Autumn Song by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

‘Autumn Song’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti  is a three stanza poem which is divided into sets of five lines, or quintains. The lines conform to a structured and consistent rhyming pattern of aabba ccaac aabba.  Rossetti has chosen this rhyme scheme in an effort to unify the lines of the poem. A reader will become familiar with the repeating end sounds and therefore be able to relate the first lines to the last. 

 

Summary of Autumn Song

‘Autumn Song’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti describes the pains experienced by nature at the end of autumn and how these pains are translated to humankind.

The poem begins with the speaker asking his first question. He wants to know if the reader is aware of the fact that one” heart feels the most grief “at the fall of the leaf.” It is the days of autumn, particularly those which are edging on towards winter which are the hardest to live through. They are marked by an inescapable decay which makes its way through every living thing. 

In the second section the speaker moves on to discuss the emotional and mental impacts of the changing season. One’s mind will decay alongside one’s body. It will be in vain to try to prevent this from happening or make any attempt to outlast it. He also states that this period of time will force one to watch their “joys” suffer. 

In the final set of five lines death is described as being preferable to the long decay of autumn. By the time the pain sets in, one will be ready to face death. It will be the more “comely” option between the two. 

 

Analysis of Autumn Song

Stanza One

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf 

How the heart feels a languid grief 

Laid on it for a covering, 

And how sleep seems a goodly thing 

In Autumn at the fall of the leaf? 

The poet has chosen to structure this poem through a series of questions. The reader will be asked by the speaker, in each of the three stanzas if he or she,  “Know’st thou not…” He is engaging with his listener, asking if one doesn’t know, or is not aware of, one particular fact or feeling. 

 In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by asking if the reader does not know what “the heart feels” when the leaves are falling. This is a direct reference to autumn and the changing of the seasons. The entire piece will focus on the transformation of emotions from one season to the next. 

The “heart” which represents the general emotions of humankind, is “cover[ed]” in the fall by the dying leaves. It feels a “languid grief” at this time of year. It is not clear at first why this might the case. The speaker feelings in regards to the autumn season are expanded upon throughout the following lines. They are related to the general state of the world and the mental statement of humankind. Plants will be dying and leaves falling off trees, and people will be decaying and aging. 

In the next section of lines he asks if the reader is aware of how in autumn “sleep” will seem like the best possible outcome for the day. If one can, “sleep,” or in continuation with the metaphor in regards to organic life, die, then all will be well. It is like life is not worth living anymore. 

 

Stanza Two

And how the swift beat of the brain 

Falters because it is in vain, 

In Autumn at the fall of the leaf 

Knowest thou not? and how the chief 

Of joys seems—not to suffer pain? 

In the next stanza the speaker describes how the autumn season impacts one’s “brain.” Unlike the first section which focused on the physical effects of time passing, this section describes how autumn causes one to suffer.

The first three lines are somewhat confusing in their syntax. The speaker is asking if one does not know how the “swift beat of the brain” will “Falter.” There is no point in trying to think one’s way out of this situation or expend any serious energy on living—decay is just around the corner. It is signalled by the “fall of the leaf.”

In the final two lines of the second stanza the speaker adds on an additional comment, asking if one does not know that the “joys” of one’s life are going to suffer the most “pain” during this period. 

 

Stanza Three 

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf 

How the soul feels like a dried sheaf 

Bound up at length for harvesting, 

And how death seems a comely thing 

In Autumn at the fall of the leaf? 

In the final section the speaker moves on to discuss how autumn impacts one’s soul. He begins in the same way in which he started the previous two stanzas, by asking if the reader understands. In this instance, he is curious to know if one knows that the “fall of the leaf” or the days of autumn, make one’s “soul” change. 

The ending of the season causes one’s soul to shrivel up “like a dried sheaf.” A “sheaf” is a bundle of grain stalks which has been tied together after a harvest. They have been dried out and are ready to be bundled off. One’s soul no longer holds the life it used to, it has also been reaped, “Bound up,” and is ready to be taken away.

The final two lines conclude the poem on a more depressing note. While the preceding sections have had a darker tone to them, the poem concludes with an image of death. This is particularly interesting as one’s soul and body have been frequently compared to the death of plant life throughout this piece. It is the death of the reader, and any who experience these feelings during the fall, which the speaker is referring to. 

The last lines describe “death” as being something which is welcomed at the end of autumn. By the time the season is almost over death will appear “comely,” or attractive. One’s pain over the change being brought on by the progression of time will make death seem like the preferable option. 

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