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Fallen from the Tree of Keats

by Jacklyn Guay

Fallen from tree of keats

John Keats' poem, To Autumn, can be interpreted as a sensuous piece which deals with seasonal transition commemorating the fruits of Autumn's harvest as products of Summer's prior influence, while also recognizing the traces which foreshadow an impending Winter. However, at the same time the poem recognizes Autumn as a collaborative season, it too honours it as an independent entity and force of beauty. These notions are what I aimed to represent with my visual interpretation of the text.

Stanza One

Beginning in the top left corner, as one begins in the early months of Autumn, I have included a peach so as to represent the plump, engorged production of fruit which Keats discusses in Stanza One. I selected the peach, as opposed to the apples or gourds which Keats specifically mentions within this Stanza, as I feel this particular fruit to be one of the most soft, sensuous, sweet, and juicy; these adjectives are also what I feel the text of Stanza One evokes phonetically and rhythmically with its luxuriously slow pacing — due mainly to punctuation and Keats' selection of rounded, soft words such as "mellow" or "plump".  

The soft, rounded brush strokes of the peach are also intended to reflect this notion, as is the richness of the colours. It should be noted that I haveattempted the natural realism of the Pre-Raphaelite painters who have also interpreted Keats' poems. I also intended to place the peach as a symbol of the sun: as though it had sucked so much of the Summer's sun up that it indeed has become the source of light. The half peach below then not only reveals the surplus of the Summer's production, nor merely its "ripeness to the core", but also the descending sun (representing the shift to shorter days as Autumn progresses).

Stanza Two

I depicted the Second Stanza in the centre of the piece as I interpret this point of the poem to represent the core months of mid-Autumn.  Here one can find an undefined individual, perhaps Keats himself, the transcendent reader, or simply an androgynous "everyman" lying on a haystack; this is symbolic of Keats' own anonymity in this stanza — presenting several plausible individuals and scenarios. The character might be the individual "sound asleep" as Keats recounts or perhaps another whom he states is watching the last "oozing hours". If the latter, the individual is appropriately gazing in the direction of the peach which, as previously mentioned, is intended to symbolize the setting sun. 

I also selected the scene to involve a haystack, though it was never explicitly mentioned in this stanza, as I feel hay can very much signify Autumn as the string between Summer and Winter. Indeed, it absorbs and preserves Summer's provisions and nutrients to be carried on for cattle through the destitution of Winter; however, it is also contrarily indicative of the dying vegetation of Summer/Autumn and this timely decay.  Therefore, it can effectively encompass the pivoting point of the Second Stanza: representing the lamenting of the end of Summer's production, preparation for Winter's impending touch, and yet the sweet moments of reflection at Autumn's very core.

As may be apparent, this scene of the individual on the haystack has been appropriated from Van Gough, who used impressionism as a Modernist form. The cooler colours and the coarse/quick brush strokes are aimed at mimicking the waning disintegration of rich warmth with the seasonal shift.

Stanza Three

I have intended to place the narrative of Stanza Three on the right-hand side, the darkest area of the space — exemplifying "the soft-dying days" of Autumn which are ever closer to Winter. I represent a few of Keats' direct references here, namely the "stubble-plains with rosy hue" amidst the final image of the poem: the "gathering swallows" that "twitter in the skies". I find this stanza quite interesting — phonetically — for its quickened pace from Keats' many hyphenated words ("full-grown," "garden-croft," red-breast," etc.), but also for its complex contradictions. 

The themes strewn along throughout the previous stanzas and Keats' struggle to both lament and celebrate are revealed: "the small gnats mourn," though the "hedge-crickets sing". It seems the entirety of the lines embody the tension and perplexity of a "wailful choir" that "lives or dies." Therefore, the reflective final image of the swallows can be seen as hopeful and yet suggest a sort of eerie desertion. I thought these ideas were best illustrated with having a colourful image of a living, detailed swallow fading into black and white, and finally, mere shadows which congregate in the distance.   

I also decided to use a photographic print of the swallow to not only reflect a known Victorian (amusing) activity of decoupage, but also to conclude my previously developed notions of a "seasonal" shift in art.  Here we see that a technological medium (the camera/photograph) facilitates the artistic expression, revealing, like Keats and many of those who exemplified his influence through literature and visual art, a movement to Modernism. Indeed, the illuminated letters of the title represent the Victorian tradition, which one can see begins to blur into the scene of the swallows in flight. Therefore, the Victorian age becomes both yearned for and left behind as the shift to Modernism appropriates the hope and perhaps anxious loom of the swallows.