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Prowling Around Keats and ‘To Autumn’

The John Keats poem “To Autumn” is called “the most-anthologized poem in the English language.”

But what was old Keatsy looking at when he wrote it? Scholars at Aberystwyth University have been doing some digging.

We were armed with a premise, “What if the field in Keats’s ode was (cue drum roll), not an allegorical field, not a cipher for, say, St Peter’s Field in Manchester (the location of the Peterloo Massacre), nor a mythic site of bucolic languor, but an actual Winchester field … and a central question, “Who owned the land?” 

Not to give away what they find, but the last line is: “It lies buried under a multi-storey car park.”

(They do love their Romanticism at Aberystwyth U, which describes its own founding as “one of the great romantic, indeed heroic, stories of modern Welsh history.”)

Here’s the full text of “To Autumn,” written in 1819, when John Keats was a mere lad of 23. Alas, “mere lad” is about as far as he got: he died of tuberculosis two years later.
                                 TO AUTUMN
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
     Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
     With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; 
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, 
     And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 
          To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 
        And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
        Until they think warm days will never cease, 
            For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? 
     Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find 
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 
     Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; 
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, 
     Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook 
         Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: 
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep 
     Steady thy laden head across a brook; 
     Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, 
         Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? 
     Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— 
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, 
     And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue; 
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn 
     Among the river sallows, borne aloft 
         Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; 
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; 
     Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft 
     The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; 
        And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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