Ode to Autumn: Critique and Analysis/ Faultless construction and masterpiece

Keats was inspired to write “Ode to Autumn” after walking through the water meadows of Winchester, England, in an early autumn evening of 1819. The poem has three stanzas of eleven lines describing the taste, sights and sounds of autumn. Much of the third stanza, however, is dedicated to diction, symbolism, and literary devices with decisively negative connotations, as it describes the end of the day and the end of autumn. The author makes an intense description of autumn at least at first sight.

The first stanza begins showing this season as misty and fruitful, which, with the help of a ‘maturing sun’, ripens the fruit of the vines. Next, we can see clearly a hyperbole. Keats writes that a tree has so many apples that it bends, while the gourds swell and the hazel shells plumps. The poem widely has been considered a masterpiece of Romantic English poetry. Harold Bloom described it as: “the most perfect shorter poem in the English language.” Conciseness is reflected as follows:

            “And still more, later flowers for the bees,
            Until they think warm days will never cease?”
Keats suggests that the bees have a large amount of flowers. And these flowers did not bud in summer but now, in autumn. As a consequence, the bees are incessantly working and their honeycombs are overflowing since summer. In both its form and descriptive surface, “To Autumn” is one of the simplest of Keats’s odes. There is nothing confusing or complex in Keats’s paean to the season of autumn, with its fruitfulness, its flowers, and the song of its swallows gathering for migration. The extraordinary achievement of this poem lies in its ability to suggest, explore, and develop a rich abundance of themes without ever ruffling its calm, gentle, and lovely description of autumn. Where “Ode on Melancholy” presents itself as a strenuous heroic quest, “To Autumn” is concerned with the much quieter activity of daily observation and appreciation. In this quietude, the gathered themes of the preceding odes find their fullest and most beautiful expression. Keats’s approach here is particular as the line shows:
                  “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!”
“To Autumn” takes up where the other odes leave off. Like the others, it shows Keats’s speaker paying homage to a particular goddess–in this case, the deified season of Autumn. The selection of this season implicitly takes up the other odes’ themes of temporality, mortality, and change: Autumn in Keats’s ode is a time of warmth and plenty, but it is perched on the brink of winter’s desolation, as the bees enjoy “later flowers,” the harvest is gathered from the fields, the lambs of spring are now “full grown,” and, in the final line of the poem, the swallows gather for their winter migration. The understated sense of inevitable loss in that final line makes it one of the most moving moments in all of poetry; it can be read as a simple, uncomplaining summation of the entire human condition. Despite the coming chill of winter, the late warmth of autumn provides Keats’s speaker with ample beauty to celebrate: the cottage and its surroundings in the first stanza, the agrarian haunts of the goddess in the second, and the locales of natural creatures in the third. Keats’s speaker is able to experience these beauties in a sincere and meaningful way because of the lessons he has learned in the previous odes: He is no longer attempting to escape the pain of the world through ecstatic rapture (as in “Nightingale”) and no longer frustrated by the attempt to eternalize mortal beauty or subject eternal beauty to time (as in “Urn”). The poem recalls earlier poems as in the lines:
             “Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind”
In “To Autumn,” the speaker’s experience of beauty refers back to earlier odes (the goddess drowsing among the poppies recalls Psyche and Cupid lying in the grass), but it also recalls a wealth of earlier poems. Most importantly, the image of Autumn winnowing and harvesting (in a sequence of odes often explicitly about creativity) recalls an earlier Keats poem in which the activity of harvesting is an explicit metaphor for artistic creation. In his sonnet “When I have fears that I may cease to be,” Keats makes this connection directly using the metaphor ‘ripen’d grain’. In “To Autumn,” the metaphor is developed further; the sense of coming loss that permeates the poem confronts the sorrow underlying the season’s creativity. When Autumn’s harvest is over, the fields will be bare, the swaths with their “twined flowers” cut down, the cider-press dry, the skies empty. But the connection of this harvesting to the seasonal cycle softens the edge of the tragedy. In time, spring will come again, the fields will grow again, and the birdsong will return. The speaker knows joy and sorrow, song and silence are as intimately connected as the twined flowers in the fields. Thus the prime note of the poem is that of optimism as the following lines reveal.
“Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
                Think not of them, thou hast thy music too”
                                                                                 
‘Ode to Autumn’ reveals not Keats’s pictorial quality only; but also a deep sense of purpose underneath. Although the first impression may be that John Keats is simply describing the main characteristics of autumn, and the human and animal activities related to it, a deeper reading could suggest that Keats talks about the process of life. Autumn symbolizes maturity in human and animal lives. Some instances of this are the ‘full-grown lambs’, the sorrow of the gnats, the wind that lives and dies, and the day that is dying and getting dark. As all we know, the next season is winter, a part of the year that represents aging and death, in other words, the end of life. However, in my opinion, death does not have a negative connotation because Keats enjoys and accepts ‘autumn’ or maturity as part of life, though winter is coming. Joys must not be forgotten in times of trouble. Blake’s dictum, ‘Under every grief and pine/Runs a joy with silken twine.’ The two are the part of life. Thus ‘thou has thy music too’ is the right approach to life showing the process of maturity and optimism.
In short, what makes “To Autumn” beautiful is that it brings an engagement with that connection out of the realm of mythology and fantasy and into the everyday world. We are part of Autumn when it is personified and presented to us in the figure of the winnower, “sitting careless on a granary floor”, the reaper “on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep”, the gleaner keeping “steady thy laden head across a brook”, and a spectator watching with patient look a cider-press and the last oozings therefrom. The reaper, the winnower, the gleaner, and the cider-presser symbolize Autumn. Through his process, the poet has learned that an acceptance of mortality is not destructive to an appreciation of beauty and has gleaned wisdom by accepting the passage of time that it is engagement; not escape is the purpose of life. 

‘Melodic Train’ as a post-modern poem reflecting complexities of urban life.

John Ashbery traces the factors, which directly influence and alter attitude of the modern man in day-to-day situations. Thus the poem brings before us the complexities of urban life in the social, political and psychological issues with personal trains of feelings of the poet. The Melodic Trains is written in the perspective of modern American society. The social aspects are discussed on an emotional scale. The temperament, attitude and behaviour of modern man are dependent on conditions. The feelings of poet remain else-oriented. He does not feel anything irrelevant to his surrounding. The self is replaced by else all the time. The first feelings he gives in the train are about the girl wearing enameled finger nails.
“A little girl with scarlet enameled fingernails/ Asks me what time it is—“

What he feels about or for this girl is totally social or impersonal. He reckons his look and position from outside. The girl is not funny in herself. Likewise the poet is not funny in himself. He is funny for other people on judgmental basis. The way he uses to convey his opinion about himself is quite modern. In nature, anyhow they are too American to be global. We can say that these are not the feelings of a common man. But they are expressed in so impersonal a way that they look familiar enough to be of a common man. The artistic involvement of the poet in the expression of these feelings makes them poetic and general. The concept of distance however is dealt with a philosophical touch. It is also enhanced by a brisk comparison “…as though our train were a pencil/ Guided by a ruler held against a photomural of the Alps”.  The distance is not without its curious justification yet it is unofficial and impersonal because the poet and the girl are not in their usual mood. The words ‘unofficial’ and ‘impersonal’, however, seem opposites of each other. How one can be unofficial and impersonal at the same time? This is the question that we feel ourselves unable to solve. But this what the poet has taken as a model theme for his poem. The dilemma of a modern man is to be unofficial and impersonal at the same time. The people sitting in the train are unofficial because they are not on their usual places. And they are impersonal because they are involved with the other people going to their particular journeys separately. The distance or journey is like the time of a stop watch – right twice a day. It temporary and momentary. It makes one unofficial and impersonal at the same time. As the distance has a curious justification it is not dimensionless. 
“Only the wait in stations is vague and/ Dimensionless, like oneself”
The wait in the stations on the other hand is vague and dimensionless. It is so because it was not calculated and perhaps is never calculated. The dimensionlessness of this wait is conveyed through the extrovert social behaviour of the people. One thinks about others when one is in trouble. Thematically the poet has shifted himself from relaxed to tense feelings. This is what the modern poets practice very commonly. The themes are mostly sense, emotion and feeling oriented. The poems of traditional poets were mostly thought oriented. It was the poetic thought that inspired them to write not the poetic feelings. The poetic thoughts aroused in them the poetic feelings and they wrote in a spontaneous over flow of powerful feelings. With the modern poets the things are different a little bit. Their feelings inspire them to write. These are the feelings they experience first not the thoughts. This is why the reader of a modern poetry will feel himself sensitively mature thought not wise. The theme of this poem is therefore the feelings of a modern man or so many modern men. The poet has conveyed their feelings through feelings not thoughts.
“Sadness of the faces of children / Concern of the grownups for connections”
It is not the thought that the taxis have no timetable but a feeling. The taxis of course have their timetable but the person speaking this thought is in a state of mind that suffices to convert his thoughts into feelings.  The anxiety, however, results in an expression of modern attitude towards various directions. It seems as if the modern people are always ready to be annoyed. The variance in thoughts and feelings has made them impatient with their surroundings. They seem no more tolerant and considerate. It has become a part of their feelings and expressions. The sooner they get anxious the less latter they get relaxed.  The line, ‘…why there is so little/ Panic and disorder in the world, and so much unhappiness” though thematic in nature yet indicates the feelings of a person who see these people in such a tense condition.  They are not philosophic in any way. They result from the complex interplay of feelings which seems as if the modern man starts thinking when gets tense and confused. Similarly, the other men start feeling when they see tension. The problem is not of identity but of individuality. They do not know where they become different from others and similar to them.  The difference in their resulted thoughts is the difference in their identity. What the poet feels in the above and the following lines is the crisis of identity. In the first stage he feels them unjustified. But in the second desirous to be one of them as suggested by the line:
 ‘Might I just through proximity and aping Of postures and attitudes”
In this respect, it looks strange that the difference remained only up to the difference in position. As soon as the passengers get down they forget their anxieties. A new situation seems waiting to devour them. With the changed positions, the people are transformed from one set of feelings to another – from one difference to another, from one similarity to another in these momentary situations. The poem is so perfect in theme and treatment that it seems dealing with nearly all the modern problems and issues. The life of a modern man is hinted from all sides. The canvas though social yet outlines with domestic contrasts.

John Ashbery’s ‘The Painter’ as representative of the Avent-garde

Ashbery’s poems are ‘abstract paintings in words’. Ashbery is the most creative of all avant-gardes. His poems justify what he advocates in his prose or theoretical criticism.. In fact Ashbery’s efforts were to unite the techniques of poetry and painting. While doing so he has to explain the similarities in these arts to their procedural outputs. In his view the practice of a painter is quite akin to a poet’s.

The movements in painting therefore had their special link to the movements in poetry. The Pinter is written in the light of surrealist art. Surrealism is a technique which used fantastic images and incongruous juxtapositions in order to represent unconscious thoughts and dreams.

“Sitting between the sea and the buildings/ He enjoyed painting the sea’s portrait”
The touch of abstractism is seen in the painting of sea but in a poetic abstract way. What the painter wants to paint about sea is attempted by poets like Shelley in poetry. But the difference lies in the fact that the painting concerns our sense of seeing whereas poetry hearing and feeling as in ‘But just as children imagine a prayer’. It was surrealism the painter was trying to adopt as a theory. The most controversial of all surrealist aspects is it aspect of automatism. Ashbery in these lines gives a view of painter’s conception of this aspect. He wants the sea to rush up the sand and plaster its own portrait on the canvas. What comes next is Ashbery’s rejection of this view, ‘So there was never any paint on his canvas’. For him the possibility of automatism lies in its adopting some means. The canvas and brush are the means a painter adopts in painting. The means for a poet are the emotional overflow and conscious indulgence. What the people living in buildings advise him to do is the same Ashbery himself supports:
“Try using the brush/ As a means to an end”
All poems are subject to automatism. But the automatism Ashbery defines is totally different from one the poets of generations have been practising. In his view, the selection of subject at least should not fall prey to automatism. The poet and the painter both should try to choose something intimate to their feelings and bents. The inability to choose such a subject is expressed in painter’s inability to explain his choice to the people, ‘How could he explain to them his prayer’. But to show the approach of the critics as genuine and practical, Ashbery presents his painter acting upon their suggestion, ‘He chose his wife for a new subject’. The success this time though unexpected comes to the painter and the portrait gets appreciated by the critics. As if forgetting itself, the portrait, ‘Had expressed itself without a brush’.  It is in fact the practicability of theory that Ashbery wants to express. Surrealism in itself is not the genuine thing. If the painter or poet has mixed it with the artistic conscience it becomes genuine or practicable. The artistic conscience from art therefore should not be absent. All arts should be artistic in nature, and all artists should be artistical. Ashbery’s avant-garde approach is in this way quite clear. All experimental and innovational work should not cease to artistic. Surrealist conceptions are in fact the initial stages of all conceptions. It is the genius of an artist that makes them different from the conceptions of a common person. The artistic efforts in all works of art should always be there. It is the artistic effort that gives some idea or vision an artistic genre. All conception before being adopted in form or medium may look the same. But it is the artistic effort that gives them form or medium. Further, the form or medium should not be considered enough to give some conception its artistic identity. Colours and canvas should not be considered enough to make some idea a portrait. It should be the approach of painter that should help make it painterly. The painter forgot to understand this point and tried to paint the portrait of sea again.
‘Slightly encouraged, he dipped his brush/ In the sea, murmuring a heartfelt prayer’
In fact he forgot to understand that the portrait praised by the critics was painted up to the requirements of the medium. It was not the subject but the medium they had stressed upon. The sea is not less angry and large a subject. The sea is a subject, but to be less and large deals with the particularities of medium. So it was the medium they in fact talked about. The painter took it for subject and theory and started painted the portrait of sea again. The mode and attitude he adopted was again surrealist as in “My soul, when I paint this portrait’. If the news of his painting the sea spreads like a wildfire, it is because of painter’s inability to understand the true spirit of a theory. When he came to his old angry and large subject, he had to be disappointed again. The disappointment had become his ultimate fate as in ‘Imagine a painter crucified by his subject’.  It simply means that the subject should not dominate and overcome the true spirit of an art. The medium and attitudes should always be accepted as true spirit of some art.
Ashbery’s avant-garde views are not totally strange for art. What Eliot says about the importance of individual talent in the supremacy of tradition is proved.  Tradition does not mean modes and attitudes. It should also be meant in the sense of medium. Canvas and brush are the media of painting. An artist should not transcend his media. It shall simply mean that he is misled in his concepts. If the painter had not been too exhausted to lift his brush, he might have painted something up to the requirements of theory. The theorists refused to accept his efforts. They simply thought it non-professional. To remain and survive in the limits of art is the first requirement of art. If the artist breaks these limits and gets out of art he will never be accepted.  All indications of a subject began to fade and the fate of to be out of art is to be dead in art. The sea devoured the canvas and the brush means the subject needs some medium.