7 Poems That Evoke Autumn

Young Woman Enjoying Poetry at the Park

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Poets have long found inspiration from the seasons. Sometimes their poems are a simple testament to the glory of nature and include beautiful descriptions of what they see, hear and smell. Other times the season is a metaphor for a subtext, an emotion the poet wants to convey through the simple concept of the seasons. Here are excerpts from seven top poems about autumn from poets of several different eras.

John Keats: 'To Autumn'

John Keats' 1820 ode to the fall season is a full-hearted Romantic poet description of the beauty of autumn, with all its fruitfulness and the hint of shorter days different from spring but just as glorious.

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
      Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
  Conspiring with him how to load and bless
      With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
  To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
      And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
      With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
  And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
        For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells ...
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
    Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
    And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
    Among the river sallows, borne aloft
        Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
    Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
    The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
        And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."

Percy Bysshe Shelley: 'Ode to the West Wind'

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote this poem in 1820, and typical of Romantic poets, the seasons were a constant source of inspiration.  The ending of this poem is so well-known it has become a saying in the English language, the origin of which is unknown to many who invoke it.

"O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed..."

And the famous last lines:

"The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

Robert Louis Stevenson: 'Autumn Fires'

This 1885 poem by Robert Louis Stevenson is a simple evocation of fall that even children could understand.

"In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!"

Sara Teasdale: 'September Midnight'

Sara Teasdale wrote this poem in 1914, a sort of memoir to autumn filled with sensuous detail of sight and sound.

"Lyric night of the lingering Indian summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
Ceaseless, insistent.
The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
Tired with summer.
Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
Snow-hushed and heavy.
Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
Lest they forget them."

William Butler Yeats: The Wild Swans at Coole'

William Butler Yeats' 1917 poem is couched in lyrical terms and on one level describes a pleasant fall scene. It can be enjoyed that way, but the subtext is the pain of the passage of time the poet is feeling, which becomes crystal clear in the final words.

"The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings. ...
But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?"

Robert Frost: 'Nothing Gold Can Stay'

Robert Frost's short poem from 1923 speaks to the effects of time and change and uses allusions to the seasons to make this point.

"Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay."

Maya Angelou: 'Late October'

In this poem from 1971, Maya Angelou speaks to the idea that life is a cycle, and beginnings lead to endings that lead to the start again. She uses the simple context of the seasons as a metaphor for life.

"Only lovers
see the fall
a signal end to endings
a gruffish gesture alerting
those who will not be alarmed
that we begin to stop
in order to begin