Best-known as the author of the classic, The Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson was also a poet. In ‘Autumn Fires,’ he shows off his skill are writing verse and using imagery for a very specific purpose. The short lines are simple in their use of language and syntax, something that is common amongst Stevenson’s poems. He wrote a great deal of his poetry for young audiences and was, therefore, no stranger to constructing compelling, short poems that keep one’s attention.
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Summary of Autumn Fires
In this short poem’s stanzas, Stevenson celebrates the changes that come as the autumn season begins. All around the landscape, he can see the red fires of changing leaves burning. From the bountiful summer to the dryer, more colorful fall, this change is to be appreciated. He also uses repetition several times in these lines to note the presence of metaphorical smoke.
Themes in Autumn Fires
The themes in ‘Autumn Fires’ are quite clear. They include change, life/death, and the seasons. Stevenson, or at least the speaker he’s channeling in this poem, is well aware of the necessity and beauty of change. He sees the transformation occurring around him as summer transitions into spring, and he’s ready and willing to celebrate that change. It is likely meant as a broader allusion to life and death, the natural process of change that touches everyone and everything on earth.
Structure and Form
‘Autumn Fires’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a three-stanza poem separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. There are also a few examples of half-rhyme. This refers to words that only partially rhyme, either because of the same consonant or assonant sound. For example, “summer” and “flowers” in stanza two and “over” and “smoke” in stanza two.
Stevenson makes use of several literary devices in ‘Autumn Fires.’ These include but are not limited to repetition, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, repetition, is seen through the use and reuse of the same words. In this case, “flowers” in stanza two and fire, as well as references to warmth, fire, and smoke. Alliteration is a formal device that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sounds. For example, “See” and “smoke” in stanza one and “flowers” and “fire” in stanza two.
Enjambment is another formal device. It can be seen in the transitions between lines. For example, that which occurs between lines one and two of stanza one and between lines one and two of stanza two.
Analysis of Autumn Fires
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
In the first stanza of ‘Autumn Fires,’ the speaker begins by directing the reader’s attention to the “autumn bonfires” that are raging in the “other gardens” and “up the vale.” “Vale” is a word used to describe a valley. So, it is clear from his position that he’s able to see all around the landscape. He is taking in the wonderful changes in color that come along with the season. In the last line of this stanza, he mentions “smoke.” This is likely just metaphorical smoke, attached to the extended metaphor of fire/autumn colored leaves. There is also something sublime about this experience. He’s watching this transition from summer to fall at a distance, marveling over the transformation.
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.
In the second quatrain of ‘Autumn Fires,’ the speaker notes, in case the reader had not yet realized, that the summer is over and now all the summer flowers are going up in flames. Things are drying out and dying, and with that process comes a new “red fire” of color that blazes across the land. Using words like “towers” and “blazes,” he’s emphasizing the power of this change. It is inescapable, just like all life changes. At this point in the poem, a reader might consider if Stevenson is thinking about anything else other than falls, such as death or a major change in his own life, or life generally. Fall/autumn is often used as such a symbol.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!
The final quatrain of ‘Autumn Fires’ is similar to those that came before it. In it, Stevenson repeats much of the same language, paring the fire imagery with that of fall. IN these lines, readers can confirm that this transition from summer to fall is not something that Stevenson’s speaker is mourning. He’s celebrating these changes and asks anyone listening/reading to “Sing a song of seasons!” The natural progression of life and death is something to be appreciated. The last lines note that flowers in the summer and fires in the fall is just the way things are.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Autumn Fires’ should also consider reading some of Stevenson’s other poems. These include ‘Rain,’ ‘Swallows Travel To and Fro,’ and ‘The Land of Story-Books.’ The latter describes a boy’s land of make-believe, inspired by his collection of books. ‘Rain’ is similar to ‘Autumn Fires’ in that it too celebrates a natural occurrence. It depicts rain in four short lines as it falls “all-around,” impacting several different settings. ‘Swallows Travel To and Fro’ was crafted this poem with the idea of human interconnectedness in mind. He wanted to demonstrate through his speaker how everyone, no matter where they live, can relish in their relation through nature.
Some other related poems are ‘Autumn Song’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and ‘To Autumn’ by William Blake. The latter is a fairly simple poem about the joys and colors of the autumn season and one of four he wrote about winter, spring, summer, and fall.