Document Type


Date of Award



Keats, John, "To autumn"

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

Derek Colville

Second Advisor

Fredrick Garber

Third Advisor

John Hagan


There is a thread of “dark imagery” that runs throughout Keats's poetry “like a dark vein through marble.” That is, intermingled with positive images, such as those of brightness, serenity, warmth, beauty, and happiness, are negative ones, such as those of gloom, discord, disease, coldness, death, and sadness. Whereas the positive imagery produces sensual, luxurious, and delightful sensations, the negative imagery often creates startling and disagreeable feelings of dread, coldness, and dejection. These negative images and the unpleasant effects they evoke are designated collectively, in this dissertation, by the term dark, used not necessarily in its usual and limited sense of obscure or without light but also, in its broader emotional and imaginative connotations such as cheerless, hidden, or even morose, sinister, and evil. Throughout Keats's work, these dark images are at times barely perceptible and at other times conspicuous. Quite often a pressing, ominous Presence is felt in his poems, evoked merely by his frequent and explicit references to death: "And that, alas! is death”; "Death had come sudden”; "Mutter'd ‘What lonely death am I to die’"; "I plung'd for death...” and so on. In fact, the words death and dead and their derivates—deathly, death-pale, deadly, death-drifting, death-shadows, etc.—are used repeatedly by Keats. But in other instances, a startling effect is achieved by striking “dark” images of extreme cold, as for example: “The sculptur'd dead, on each side seem to freeze” (“The Eve of St. Agnes,” ii,5) or those in the opening lines of the same poem, lines that have been described as the coldest passage in all English literature. At other times, Keats uses “dark” images of illness, numbness, darkness, or torment in order to create an eerie atmosphere or evoke a sense of mystery and foreboding. The dark images in Keats's poems naturally vary in style and frequency. The intensity of the images, for instance, ranges from the grotesque…and gruesome…to a mildly disquieting effect, as for example in the ode “To Autumn” where the images far more subtly depict Nature's anticipation of the awesome but unobtrusive change of season…

What seems most consistent about the dark imagery is its function: except for those poems (usually the early ones) in which Keats is being imitative, conventional, or playful, this type of imagery, which I call “dark,” reflects his serious thoughts about the actual world around him. Keats’s world-outlook, however, is not a static one. On the contrary, the development of the dark imagery in his poetry marks a progression in his outlook toward actuality: from painful awareness to lamentation to escape-wish, and finally, to an acceptance and resolution. My aim in this dissertation is to analyze various aspects of that dark imagery in order to investigate what I believe to be a close relationship between Keats's development of this particular imagery and the progression of his philosophical views, and since it is my contention that this progression culminates in the ode "To Autumn," I intend to apply this image-study to the ode to demonstrate that the poem holds a vital transitional position in Keats’s developing world-outlook. This view that the ode can be read (on one level) as a philosophical poem, and also that as such, it can be viewed as part of the group of the famous odes of Spring, 1819 is at variance with the traditional one of the ode "To Autumn."