‘To Autumn’ by William Blake

When I think of Blake, I generally think of madness and intensity and gothic splendour.

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Blake’s ‘Ancient of Days’ illustration of the biblical book of Daniel

I tend to forget he also wrote poems of innocence and some really charming verses about the simple pleasures of nature.  Of course, one of the joys of keeping a blog is that all my literary resolutions can be recorded – this year, I want to remember some of the happiness in Blake as well as his awe inspiring oddness.  Just take his poem ‘To Autumn’

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

I’m currently in the middle of the third section of Powell’s ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ so the image of the ‘daughters of the year’ in the first section fits right in to my seasonal mood, but more than that, I really wanted to share this joyful poem that so cheerfully subverts the dour symbolic treatment afforded autumn in too much of my reading.

For Blake, the season might be ‘stained’ at the start, but only with the wine used to celebrate its hurried glory.  Autumn here is, rightly, not a melancholy companion slouching after spring and summer, but their boisterous more-than-equal. Spring begins as ‘modest‘, before the world ‘breaks forth into singing‘ during the warmer months; it is autumn that speaks for them all, fulfilling the year’s promise.

With the wind gusting outside, I think I can really appreciate the way autumn is the season of joyful sounds.  I do love the way Blake’s poem shows me a vision of the year so rarely seen in literature.  Take the noise and liveliness of the poem for example, the number of references to autumn singing in the poem far supersede those of the quieter times of the year, indeed half the poem is put into the mouth of its protagonist.  Autumn is also referred to as ‘jolly’ not once, but twice, bracketing the poem with a bonhomie I usually associate with personifications of Christmas rather than of Halloween.

Ah autumn. Maybe if I was more reflective I could have chosen today to write about Keats’ ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ but instead I’m going to enjoy Blake’s far more lively version of this golden time of year.

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4 Responses to ‘To Autumn’ by William Blake

  1. BookerTalk says:

    You’re right – we do forget that he has this different side to his work

  2. Do you know Elizabeth Jennings’ poem Autumn which begins ‘. Now watch this Autumn that arrives/In smells’? She catches another aspect of the season.

    • I didn’t know it, but have just read it now! Thank you so much for the literary connection – it’s such a beautiful poem and you’re right, a powerful contrast to Blake’s presentation of the season.

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