bare essentials. This too, is suggestive of aging. The poem also contrasts autumn with the season of spring. But the poem instructs autumn to "think not" of the "songs of Spring", for "thou hast thy own music too" (23-24). Spring is a season of birth, of new life and vigor, in which life turns inward, and is in the budding stage. Thus contrasted with spring, one should see autumn as representing a winding down of life. It is the season before the doom of winter, and after the opulent, blossomed fullness of summer. Two other word choices point to autumn being a metaphor for old age. Keats calls the days of autumn "soft-dying" (25), and refers to the "stubble plains", referring to leftover fields of hay or grain after harvest. Autumn is a time of gradual dying, when the majority of one's life is over.
Once one understands autumn to be a symbol for old age, one can then look at the rest of the poem to see what Keats actually says about it. To begin with, he uses rich imagery throughout the poem and points to many positive aspects of old age.
First, there are several images that suggest abundance and fullness. The "mossed cottage-trees"...