Is Keats’ poem on Pilgrims’ Way and not at St Cross?

Winchester Cathedral: Which way did Keats go?

Two hundred years ago today John Keats wrote his poem called To Autumn.

It was written on Sunday 19 September 1819 in Winchester about Winchester which for years has promoted a Keats Walk along the River Itchen from Winchester College to St Cross.

New research suggests that his walk was not to the south but along the first mile or so of the Pilgrims’ Way (waymarked St Swithun’s Way) between Hyde Abbey and Abbott’s Barton.

Here “Keats saw barns, apple orchards and stubble fields,” says Hyde 900 which is promoting a guided walk along Nuns Walk on Sunday evening.

Keats makes no mention of the Pilgrims’ Way by name although earlier he had seen other stretches by moonlight.

However, Keats does start his poem in the manner of Chaucer using the word season which appears in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales. Keats knew Southwark and its Chaucer association having lodged as a student in St Thomas Street round the corner from The Tabard Inn.

On Sunday the walk leader will be referring to Charles Ball’s 1818 guide book to Hyde. The event is part of Winchester heritage week.

To Autumn by John Keats 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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