The context in which a poem was written can sometimes tell you more about its themes, message and meaning.

Some questions you might ask include:

  • are aspects of the poet’s life reflected in the poem?
  • is the time or place in which it was written reflected in the poem?

You will need to research the poet’s background to discover answers to these questions. But if you do write about a poem and its context, be careful to include only details that reveal something about the poem.

Context of 'To Autumn'

A portait of poet, John Keats
Keats wrote 'To Autumn' after being inspired by a walk he had taken through the countryside

Keats is generally classified as one of the Romantic poets. Romanticism was a general artistic movement (literature, music, the visual arts, etc.) which dominated European culture from the last part of the 18th century until the mid-19th century. Among its key aspects were:

  • a deep appreciation of the power and beauty of nature
  • a recognition of the influence of the senses and of personal emotion
  • an understanding of the deeper meaning of life

All of these may be seen at work in Keats’ To Autumn which reflects on mankind’s relationship with a particular time of year. He wrote the poem inspired by a walk he had taken through the countryside; it is, therefore, a highly personal response.

Keats initially trained as a surgeon but gave it up to write poetry. Six months after completing To Autumn, he experienced the first signs of the tuberculosis that would end his life. In the poem it is almost as though the medically-trained poet has understood that his life will soon end and he is preparing himself for death. Keats died in 1821 aged just 25. Despite his short life, Keats has had a major impact on poetry and is regarded as one of the most important poets in literary history.

More about commenting on context.