On September 19, 1819, English poet John Keats, inspired by the beauty of the changing season, wrote “To Autumn,” External a three-stanza ode to the splendor, bounty, and melancholy of fall.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…
John Keats, “To Autumn”
Meditations on the tension between the transcendent nature of ideals and the constancy of change in the physical world, Keats’s odes are considered his greatest poetic accomplishment. With the exception of “To Autumn,” written in September, the odes were composed between March and June of 1819. During this intense period of mourning his brother’s recent death while struggling with his own fatal illness, Keats carried on an impassioned love affair with Fanny Brawne to whom he later became engaged.
Born in London, England, in 1795, he trained to become a surgeon before devoting himself to poetry in 1817. John Keats died of tuberculosis on February 23, 1821. Just twenty-five years old, his death cut short the life of a great poet.
Close observation and description of the natural world characterized the poetry of the English Romantic Movement. Interested in the relationship of humans to the natural world, poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and John Keats profoundly influenced both the American Transcendentalists and the Conservation movement.
American writer Henry David Thoreau continued the tradition of the Romantic poets in his prose journals. In his journals he describes the seasonal changes of the woods around Concord, Massachusetts, and the lives of the animals and plants who were his closest neighbors during the years he spent living in a cabin on Walden pond. In the posthumously published Excursions, Thoreau describes a magnificent red maple tree:
Some single trees, wholly bright scarlet, seen against others of their kind still freshly green, or against evergreens, are more memorable than whole groves will be by-and-by. How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great scarlet fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun! What more remarkable object can there be in the landscape?
Henry D. Thoreau, “The Red Maple” in Autumnal Tints. Published in Excursions. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1863. p227. The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920