A Favourite Poem: John Keats’ ‘To Autumn’

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I write this article in my bedroom at home, with the words ‘Palatinate’ and ‘article’ stringing thoughts of Durham back to my mind. Simple words can evoke a chain reaction of thoughts, taking you from a space you were settled into, and rushing to the ‘hypotheticals’ of where else you could be. During this strange and rather unsettling time of pandemic, I have found poetry a comforting mode of distilling myself in a moment, but also having my mind and feelings able to travel across times and into others’ thoughts on how life moves and functions.

During this strange and unsettling time of pandemic, I have found poetry a comforting mode of distilling myself in a moment.

Keats’s ‘To Autumn’ has been a favourite poem of mine to turn to in recent months. He famously wrote that “knowledge of contrast” was necessary for poetry, and contrast is something I have found to dominate my brain as of late. In the rich imagery and natural theme, there is a focus on the small. The image of a ‘soft dying day’ reminds me of the intensity of being in these moments of a pandemic. There is brutal disintegration and damage, but people also find ways to work around this and to try and settle and find light in an existence that is currently beyond their control.

The representation of the natural progression of the seasons in the poem reflects that even in natural forms of death, humanity still chooses to live in summer without thinking of cold and harsher months ahead. I can certainly relate to wanting to grasp onto warmer days and believe July days will stretch on and on, but Covid-19 has changed my perception of time. The seasons are mismatched and muddled; this is not where I should have been now. Instead of thinking of nature changing, I hope for a ‘time’ of normality, whether this falls in frost or sunshine.

I hope for a ‘time’ of normality, whether this falls in frost or sunshine.

Paul D. Sheats argues in relation to Keats’s odes that “their art frustrates paraphrase” and I feel that this grasps the way he moves into deeply intricate moments and descriptions of the world, whilst resisting a fixed distillation of what this means. For me, the pandemic has made it hard not to focus on the small things, without my usual distractions from overthinking. Both the natural world and poetry about the spaces we are surrounded by offers somewhere to appreciate and see possibilities and complexities in, however stifling other parts of life may become.

Image: Hans via Pixaby

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