The poetry of autumn
I do not grieve the passing of summer the way some folks I know do. Indeed, I grew up in a household where the turning leaves evoked a collective sigh of dismay, as if the ungreening of foliage were signaling another inevitable death march into darkening afternoons and mornings too cold to bear. As the youngest of the clan, I took this analysis somewhat in stride, and chalked it up to just one more piece of evidence that I must have been switched at birth.
We lived in New England, for crying out loud. New England, the quintessential canvas for Mother Nature’s autumn palette. How anyone could squeeze out a drop of dismay over that was beyond me. But these are not perceptions easy to articulate when you’re a child. It’s often easier to believe that yours are the ‘wrong’ perceptions, especially if all the older people in your world tell you so. But I was fortunate. From an early age, I was emboldened as an individual through books. Therein lay a world of language and images that reinforced my sense of identity and reassured me that my way of looking at things was not so ‘wrong’ after all.
And to think that I saw Jack Sprat burning leaves on Mulberry Street
Like most children, I loved poetry, and after I had outgrown Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss, I continued to prefer my poetry books over everything else on the shelf. In A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson, there was an illustration of a girl about my age, watching the smoke rise from a pile of burning leaves. The poem was Autumn Fires:
‘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! ’
I thought that was one of the most beautiful things I had ever read. I could actually hear the leaves crackling and smell the nutty autumn smoke. And not a smidgen of dismay.
There is also no dismay in the viewpoint of Albert Camus,: ‘Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.’ And no one could express my own sentiment better than George Eliot: ‘Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.’ I do love poetic language, and especially a thoughtfully written poem, like this vivid excerpt from The Milkweed by Cecil Cavendish: ‘The milkweed pods are breaking, / And the bits of silken down / Float off upon the autumn breeze / Across the meadows brown.’ And this from Vagabond Song by Bliss Carman: ‘There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood— / Touch of manner, hint of mood; / And my heart is like a rhyme, / With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.’
Ah, the elusive Pulitzer
These were the sort of expressions that inspired an eight-year-old girl to write: ‘The view from my bed / Will soon be very red. / The maples that were green / Are now somewhere in between.’ (No, I did not win a Pulitzer, but I still remember that little poem of mine from 1962!) I regret that I neither read nor write as much poetry as I did in my youth, and that regret is most nudged in the fall, when I tend to be stirred into an annual renewal of my poetic self. Reading the inspired ‘autumn language’ of others more gifted than I still manages to reassure me (despite the bale of my summer-worshiping family) that my personal enchantment with autumn puts me in the company of a great many lovers of the season.