Monday, 21 April 2014

Kids, I give you John Keats's Ode to Autumn

Kids I'm sure you'll have an education that will make mine look dumb. From learning Mandarin to how to code, much would be as incomprehensible to me as my algebra homework was to my dad.
You'll be taught how to make your way in a world much tougher than the one I grew up in. Looking back I can see my generation was feather-bedded. You face university tuition loans; we got educational grants. It looks like the law of the jungle now in the workplace compared to the security of our employment contracts and final salary pensions.
I just hope the finer aspects of life aren't overlooked in your eduction. It's a pity I might not be around to  help your souls to flourish.
I'd start by introducing you to my favourite poem John Keats’s ‘Ode to Autumn’ as first met at school.
There is the beauty of the words themselves as Keats paints a picture of the developing season in the mind of the reader, which engages all the senses. The three stanzas - ripeness, harvest, and the preparation for winter - are perfectly structured.
But what sets the poem apart for me is the poet’s observation that though the songs of spring are gone forever, autumn has its own music. It struck a chord with me as a young man and has an even greater resonance now that I’m that closer to the abyss.
The sadness is Keats’s life was snuffed out so early he never had the chance to experience the insight of his own words.
Here is the poem.

Ode to Autumn by John Keats

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-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed 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'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

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 redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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