Themes

War

In An Autumn Day, MacLean gives a first-hand account of battle. He is closely involved; immediately caught up in this moment.

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Six men dead at my shoulder

This phrase puts the poet right in the middle of the scene and suggests that it is only chance that has prevented MacLean from dying with his comrades.

MacLean bears witness to the death of comrades but there is no glory in An Autumn Day.

This is a sombre poem that dwells of the destruction of war. War is shown as horrifying, chaotic and disorientation:

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blinding of eyes, splitting of hearing.

This is presented in powerful contrast to the idyllic surroundings - the stars of Africa, jewelled and beautiful. War is something man-made – separate from nature and beauty.

Death

An Autumn Day presents life as fragile and death as something random. The personalities and actions of the men killed are not revealed. War and death are things that have happened to them, regardless of their actions or personalities.

Like the unknown soldier they are everymen. They could be any soldiers, even MacLean himself. Knowing nothing of the men in An Autumn Day or of their actions, their deaths are anonymous and universal. Death does not judge, it is indifferent to who it takes.

Time

As in many of MacLean’s poems, An Autumn Day contrasts fleeting human existence with the enormity of time and the universe in which we live.

Hallaig considers changes to community and life over periods of many years, while Shores and I Gave You Immortality use the scale of time to explore the strength of love, desire and relationships.

Although an An Autumn Day only takes place within a single day, the deaths portrayed happens quickly that even that one day seems to stretch on forever. MacLean builds this effect through repetition - referring to the whole day and then:

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in the morning,/and again at midday/and in the evening.