7 Poems That Evoke Autumn

Young woman reading a book at the park in an autumn landscape.

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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 the poet sees, hears, and smells. In other poems, the season is a metaphor for an emotion the poet wants to convey, such as maturation, harvest bounty, or the ending of a season of life. Experience autumn in seven magnificent poems from poets of different eras.

To Autumn

John Keats' 1820 ode to the fall season is one of great classics of the poetic movement of Romanticism. The poem is a rich description of the beauty of autumn that focuses on both its lush and sensual fruitfulness and the melancholy hint of shorter days. Keats ends his poem evoking the closing of the season and finding a parallel in the beauty of an early-evening sunset. His words depict the haunting beauty in the quiet winding down into winter.


"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."

Ode to the West Wind

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote this poem in 1820. Typical of Romantic poets, Shelley found constant inspiration in nature and the seasons. The ending of this poem is so well-known that it has become a saying in the English language, the origin of which is unknown to many who invoke it. These final words hold a powerful message of finding promise in the turning of the seasons. Shelley conveys the hope implicit in our knowledge that even as winter is approaching, right behind it is spring.


"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?"

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!"

September Midnight

Sara Teasdale wrote this poem in 1914, a memoir to autumn filled with sensuous detail of sight and sound. It is a meditation on saying goodbye to the season and on sealing the memory of the soon-departing season into the poet's mind.


"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."

The Wild Swans at Coole

William Butler Yeats' 1917 poem lyrically describes another lush autumn day. It can be enjoyed for its beautiful imagery, but the poem's subtext is the pain of the passage of time. In the final image, Yeats writes of the longing and lack that autumn evokes as he imagines the departure of the swans he is observing and waking one morning to their absence.


"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?"

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost's short poem from 1923 writes about the effects of time and the inevitability of change and loss. He writes of the ever-changing color of leaves through the seasons to make this point. He sees the loss of Eden, and the grief of that loss, in the turning of the year.


"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."

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 and the special insight that lovers have into endings and beginnings.


"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
again."