Have a John Keats Autumn: Notice What You Notice

Here at the brink of the Autumnal Equinox, I went looking for a poem for autumn. I didn’t have to look far. According to The Guardian, John Keats’s “To Autumn” is “the most anthologized poem” by an English poet. I’ll let Mr. Keats himself tell you why:

To Autumn

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 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.

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-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-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 barréd 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.

(courtesy Wikimedia)

(courtesy Wikimedia)

As my former students would have said, “I know, right?”

This season, harvest season, reminds me of life’s cyclical nature more than Spring does. Both focus our attention on change. But I was a teacher for 20 years, and even six years past the classroom, fall still means school to me. And school means poetry. Sooner or later, no matter the class–Sophomore English, Junior English, American Studies, AP Literature–we “did poetry.” Or, as I liked to say, we exercised our Noticing Muscles.

My brand of poetry analysis? Read the poem. Notice what you notice. Notice what it makes you think about. Write about how the poet’s tools (words, images, sounds, etc.) make you think that.

My favorite question: “Did the poet really mean whatever I think he means?”

My favorite answer: “Intention is not the same as effect. You can’t know intention unless the poet tells you. Most don’t. So focus on effect.”

I won’t presume now to take Keats’s beautiful ode apart and tell you about its effect on this reader. Instead I’ll leave you with the thought of Noticing Muscles, the poem itself, and the hope that you’ll spend some time this slower season noticing what you notice. Happy Fall!

Starting My Day The Thoughtful Way: A Poem To Keep The Buzz At Bay

I have more than one friend who has made the commitment to disengage from social media and screens last thing in the evening and first thing in the morning. While I admire the impulse, I found myself unwilling to make the same commitment, but feeling vaguely uneasy about my resistance. This internal conversation followed:
Me: Well, why shouldn’t I check email or Facebook before I go to bed? They connect me to people I love!
Myself: Yeah, but they also connect us to outside currents like ads and political struggles. Or they focus us way too much on the details of certain commitments, like articles we have to write or trips we’re planning. Is that really what we want to be thinking about while heading for bed, or clearing our mind from sleep?
Me: Nothing wrong with staying current, or being focused. But yeah, it’s true, I do get easily entwined in details–work and personal–at the expense of contemplation. So maybe what I need is not less social media, but more contemplative time.
Myself: Aha! And since we’re automatically drawn to the screen with that first cup of tea, why not make the screen our portal to deeper thought?
So that’s when I put Poetry Daily on my Favorites bar. Note: I did NOT subscribe, because then I’d only access it via email and distract myself again. These days email takes a back seat to poetry.
So now, I read the day’s poem. I think about it, and I think about what it makes me think about. As I used to tell my students to do, I notice what I notice. Sometimes I like the poem, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I send it to a friend, or my mom. Sometimes the poem disturbs me. Sometimes I think about their images or themes along my whole dark, hour-long ride to work.
Today’s poem, which I read on Memorial Day, made me think of the first time I visited the Vietnam War memorial in D.C.
Memorial from a Park Bench

Here’s an opened book.
Stranger you greet like a friend
with reciprocated kiss.
Here, touch is required.

Visitors descend to meet
names arranged in order.
A word loses its ability to conjure
trapped inside a black mirror.

The names could be lines
of poems or a grocery list.
They could be just lines
but even before
you’re close enough to read
you know they are names
because everyone knows
the names.

Here is name
stacked on names stacked
on panels of more.
Here are names and black stone
and your only reflection.



The University of Arkansas Press

Each poem might not be "lovely as a tree," but they still make me feel like this.

Each poem might not be “lovely as a tree,” but they still make me feel like this.

Here’s what I noticed especially about Brock Jones’s poem: that last line. Sometimes, in a life full of busy detail, the morning’s poem is my “only reflection.” It is starting to feel as necessary to me as that first cup of Earl Grey.