The silk shirt is second hand, as is the skirt - which I shortened myself. The gold top used to live in the dressing up box, the hat is from a charity shop, the heels are Office and the copy of Keats' poems was stolen from my dad. All jewellery is vintage.
So, once again, the wheel has turned and September is here. Given the distinct lack of summer this year, the possibility of a proper season – one of golden light, crisp air and dry leaves – would be welcome. Now is the time to brandish Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn’ and revel in the oncoming mists and mellow fruitfulness.
That particular description stands alone. It is the one most easily quoted – tripping off the tongue without thought. Perhaps this is thanks to Keats’ ability to distil a season into several words, or merely through appearing at the beginning of the poem. All three stanzas are equally rich – by turn describing, personifying and finally mourning the passing of autumn.
It’s incredible that we can read Keats today and find resonance and meaning relating to our own lives and times. The questions that he asks, and the areas that he explores, are still relevant today – from questioning whether it’s better to be frozen in a fixed moment or embrace the transience of existence, to suggesting that sorrow is only felt by those who intimately know beauty and joy.
His poetry treads the slightly paradoxical line of being both completely timeless, and very much of its time. The descriptions of faeries and dreams may seem contrived at first glance now, but only because such words have been rendered useless by repetition. Every cliché was once a fresh idea. When Keats wrote that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”, it was new and extraordinary. The phrase has become hollow by reiteration, the words so subjective in modern society that it can be hard to grasp their precise message. The sublime quality of beauty that Keats aspired to has been replaced with commerce. ‘Beauty’ is now nipped, tucked, cut and airbrushed. It is also perceived as something often purely physical, rather than aesthetic – more Ode to the night-intensive-moisturising-gel than Ode on a Nightingale.
Nonetheless, those poems are timeless – still giving pleasure to readers some near two hundred years after his death. Their power lies in the ability to stir, to provoke thought, to make us question. Keats invites us to accept mystery, to celebrate beauty and simply to be awake.
For me, Keats speaks to the heart as much as he speaks to the head. Sometimes it’s easier to feel a poem than to fully understand it. I won’t lie – poetry can hard. It’s not always instant or immediate. It can take two or three reads to make sense of the meaning, and several more to even begin to address the various layers. But the pleasure of poetry is that it's possible to access it at different levels. Sometimes analysis opens new doors and ways of thinking. At other times, one can read Ode to Autumn merely to enjoy the sensations and images: “While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,/ And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue”.
What doesn’t change is the way that Keats appears to capture snatches and moments of Beauty in his verse – Beauty with a big capital B, the kind of Beauty that is eternal.
I'm currently unable to wear heels like the ones pictured above, as I have a horrible infection in one ankle - meaning a general lack of mobility, a foot resembling a balloon with toes, and daily visits to hospital for doses of antibiotics by IV. It was rather laborious to type this up, as I have a cannula/ needle permanently taped into my left hand (managed to faint when they put it in). Am hoping that soon I'll be sufficiently recovered and able to run amongst hay bales once more. For now, I'm stranded on the sofa with Keats, Angela Carter and college work for company.