Monday, October 4, 2010

"When I Said Autumn, Autumn Broke": Elizabeth Jennings

Because October is my favorite month and because autumn is my favorite season, please bear with me as I pursue a seasonal theme.  Here is a poem by Elizabeth Jennings from one of her early collections.  (Collections which are well worth returning to.)

   Song at the Beginning of Autumn

Now watch this autumn that arrives
In smells.  All looks like summer still;
Colours are quite unchanged, the air
On green and white serenely thrives.
Heavy the trees with growth and full
The fields.  Flowers flourish everywhere.

Proust who collected time within
A child's cake would understand
The ambiguity of this --
Summer still raging while a thin
Column of smoke stirs from the land
Proving that autumn gropes for us.

But every season is a kind
Of rich nostalgia.  We give names --
Autumn and summer, winter, spring --
As though to unfasten from the mind
Our moods and give them outward forms.
We want the certain, solid thing.

But I am carried back against
My will into a childhood where
Autumn is bonfires, marbles, smoke;
I lean against my window fenced
From evocations in the air.
When I said autumn, autumn broke.

Elizabeth Jennings, A Way of Looking (1955).

Ah, those long-lost innocent days before the authorities banned the burning of leaves!  Yes, yes, our World is no doubt a healthier and cleaner place than it was in those benighted times -- with the help of experts we are surely progressing toward a pristine state.  And yet, is autumn autumn without the scent of leaf-smoke?

                                              Stanley Roy Badmin
                       "Matlock Bank on an Autumn Afternoon" (1962)

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