Friday, October 18, 2013

"The Falling Of The Leaves"

The two autumn poems by Arthur Symons in my previous post got me to thinking of autumn poems by another turn-of-the-century poet:  W. B. Yeats.  As I age, I find myself drawn more and more to the Yeats of the Celtic Twilight period.  Although Yeats's egotism and haughtiness have always been a stumbling block for me, I have never lost my fondness for the romantic, dreamy, love-struck poems of his early years (say up until about 1903, when In the Seven Woods was published).

Many of us went through a period of youthful infatuation with the poems of the younger Yeats.  And though the years have taught us a few things (as they taught Yeats), the poems are redolent of the time when I first read them.  They can still make the heart skip a beat -- for the poem itself and for what it brings back.

William Jay, "At the Fall of Leaf, Arundel Park, Sussex" (1883)

            The Falling of the Leaves

Autumn is over the long leaves that love us,
And over the mice in the barley sheaves;
Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us,
And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.

The hour of the waning of love has beset us,
And weary and worn are our sad souls now;
Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us,
With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow.

W. B. Yeats, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889).

Alexander Docharty, "An Autumn Day" (c. 1917)


'Your eyes that once were never weary of mine
Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,
Because our love is waning.'
                                                      And then she:
'Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the lone border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, Passion, falls asleep:
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!'

Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,
While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:
'Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.'

The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves
Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once
A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;
Autumn was over him:  and now they stood
On the lone border of the lake once more:
Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves
Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,
In bosom and hair.
                                      'Ah, do not mourn,' he said,
'That we are tired, for other loves await us;
Hate on and love through unrepining hours.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.'

W. B. Yeats, Ibid.

Well, well.  Whew.  Sigh.  There was a time when I had the whole thing by heart.  It's a laundry list of youthful romantic melancholy, isn't it?  "How far away the stars seem, and how far/Is our first kiss . . . Passion has often worn our wandering hearts . . . our souls/Are love, and a continual farewell."  My favorite is:  " . . . the yellow leaves/Fell like faint meteors in the gloom."

Thomas Hardy certainly got it right in the closing stanza of "I Look Into My Glass":

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

Or, as a troubadour was newly singing in those long ago days when I was immersed in Yeats: "Either I'm too sensitive or else I'm getting soft." Another heartbreaking ode on the same theme:

Sundown, yellow moon, I replay the past.
I know every scene by heart, they all went by so fast.

John Milne Donald, "Autumn Leaves" (1864)


Anonymous said...

Tennyson's poem "Tears, Idle Tears" captures the inherent melancholy autumn can induce. Something about the season, the shedding of the leaves, even the shape of the sky, elicits introspection, the seeming paradox of looking on the happy autumn fields and thinking of the days that are no more. Something about autumn, the falling leaves, dark coming earlier now ". . . makes the heart put up its fun / And turn philosopher."

Tears, Idle Tears

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you very much for the thoughts on autumn, and for the Tennyson -- as well as for the bit of Dickinson. I agree: autumn does encourage introspection, doesn't it?

Thanks again.

Ron Ireland said...

Thank you so much for your blog.

Stephen Pentz said...

Billy Budd: thank you for the kind words. I'm very happy that you found your way here, and I hope you'll keep returning. Thank you again.

Smiley said...

This is the most interesting blog I have alighted upon in... well, ever. Have you ever posted on how your passion for literature (and the life of the mind) originated ?
Thank you.

Stephen Pentz said...

Smiley: thank you very much for the kind words, which I greatly appreciate. I'm happy that you found your way here, and I hope that you will return.

No, I haven't ever posted on the subjects you mentioned. And I fear that I wouldn't have much of interest to say on the topic! I write about things that have always interested me. How those interests arose, I can't remember. Moreover, I feel that I am woefully ignorant and have barely scratched the surface of the world. We are all in the same position on these matters, don't you think? Trying to find our way the best we can.

Again, thank you very much.