Lucy Vickery

Keats and Covid: poems about autumn

Keats and Covid: poems about autumn
‘This autumn John Keats’ vision is reset…’ Credit: corradobarattaphotos
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In Competition No. 3169 you were invited to submit a poem about autumn in which the last letter of each line becomes the first of the following line.

Many of you wrote in praise of what the novelist Charlotte Mendelson has described as ‘the loveliness of rotting nature’; a time when nature feels at its most alive. But, in this gloomiest of autumns, there were haters too.

Honourable mentions go to Richard Spencer, Tim Raikes, John Priestland, R.M. Goddard, Phillip Warke, David Silverman, David Shields, Maggie McLean, Paul Freeman, Janine Beacham and Hannah Killough (aged ten). The best, in a hotly contested week, are printed below and earn their authors £30 apiece.

Season of mists’ — OK, give it a rest.

This autumn John Keats’ vision is reset.

Time to recalibrate ‘maturing sun’.

Nature’s surrendered to the internet.


Tracking down Covid tests, checking the news;

such now our seasonal activity.

Yet solemnly we trace our future’s track,

knowing ‘late flowers’ might be the last we’ll see.


Each day begins (Today) with Radio Four}

reminding us how Covid, creeping, slips

soft as a breeze among the turning leaves,

silent as autumn’s music on masked lips.


Swallows have gone and Twitter rules, and now

Westminster stumbles on, with each mishap

packed as with ‘fumes of poppies’, sound asleep.

Picked all the apples? Now download the App.


D.A. Prince
Summer wanes and sadly passes; autumn’s crop of lads and lasses,

Summoned back to daily classes, seem (a few, at least) uncheerful,

Loath to tolerate existence ruled by masks and social distance,

Even minimal resistance earning dissidents an earful.


Let’s remember to remind them autumn twenty one will find them,

Mask-encumbered days behind them, far from present-day dejections,

Showing boldly what creative adolescent minds are made of,

Free to exercise their native gifts for rowdy insurrections.


So don’t hesitate to mention, now and then, to ease their tension,

Normal seasonal conventions while the leaves are slowly turning

Gold with chlorophyll receding: harvest feasting, trick-or-treating,

Goblins, witches, fortune reading, sparkling nights and bonfires burning.


Give each restive pre-alumnus otherwise absorbed in glumness

Something of the true autumnus: Earth, assure them, on its axis

Spinning seasons, sails through space in cycles none can slow or hasten;

Next year, masks will find their place in Halloween, not prophylaxis.

Alex Steelsmith
This year the Harvest Festival is off,

Fallen foul of lockdown legislation;

Now everyone suspects the slightest cough,

Here, there can be no such celebration.

New Normal is a phrase some people dread,

Despite the fact that no one has a clue

Exactly what it means — but when it’s said,

Do people ask the speaker, ‘So what’s new?


With Autumn we’re aware of what comes next —

The leaves, like us, will fade, and some will fall,

Lamentably; we’ll face the winter vexed,

Dismayed to think the Reaper’s set to call.

Let’s risk the Harvest Home one final time.’

Emerging after months of isolation

New converts to a life of social crime,

Eagerly we join the congregation.

C. Paul Evans
The mists and mellow fruitfulness won’t stem

My loathing of the season. Tell me how,

With common colds and sinus blocked with phlegm,

My heart can sing of whistling redbreasts now?

When fruit is showing ‘ripeness to the core’,

Every clock goes back, and days grow short,

The cold sets in, our heating bills will soar,

Red warnings fill the weatherman’s report.


‘To bend with apples?’ Windfalls on the ground,

Devoured by wasps, are rotting where they lie.

Each withered leaf has fallen; all around

Decaying heaps need raking, by and by.

Your schmaltzy line: ‘the light wind lives or dies’

Says nothing of the devastating blast

That autumn brings. It’s all a pack of lies

So spare us from your verse when summer’s past.

Sylvia Fairley
Autumn is an awesome season,

Nuts and fruit and golden leaves.

Spring and summer make provision,

Now we harvest ripened sheaves.

Sadly, though, our orchards fruitful

Last for just a little space.

Everything that paints our meadow

Will be gone without a trace.

Everything that makes us joyous

Soon will meet with winter’s spite,

Everything in rainbow colours

Shall turn grey or black as night.

Therefore let’s enjoy our blessing,

Gather windfalls while we may;

Youth and autumn, though they’re pleasing,

Give brief joy then rush away.

Frank McDonald

No 3172: now we are six

You are invited to submit a poem about the government’s coronavirus messaging. Email up to 16 lines to by midday on 21 October. We are now returning to paying winners by cheque, unless you state on your entry that you would prefer to be paid by bank transfer.