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by Robert Louis Stevenson
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!
Autumn Fires is a 12 line poem broken into three 4 line stanzas, with an ABCB rhyme scheme in each stanza.
In this stanza, we see the Speaker sets up the metaphor that he uses throughout the poem. He compares the autumnal changing of the leaves to a bonfire – with perhaps the red leaves representing the “red fire” or flames. He does not clarify the metaphor’s meaning right away, though. That comes later. Lines one and two describe “other gardens” and “the vale.” The vale is a way to describe a valley – so the implication then is that the Speaker has a great view of the surrounding landscape. In this context, we should also view the use of “smoke trail” in line four as metaphorical.
In the second tower, the Speaker makes clear that his “fires” are a metaphor. He tells us in line 5 that “summer [is] over.” The changing of the leaves coincides with the death of summer’s flowers – so the Speaker has created an image of the leaves as a fire consuming those leaves. Again he makes a reference to symbolic smoke in line 8, as in line 4. Steven’s use and reuse of words like “smoke,” “fire,” “summer,” etc. is called “repetition.”
The third stanza is similar to the first two with much of the same imagery. Line 9 is an example of poetic alliteration using words that start with “s.” The Speaker spells out his intended message here in Line 9 by letting us know that he is discussing the changing of the seasons. Since we know that fall is not commonly associated with fires, it is clear then that the “fire” he is referring to is a metaphor for the changing of the leaves to red – which coincides with the death of summer’s flowers.
It is unclear – though likely – the Stevenson intends for his poem to be more broad in meaning that a commentary on the changing of seasons only. The Speaker seems to be celebrating change, or perhaps even death, more generally. Rather than mourning the end of summer, and the death of its flowers, he is celebrating the changing of the leaves. By equating the fall with a “fire” he is – as expressed directly in line 10 – telling us that there is something “bright” even in the seasonal transition associated with death. Life always contains change and it does no good to bemoan what must be. Instead, he seems to be encouraging the Reader to find ways to celebrate change.
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