The best poems about Fall (or autumn)
‘Now the leaves are falling fast’: so begins W. H. Auden’s ‘Autumn Song’, which features below in this compilation of ten of the best autumn poems in all of English literature. The following classic autumnal poems (or, to our readers in the US, the best poems about Fall) all capture, in their own way, the moods and sights of the autumn season, so as the leaves are already beginning to fall, let us turn the leaves of our poetry anthologies and discover some of the greatest autumn poems literature has to offer. Click on the title of each poem to read it.
Anonymous, ‘Merry it is while summer lasts’. This poem heads our list of great autumn poems because it was written the earliest – some time in the thirteenth century – but it’s also a convenient starting-point since this little medieval poem focuses on the fading of summer and the coming of autumn. Click on the link above to read the poem, and a little more information about it: it’s number 2 on our list of great medieval poems.
Shakespeare, Sonnet 73. This celebrated sonnet by the Bard uses autumnal imagery to reflect the coming of old age – although Shakespeare was probably only in his early thirties (if that) when he wrote the poem. A great example of the pathetic fallacy. (The reference to ‘bare ruined choirs’ in this poem was interpreted by William Empson as a reference to the Dissolution of the Monasteries.)
John Clare, ‘Autumn’. John Clare (1793-1864) is often overlooked in accounts of Romantic poetry, but he wrote sensitively and originally about the English countryside and his poetry displays a fine eye for local detail. This autumnal poem earns its place on this list for the line ‘Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun’ alone.
John Keats, ‘To Autumn’. Well, this poem was always going to make the list, wasn’t it? Probably the most famous poem about the season in all of English literature, Keats’s ‘To Autumn’ is also one of the finest autumn poems in the language. Jonathan Bate has a fine analysis of this poem in his book of eco-criticism, The Song of the Earth, which points up all of the contemporary allusions to early nineteenth-century politics and history.
Christina Rossetti, ‘From Sunset to Star Rise’. This sonnet is not one of the best-known poems by Christina Rossetti (1830-94), but it’s a real gem of a poem. Spoken by a woman who has chosen to ostracise herself from society and her friends – perhaps, as some critics have suggested, because she is a fallen woman – ‘From Sunset to Star Rise’ uses autumnal imagery and the disappearing summer to reflect on fallenness and sin as part of human nature.
A. E. Housman, ‘Tell me not here, it needs not saying’. Autumn was the season of choice for A. E. Housman (1859-1936), who elsewhere wrote ‘I love no leafless land.’ Yet he wrote about leafless lands, and the sense of loss they convey, poignantly time and time again – and no better than here, in this poem from his 1922 volume Last Poems.
Adelaide Crapsey, ‘November Night’. Crapsey (1878-1914) is not much remembered now, but she left one important poetic legacy: the cinquain, or five-line unrhymed stanza form, modelled on the Japanese haiku. A number of her cinquains touch upon autumnal themes, and ‘November Night’ is the finest of these. (Though as Crapsey was an American poet we should probably describe ‘November Night’ as a great Fall poem.)
T. E. Hulme, ‘Autumn’. Like Crapsey, T. E. Hulme (1883-1917) favoured short, often unrhymed lyrics, and he was arguably the first modernist poet writing in English. ‘Autumn’, written in 1908, establishes a delicate relationship between the ruddy moon, the red face of a farmer, and the time of year – autumn – through an unspoken connecting word, ‘harvest’. This poem marked the start of modernist poetry in England. (We have more classic poems about the moon in a separate post.)
D. H. Lawrence, ‘Autumn Rain’. This delicate poem, whose short lines and short stanzas suggest the droplets of falling rain, was first published in 1917, and the casualties of the First World War may be hinted at by Lawrence’s ‘dead / men that are slain’. The harvest time and Christian redemption are united under the rain falling from heaven.
W. H. Auden, ‘Autumn Song’. This is one of Auden’s ‘Twelve Songs’ along with the more famous ‘Stop all the clocks’. ‘Autumn Song’ is a fine lyric about the brevity of youth and life’s disappointments, and takes the falling leaves of autumn as its starting point.
This concludes our pick of the ten greatest autumn poems in English. But what have we missed off? Are there any must-read autumn poems you’d recommend? Any classic poems about Fall that make you fall in love with the season? You can find more great poetry in our selection of classic summer poems, and our pick of classic American poems. For more classic poetry, we recommend The Oxford Book of English Verse – perhaps the best poetry anthology on the market.
Our new book, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape, is out now, published by John Murray. More about the book can be found here.