Dear Readers, we woke up to a fine old foggy morning this morning – it’s just starting to brighten up but the collared doves are still confused, bless them. It got me to thinking about the only autumn poem that people regularly quote, Keats’s ‘Ode to Autumn’. I think it’s been ruined for many people because it was badly taught at school, which is a shame because it is actually rather beautiful, and well-observed – I love the ‘wailful choir’ of small gnats, and ‘thy hair soft-lifted by a winnowing wind’….
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.
However, it isn’t all about Keats. I make no apology for posting this poem by Clive James again, because it is one of those poems that leaves a silence when you finish it.
Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colours will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
On a more cheerful note, this poem by Gillian Clarke is rich and full of the bounty of the time, and the interconnectedness of things.
When their time comes they fall
without wind, without rain.
They seep through the trees’ muslin
in a slow fermentation.
Daily the low sun warms them
in a late love that is sweeter
than summer. In bed at night
we hear heartbeat of fruitfall.
The secretive slugs crawl home
to the burst honeys, are found
in the morning mouth on mouth,
We spread patchwork counterpanes
for a clean catch. Baskets fill,
never before such harvest,
such a hunters’ moon burning
the hawthorns, drunk on syrups
that are richer by night
when spiders pitch
tents in the wet grass.
This morning the red sun
is opening like a rose
on our white wall, prints there
the fishbone shadow of a fern.
The early blackbirds fly
guilty from a dawn haul
of fallen fruit. We too
breakfast on sweetnesses.
Soon plum trees will be bone,
grown delicate with frost’s
formalities. Their black
angles will tear the snow.
And finally, here’s a John Clare poem that I hadn’t read before. He always paints such a clear picture of the English countryside as it used to be. I particularly like the final verse – I was once lucky enough to see a sow and a dozen piglets in the New Forest feasting on acorns, and what a sight it was!
I love the fitfull gusts that shakes
The casement all the day
And from the mossy elm tree takes
The faded leaf away
Twirling it by the window-pane
With thousand others down the lane
I love to see the shaking twig
Dance till the shut of eve
The sparrow on the cottage rig
Whose chirp would make believe
That spring was just now flirting by
In summers lap with flowers to lie
I love to see the cottage smoke
Curl upwards through the naked trees
The pigeons nestled round the coat
On dull November days like these
The cock upon the dung-hill crowing
The mill sails on the heath a-going
The feather from the ravens breast
Falls on the stubble lea
The acorns near the old crows nest
Fall pattering down the tree
The grunting pigs that wait for all
Scramble and hurry where they fall
And so, over to you lovely readers! Do you have a favourite autumn poem? Share away!
This is one of my favorites. I remember those sweet early years with my son, naming things and seeing his delight in everything.
by Maggie Smith
I’m your guide here. In the evening-dark
morning streets, I point and name.
Look, the sycamores, their mottled,
paint-by-number bark. Look, the leaves
rusting and crisping at the edges.
I walk through Schiller Park with you
on my chest. Stars smolder well
into daylight. Look, the pond, the ducks,
the dogs paddling after their prized sticks.
Fall is when the only things you know
because I’ve named them
begin to end. Soon I’ll have another
season to offer you: frost soft
on the window and a porthole
sighed there, ice sleeving the bare
gray branches. The first time you see
something die, you won’t know it might
come back. I’m desperate for you
to love the world because I brought you here.
~from Good Bones, 2017
While this is not specifically an autumn poem, the pairing of apples and worms make me think of autumn, similar to the plums and slugs of Clarke’s poem. And it addresses death too, with gentle humor.
Feeding the Worms
by Danusha Laméris
Ever since I found out that earth worms have taste buds
all over the delicate pink strings of their bodies,
I pause dropping apple peels into the compost bin, imagine
the dark, writhing ecstasy, the sweetness of apples
permeating their pores. I offer beets and parsley,
avocado, and melon, the feathery tops of carrots.
I’d always thought theirs a menial life, eyeless and hidden,
almost vulgar—though now, it seems, they bear a pleasure
so sublime, so decadent, I want to contribute however I can,
forgetting, a moment, my place on the menu.
Oh! As I was searching for the Maggie Smith poem, I came across this. I like “ignitions of goldenrod” and “the sun like a shawl on my neck.” The last month or so, we have had quite a bit of late-season warm weather, and some flowers that should be faded are still going strong.
And Now Its September
by Barbara Crooker
and the garden diminishes: cucumber leaves rumpled
and rusty, zucchini felled by borers, tomatoes sparse
on the vines. But out in the perennial beds, there’s one last
blast of color: ignitions of goldenrod, flamboyant
asters, spiraling mums, all those flashy spikes waving
in the wind, conducting summer’s final notes.
The ornamental grasses have gone to seed, haloed
in the last light. Nights grow chilly, but the days
are still warm; I wear the sun like a shawl on my neck
and arms. Hundreds of blackbirds ribbon in, settle
in the trees, so many black leaves, then, just as suddenly,
they’re gone. This is autumn’s great Departure Gate,
and everyone, boarding passes in hand, waits
patiently in a long, long line.
I’m definitely doing a second autumn poetry post, these are gorgeous…
Goodness – what a bonus of delightful poetry today!