"To Autumn" (1819) by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
In John Keats’s “To Autumn,” the idea that all good things come to an end is very apparent, but a hint of optimism towards this inevitable end is noticeable as well. Life has an expiration date, but with that expiration, comes rejuvenation: after death, comes life. In this short post, I will explore Keats’s personified Autumn and all the imagery that is presented within it through the use of the binary, “Expiration vs Rejuvenation.”
It is in the title that we immediately can see how the season of Autumn is personified. Keats has written a poem “To Autumn,” as if Autumn is going to read it. He then goes on to describe Autumn and how she fulfills her role in the seasonal cycle, but because he is personifying Autumn, therefore giving Autumn life, the seasonal cycle could be a representation of the cycle of life itself. We are born (Spring), we grow (Summer), we reproduce (Autumn), we die (Winter), and those that we have created continue the cycle (Spring again). Autumn is the phase where the young have grown up and the seeds of life will be gathered and stored, only to be planted in Autumn’s opposite: the season of Spring.
I couldn’t help but notice the use of aging imagery in Keats’s “To Autumn.” He not only calls the sun mature, but also mentions how the day dies and when the day dies, the sun goes down. The light of the sun may fade out, but tomorrow it will rise up again to start the day anew. Another instance where Keats shows the theme of maturity is in the last stanza, where he mentions the “full-grown lambs” (30). It is interesting that he calls them lambs, because a full grown lamb is actually known as a sheep. I believe he does this to express the process of aging. As many may not know, it takes a lamb 10-12 months to become a full grown sheep. That is approximately a full year. Since it is autumn and these lambs are fully-grown, then perhaps these sheep were only born last spring. The last instance that I’d like to mention where Keats uses aging imagery is in the first stanza. He says that it is autumn who “bend[s] with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, / and fill[s] all fruit with ripeness to the core” (5-6). Here I believe he is comparing a tree who is bending from the weight of these ripe apples to, perhaps, a hard-worker, whose back is troubled by the heavy burdens of a long-lived life. The tree holds ripened fruit and the aged worker holds developed experience. Or perhaps it represents a mother, who is worn-out from the children she has given birth to. A tree’s apples (if not picked) will fall from the tree only to deposit their seed into the earth so that a new tree will grow in the spring.
I believe that Keats is showing us that Autumn is the season in which we realize that the year is nearing its end. Winter is coming and it is cold and lonely and there’s not much life to be seen. If Autumn is to represent the life cycle, then it is also the time in our own lives in which we realize that our expiration date is not long off. We will soon be cold and lonely and not much life will be left in us as we come nearer and nearer to the day of our departure. But autumn is also the time that we realize that this mortality is not something to be saddened by, for it has shown us how truly beautiful this cycle can be: for when winter comes, spring will only follow.
Keats, J. “To Autumn.” The Romantics and Their Contemporaries. 5th ed. Vol. 2A. Eds. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 1013-14. Print.
A hero is usually thought of as somebody who demonstrates courageousness or altruism in the face of danger. They show bravery during other’s moments of weakness. In literature, a hero is most often constituted as a hero through the journey in which he embarks on and the trials and tribulations experienced during it. In Robert Browning’s poem, many of the aspects that declare an individual a hero can be seen, but at the same time, the hero we see seems in an almost defeated state or weary of the path before him. The aim of this post will be to complicate Robert Browning’s poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” by looking at the role of the narrator as being either a hero or a victim.
The poem begins with our protagonist, Childe Roland, who has been stopped in the way of his path by a “hoary cripple” who we could consider the first obstacle faced in this heroic journey, but not much of an obstacle at that. Roland asks the old man for directions to the “Dark Tower” and the old man points Roland in the direction in which he seeks, but Roland is skeptical of the path he has been instructed to take. He thinks that the old man isn’t being entirely truthful and instead is trying to lead Roland on the wrong path. But with some thought, Roland again initiates his journey on the mentioned road and ignores his uncertainty. Here Roland can be thought of as somewhat courageous to take an uncertain path that could possibly get him killed, but perhaps courageousness isn’t the right word. Roland tells us that he “had so long suffered in this quest,” (37) and that there is “naught else remained to do” (54). He would just like it to be over with even if it is going to end in failure or death. It is almost like he is numbed or lacking any feeling and has a desire to die. Is there a sense of bravery in that?
As Roland moves on, the landscape brings to mind Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Like Frodo Baggins, Roland’s quest is to reach a dark tower, but to reach it, he must cross a barren land full of evil and death and look upon many disturbing sights.
Just like Frodo, Roland’s journey lasts for many years and throughout it, much hope is lost as well as many friends along the way. But both these characters know that they must move on and not abandon their duties. And so Roland crosses a river full of lifeless human bodies and comes across a horse that looks to be dead from starvation, and yet it is somehow still alive. Out of fear towards these images, Roland closes his eyes and tries to imagine the good-old-days, but these thoughts only lead to miserable ends. These thoughts could be considered as another obstacle and so to get past them, Roland comes back to reality and keeps moving forward. His determination in reaching the tower is somewhat daring and heroic in its own sense and after years of that determination, it finally pays off… Or does it? He may have reached the tower, but it looks as if finally reaching the intended destination serves no purpose. There are no rewards… It was merely a destination to be reached. All Roland does is fearlessly announce that he has completed his journey by saying, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came,” (204) which is also the title and then the poem ends.
Since its end is quite abrupt, we can assume that the journey is the more important aspect than that of the arrival to the destination. It also ends without a resolution. We don’t know if Childe Roland lives or dies. We also notice that this journey seems to only matter to Roland. No one around him seems to care whether or not he makes it, so it is definitely not focused on the world surrounding the individual but solely on the individual himself. And if it is a journey prized more within himself than that outside of himself, what purpose does it serve?
In the beginning and throughout much of the poem we see him talk of death. It looks to be a common theme for him. What if the journey was a journey towards death? Could that be what the dark tower symbolizes? The dark tower of death.
When Roland finally reaches the tower, he tells us he has paid for this journey with “a life spent training for the sight” (180). Could this mean that he has spent his whole life moving towards death? That would make sense. Never have I heard of a hero whose goal is to die, but in a world like this or at least the way the narrator makes this world sound, it does not sound like a word desirable to be lived in. If this is the case, then Childe Roland makes quite the sacrifice. His loyalty towards this course of action was also very surprising. Not once did we hear him speak of abandoning course and turning back, although it doesn’t seem that there is anything to turn back to.
Whatever the case may be, Roland ceases to show fear throughout his journey and as odd as this journey may be, that in itself is somewhat heroic. But if the journey’s intention is to end in death, then perhaps it’s less heroic than was thought. Every human who has ever lived has died or will die. Therefore all lives are a one way ticket to the inevitable destination of death. Could this poem be a representation of an individual’s lifetime? Either way, Roland did complete his journey with much determination, but is he a hero? For his journey gave nothing positive to the world and perhaps nothing positive to himself either other than the feelings of accomplishment and closure.
Browning, Robert. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013. 2131-2137. Print.
so much depends
-William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams’s poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” is either classified as being unbelievably simple, or not a soul knows what is going on in the poem. In the past, I have somewhat agreed that the poem is utterly simple and fairly clear with fellow classmates, professors, and friends. I have also heard of it as being talked about how it is a “still-life” poem – a poem that captures an image (imagism) – and that that is all it is. I would like to argue that the poem is much more than a few words laid out in four two-line stanzas. I believe that William C. Williams, being an American poet during the early 20th century (that is all I really know about him… So this is kind of a New-Critic blog post), has created a poem that captures what many believed America to be: A country that was built on hard work…
How can it be that “so much depends upon” a wet red wheelbarrow surrounded by white chickens? Well, I believe that the phrase, “so much depends upon,” actually pertains to each line of the poem. In other words, every line of the poem is important. Let’s break it down…
The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th stanzas each contain a color: those being red, blue, and white (the red wheelbarrow, the “blue” rain water, and the white chickens) – the colors that America holds so dear – the colors that are on our flag and represent our country. Williams chose to use these colors in his poem. He didn’t have to, but he did. Not all chickens are white, nor is everyday a rainy one. And why does the wheelbarrow have to be red? It could have been any color. I guess what I am trying to say here, is that Williams had the option to choose any set of colors and any set of objects, but he chose these specific ones with these specific colors. So yeah, red, blue and white – sounds pretty symbolic to me. Now let’s talk about the objects themselves…
The objects in these last three stanzas are all different, but at the same time they are all similar. They are similar in the way that they can all be found on a farm and farming was a big part of the American ideal, especially when moving out west…
They are all different when you think of precisely what they are and how they came to be. The “white chickens” are living creatures as well as livestock, therefore they represent life and food. They are also white, which is often a color associated with innocence and I would say that chickens are pretty innocent… Wouldn’t you? There’s not much to say about the “rain water.” It gives life and keeps things alive, and its natural. On the other hand, we have the “red wheelbarrow” which is an inanimate object that is not at all natural. The wheelbarrow was created by man as a tool to work faster. A tool that could represent the forward momentum of society… (It has a wheel that can move forward). The wheelbarrow is also red. Red is usually a color attributed to corruption or tainted innocence, unlike those chickens over there who just so happen to be innocent and white. Red is also the color of blood, which the human race (being on top of the food chain and all) likes to shed when it comes to being hungry and there just so happens to be some chickens standing around – some murdered chickens whose whiteness is now all reddened… Chicken blood is not the only blood shed by man either. Sounds to me like man, with their red wheelbarrows and their superiority, deserves the devilish color red… They’re not so innocent.
Harry S. Truman (the 33rd president) once said something along the lines of: “America was built on courage, imagination, and a strong determination to do the job at hand.” Basically what that means, is that America was built on hard work and the drive to succeed when it comes to kicking other peoples asses in war.
And that is why so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow.
(Not sure if any of this made sense… Just throwing thoughts around. Sort of pulled this out of my ass.)