De Laura McWilliams , Responsable académique, British Council

14 octobre 2021 - 16:35

blog about autumn poetry in English
Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash.

I think literature is a great way to learn a language, so having spoken about Shakespeare earlier this year, I couldn’t resist this chance to share poems about Autumn with you – some very famous, and some you might not have heard of before!

I have a confession: I’m feeling a little bit homesick. I love living in Paris (museums! cheese!) but every year when Autumn arrives, I always miss home.

Paris in Autumn can be just a study in grisaille (“Paris Grey” is even the name of a paint colour!). My home in Derbyshire doesn’t compare to the famous vibrant colours of Autumn in New England, but I love the variety it offers. Some days are full of deep greens and purples and even pinks and blues like the photo at the end of my blog (Yes, I took it myself #nofilter).

On other days, you can get the fresher, brighter oranges and yellows. I admit I didn’t take this photo, but the historical and gorgeous Chatsworth estate is a ‘must-visit’ if you’re ever in Derbyshire.

The first line of To Autumn by the Romantic poet John Keats is a perfect summary of what Autumn is to me: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. It’s one of the best-known first lines in all of English poetry and is practically de rigueur to be used as the title of any blog or article on Autumn. If it wasn’t such a beautiful phrase it would have become a cliché by now! 

Sadly, most people don’t know the rest of the poem, so I urge you to read the full thing! Some vocabulary might be a little obscure so I have a top tip: on the website PoetrybyHeart you can turn on embedded links to definitions of some of the more challenging words!

To Autumn celebrates the beauty of the season by focusing on the rich abundance of produce – the fruit is ripe and the tree branches are so heavy with apples they are literally bending. At the same time, the reader is reminded that death and decay is a just heartbeat away as winter approaches. Keats shows us that autumn’s loveliness is all the more beautiful because it is temporary.

This message is more poignant because it is a reflection of the author’s life. The 24-year-old poet knew he was suffering from tuberculosis, from which his mother and brother had already died. His own mortality must have been on his mind as he wrote about the shifting seasons, and indeed he passed away just 18 months after writing this poem.

This idea of ripeness hovering on the edge of decay recurs in many poems about Autumn – or at least Autumn in the UK. The Jamaican-born poet and novelist Valerie Bloom presents a beautiful image in her poem Seasons: “Autumn’s a grown man slowly walking by, A limp in his careful footstep, A shadow in one eye”.

Bloom only experienced this type of Autumn after moving to the UK in her 20s, and it’s interesting to compare it to her other poem, Two Seasons, which highlights the way Jamaica and the Caribbean has a different climate and view of the seasons. As it’s written in Jamaican patois, some vocabulary in this one might be unfamiliar, but if you listen to it the beauty of the language is evocative even if you don’t understand every single word.

Another great poem about Autumn is by the author Robert Louis Stevenson, a Scottish poet and author of famous novels like Treasure Island and Kidnapped. His poem Autumn Fires was written for an anthology for children, so it’s shorter and the vocabulary is simpler in contrast to the Keats poem above, even though it still uses literary devices including repetition, alliteration, and enjambment.  It can be enjoyed from beginner to advanced level! The imagery is vivid, engaging multiple senses: the reader feels the heat and smells the smoke from the bonfires. This is a lovely poem for children to learn in English as the rhyming sounds support memorisation and give pronunciation clues.

Another simple, charming Autumn poem with rhymes children and adults alike will love is Dusk in Autumn by the American poet Sara Teasdale.

The imagery of the moon and “timid twinkling golden star” in the first stanza reminds me of the classic children’s song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and the second stanza draws you in through the window to a lovely cosy scene of a witches’ tea party – a doubly topical idea as of course at the end of October comes the magical night of Halloween…

Robert Burn’s Halloween is the most famous poem on this topic, but the Scots dialect means it’s very hard to understand. Instead, why not try Joel Benton’s poem, also called Halloween? You’ll still learn some new words and it’s delightful to read aloud. It has a strong rhythm and is full of mysterious fairy-tale images.

If you really enjoy reading poems aloud, then the perfect Halloween party performance piece for you could be Mr. Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern. Flickering candlelight would be the perfect atmosphere to read this story of the carving of a pumpkin into an eerie, haunting face. This poem is packed with spooky vocab for you to learn.

So whether, like me, Autumn leaves you feeling a little bit sombre and melancholy, or whether you prefer to be spooked and scared, there’s a seasonal poem for you out there! Did you know any of the poems I have talked about? Do you have any other favourite Autumn poems to recommend? 

Autumn by laura Mcwilliams
Autumn in Derbyshire ©

L. McWilliams

Biographie de l'auteur

Laura McWilliams

Responsable académique, British Council

Laura a été la responsable académique des cours d'anglais pour les secondaires au British Council France de 2017 à 2022. Elle gère aujourd'hui l'ensemble des programmes pour les enfants pour le British Council à travers l'Égypte, le Soudan et la Jordanie - mais son amour permanent pour la France fait qu'elle revient toujours bloguer pour nous !

Elle détient le  CELTA, du CELTYL, du DELTA ainsi que de la qualification de l'ELT management, et elle forme au TYLEC et DELTA.