‘Autumn Song’ by Sarojini Naidu is a poem that presents a universal theme of change during the autumn. Change is the nature of life. The subjective voice of the poet brings objectivity to the poem. The poet places her pains apart from her heart and observes it from a distance. The ambiance of autumn reminds her of the upcoming winter. There is a sense of joy but it’s dim like the setting sun. The poet knows she should not think about such things; “why should I stay behind?”, the message is clear. She wants to leave such thoughts and fly away like the “fluttering leaves” in the wild gust of wind. However, the essence of Indianness in the poem brings a local flavor to the poem.
Summary of Autumn Song
‘Autumn Song’ by Sarojini Naidu like an ode meditates in autumn. As a song it’s brief. The vastness of ode cannot depict what autumn really is. The poet is talking about autumn itself, not about the impression it casts on her mind. According to the poet, autumn is like the short phase of a day when the sun is about to set. It brings joy but not a permanent one. She can see the farmer’s sheaf is separating the autumnal crop. Suddenly, the “wild wind” comes from nowhere and her thought fades away. The wind makes her heart “weary and sad and alone” as it tells her of the approaching winter. The poet seems to be troubled by this thought. But she doesn’t want to wait behind as her heart knows, “If winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
Structure of Autumn Song
‘Autumn Song’ by Sarojini Naidu contains two five-line stanzas. The rhyme scheme of the poem follows the pattern of a cinquain poem. But it’s not a cinquain as there are a total of 10 lines in the poem. The rhyme scheme present in the first stanza is “ABCCB” and in the second stanza is “DEFFE”. There is a connection between the rhyming lines and the sense of the poem. Likewise, in the first stanza, the second and fourth lines end with the same word “cloud”. These lines are also connected internally.
The metrical structure brings out an interesting thing about the poem. The line structure and the metrical composition reflects the flow of autumnal wind. It ceases abruptly, approaches slowly, lasts for some moment, and then again everything is paused. Like the wind, the first line reflects the coming of wind and the second line depicts it becoming milder. The following two lines refer to the wind’s steady blowing. And in the end, it ceases slowly. The second stanza also follows the same wind-like pattern. The poet uses both the iambic and the anapestic meter in the poem. The use of long feet in between the short iambic feet again imitates the flow of the wind.
‘Autumn Song’ by Sarojini Naidu begins with two figures based on similarity. The first line begins with the word “Like”. It means there is a simile and the comparison becomes in the second. The poet compares the “sunset” with a kind of dim “joy” and the “cloud” to her “heart” in the first two lines. The use of imagery in the second line sets the mood of the poem. However, there is also a metaphor in the phrase, “the heart of a sorrow”. Here the poet refers to her sad heart. The poet also personifies “sorrow” in this phrase. There is a metonymy in the phrase “golden storm”. The poet uses a metaphor of storm to present the idea of separation of grains from the sheaves. “The wild wind” presents an alliteration at the end of the first stanza.
There is a personification at the beginning of the first stanza. The poet implicitly personifies nature in the first line. It might be also a reference to the wind’s calling. The poet uses polysyndeton in the third line of the stanza by using the conjunction “and” twice. In “my heart” the poet actually talks about herself. It is a use of synecdoche and the variety is “part for the whole”. The next line presents a simile and the poem ends with an interrogation.
Analysis of Autumn Song
Like a joy on the heart of a sorrow,
The sunset hangs on a cloud;
A golden storm of glittering sheaves,
Of fair and frail and fluttering leaves,
The wild wind blows in a cloud.
‘Autumn Song’ by Sarojini Naidu begins with the image of the setting sun that is metaphorically hanging on a cloud. The reference to the setting sun is a conventional symbol of hopelessness. The dusk brings joy to the poet’s heart but it’s already filled with sorrow. The upcoming winter makes her mind clouded with negativity and pessimism.
In the last three lines, the poet paints a picture of “glittering sheaves” that symbolically brings a sense of hope in the poem. In fact, it creates a contrast of conflicting emotions in the poet’s heart. Inside her mind, there is a fear of the future and in front of her eyes, nature waits with hope and prosperity. Suddenly, the “wild wind” of change comes and blows her negative thoughts away like, “fair and frail and fluttering leaves”.
Hark to a voice that is calling
To my heart in the voice of the wind:
My heart is weary and sad and alone,
For its dreams like the fluttering leaves have gone,
And why should I stay behind?
In the second stanza, Sarojini Naidu responds to nature’s clarion call. According to the poet, the “voice of the wind” comes knocking at her mind’s door. She can’t be silent. There is no place for immobility when nature itself is urging the poet to move on, to shed off her “weary”, “sad” and lonely thoughts.
The tree sheds the old leaves to grow new leaves in the future. It’s an ongoing process. The cycle of change has been in motion from time immemorial. Autumn acts as a catalyst in this process. For this reason, the poet dreams of a better future that is waiting for. She doesn’t fear the change. Her mind is just a little hesitant with the thoughts of winter. In the end, she decides it is her duty to respond wisely. That’s why she says, “And why should I stay behind?”
‘Autumn Song’ by Sarojini Naidu captures the theme of Romanticism in the Indian context. Sarojini Naidu’s poetic works present nature as a source of inspiration like the popular romantic poems written by the second generation romantic poets. The nationalistic touch is also there in the poem. Having a politically active career, Naidu’s works naturally contain a nationalistic sentiment. Likewise in ‘Autumn Song’ the image of the sheaves and the epithet “golden”, points to the backbone of the Indian economy, the agricultural sector. There is hope in her heart for the country’s better future. But there is also a sense of pessimism as India was still under colonial rule.
Like ‘Autumn Song’ by Sarojini Naidu there are several poems in English Literature that talk about autumn in a similar vein. Here is a list of a few of such poetic works that resonate with the subject matter of Naidu’s poem.
- Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley – The quote in the introduction belongs to this poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The last line of both of the poems reflects a similar thought process regarding the seasonal change.
- Autumn Song by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – In this poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the poet talks about the feelings of nature as if it has a soul to sense what is happening with her during autumn.
- Autumn Song by W.H. Auden – In this poem, the poet Wystan Hugh Auden illustrates autumn as a time of both beauty and bleakness.
- Autumn Fires by Robert Louis Stevenson – Robert Louis Stevenson specifically focuses on the colors of autumn in this poem.