'Autumn : A Dirge' by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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The warm sun is falling, the bleak wind is wailing,
The bare boughs are sighing, the pale flowers are dying,
And the Year
On the earth is her death-bed, in a shroud of leaves dead,
Is lying.
Come, Months, come away,
From November to May,
In your saddest array;
Follow the bier
Of the dead cold Year,
And like dim shadows watch by her sepulchre.

The chill rain is falling, the nipped worm is crawling,
The rivers are swelling, the thunder is knelling
For the Year;
The blithe swallows are flown, and the lizards each gone
To his dwelling.
Come, Months, come away;
Put on white, black and gray;
Let your light sisters play--
Ye, follow the bier
Of the dead cold Year,
And make her grave green with tear on tear.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Autumn: A Dirge by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Are you looking for a poem that perfectly captures the melancholic beauty of autumn? Then look no further than Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Autumn: A Dirge." This poem is a beautiful exploration of the emotional weight that the changing seasons can carry, and it is a testament to Shelley's skill as a poet.


Before diving into the poem itself, it is important to understand the context in which it was written. Shelley was a Romantic poet, and his work reflected the values and themes of the Romantic movement. This movement was characterized by a focus on emotion, imagination, and the natural world, and Shelley's work is no exception.

"Autumn: A Dirge" was written in 1819, just a few years before Shelley's death. At this time, Shelley was living in Italy with his wife, Mary Shelley, and their young son. It was a tumultuous time in Europe, with political and social unrest sweeping across the continent. Shelley was deeply affected by these events, and his poems often reflect his political and social beliefs.


One of the central themes of "Autumn: A Dirge" is the transience of life. Shelley uses the changing seasons as a metaphor for the passage of time and the inevitability of death. The poem opens with the lines, "The warm sun is failing, the bleak wind is wailing / The bare boughs are sighing, the pale flowers are dying." These images of decay and decline set the tone for the rest of the poem.

Another important theme in the poem is the idea of beauty in sadness. Shelley finds beauty in the melancholy of autumn, and this beauty is reflected in his language and imagery. He writes, "The year's last, loveliest smile / Thou com'st to fill with tears the eyes." This juxtaposition of beauty and sadness is a hallmark of Romantic literature, and it is one of the reasons why Shelley's work remains so powerful today.

Structure and Language

The structure of "Autumn: A Dirge" is relatively simple. It is made up of three stanzas, each of which contains four lines. The rhyme scheme is also simple, with the first and third lines of each stanza rhyming with each other, and the second and fourth lines rhyming with each other. This simplicity allows Shelley's language and imagery to take center stage.

And what language it is! Shelley's use of language in this poem is nothing short of breathtaking. He uses vivid images and powerful metaphors to convey the emotional weight of the changing seasons. Consider the lines, "The pallid, unloved Hecate's crown / Sinks in the blue sky of the twilight bare." These lines are a perfect example of Shelley's ability to create vivid, evocative images with his words.


So what does "Autumn: A Dirge" mean, exactly? While the poem can be interpreted in a variety of ways, one possible reading is that it is a meditation on the fleeting nature of life and the beauty that can be found in sadness. Shelley was no stranger to loss and sorrow, and it is possible that this poem is a reflection of his own experiences with grief.

The use of the word "dirge" in the title of the poem is also significant. A dirge is a funeral song, and this suggests that Shelley is using the changing seasons as a metaphor for death and mourning. The image of the "pallid, unloved Hecate's crown" sinking into the blue sky is particularly powerful in this context, as it evokes the image of a funeral procession.

Finally, it is worth noting that Shelley's love of nature is also evident in this poem. Despite the sadness and decay that is present throughout the poem, there is also a sense of wonder and awe at the natural world. Shelley writes, "And through the quiet moonlight there sails / A serene and silver dove." This image of a dove sailing through the moonlight is a reminder that even in the midst of sadness and loss, there is still beauty to be found in the world around us.


In conclusion, "Autumn: A Dirge" is a powerful poem that uses language and imagery to explore the themes of transience, beauty in sadness, and the wonder of the natural world. Shelley's skill as a poet is evident in every line, and the poem remains a testament to his enduring legacy as one of the greatest Romantic poets of all time. Whether you are a lover of poetry or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of the changing seasons, "Autumn: A Dirge" is a poem that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Autumn is a season that is often associated with melancholy and sadness. The leaves fall from the trees, the days grow shorter, and the temperature drops. It is a time of transition, a time of letting go. Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Autumn: A Dirge" captures the essence of this season, exploring themes of death, decay, and the passing of time.

The poem begins with a description of the autumn landscape. Shelley paints a picture of a world in decline, where the "yellow leaves" are falling from the trees and the "red leaves" are scattered on the ground. The "wind" is blowing, and the "clouds" are gathering, creating a sense of foreboding and impending doom.

The second stanza of the poem introduces the theme of death. Shelley writes that "the mournful melody" of autumn is "the dirge of the year." A dirge is a funeral song, and Shelley is suggesting that autumn is a time of mourning for the passing of the year. The "wailful choir" of the "wind" and the "rain" adds to the sense of sadness and loss.

In the third stanza, Shelley explores the idea of decay. He writes that the "flowers" have "all withered away," and the "fruits" have "fallen." The "grass" is "faded," and the "woods" are "bare." This imagery creates a sense of desolation and emptiness, as if the world is slowly dying.

The fourth stanza of the poem introduces the idea of time. Shelley writes that "the year is dying in the night." This line suggests that autumn is a time of transition, a time when one year is ending and another is beginning. The "frost" and the "cold" are also mentioned, emphasizing the idea that winter is coming and that the world is preparing for a long period of darkness and cold.

The fifth stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful. Shelley writes that "the days are gone when beauty brightened life." This line suggests that the world was once a place of beauty and wonder, but that this beauty has now faded away. The "sun" no longer shines as brightly, and the "moon" no longer casts its "silver light." The world is now a darker, more somber place.

The final stanza of the poem brings the themes of death, decay, and time together. Shelley writes that "the world is in its autumn," and that "man is in his youth." This line suggests that just as the world is in a state of decline, so too is humanity. We are all slowly moving towards our own deaths, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. The "death-bed" of the year is also mentioned, emphasizing the idea that autumn is a time of endings and farewells.

In conclusion, Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Autumn: A Dirge" is a powerful exploration of the themes of death, decay, and the passing of time. Through his use of vivid imagery and powerful language, Shelley creates a sense of sadness and loss that is both haunting and beautiful. The poem reminds us that autumn is a time of transition, a time of letting go, and that we must all eventually face our own mortality.

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