Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"I Tread On Many Autumns Here"

Over the weekend we had a strong wind-storm, and the trees have now lost most of their leaves.  I'm not inclined to hear voices when I am out and about in the World.  Today, however, as I walked beneath bare branches, through piles of fallen leaves, I heard the trees say something along these lines:  That's it.  We're done.  Ah, look at the waste around us!  It's sad, isn't it?

Have no fear.  I'm not going mad.  I did not reply.

William Rothenstein (1872-1945), "St Martin's Summer"

The images of leaves underfoot in C. H. Sisson's "Leaves," which appeared here recently, reminded me of the following poem by Andrew Young.

      Walking in Beech Leaves

I tread on many autumns here
     But with no pride,
For at the leaf-fall of each year
     I also died.

This is last autumn, crisp and brown,
     That my knees feel;
But through how many years sinks down
     My sullen heel.

Andrew Young, Collected Poems (Rupert Hart-Davis 1960).

The poems by Sisson and Young in turn bring to mind the second stanza of Robert Frost's "In Hardwood Groves," which I have posted here before:

Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up.
They must go down into the dark decayed.

Gilbert Spencer, "Burdens Farm with Melbury Beacon" (1943)

Well, one way or another, leaves -- and we -- reach the same destination. The World provides us with any number of symbols and metaphors and allegories for our journey towards this destination.  If forced to choose among the options, I would opt for leafhood.

        June Leaves and Autumn

Lush summer lit the trees to green;
     But in the ditch hard by
Lay dying boughs some hand unseen
Had lopped when first with festal mien
     They matched their mates on high.
It seemed a melancholy fate
That leaves but brought to birth so late
     Should rust there, red and numb,
In quickened fall, while all their race
Still joyed aloft in pride of place
     With store of days to come.

At autumn-end I fared that way,
     And traced those boughs fore-hewn
Whose leaves, awaiting their decay
In slowly browning shades, still lay
     Where they had lain in June
And now, no less embrowned and curst
Than if they had fallen with the first,
     Nor known a morning more,
Lay there alongside, dun and sere,
Those that at my last wandering here
     Had length of days in store.

Thomas Hardy, Winter Words in Various Moods and Metres (1928).

James Bateman, "Lulington Church" (1939)


b. floyd said...

If the sad trees spoke to you, lamenting the denuding of the leaves, then you are in good company. Dickinson says the leaves "conferred" with her (see poem below). You and Dickinson make the same point: nature, the seemingly prosaic quotidian, is never just completely literal to a self-conscious creature. When Whitman heard the learned astronomer, he left the lecture and went outside to gaze at the bright night sky. It's the same with autumn, the leaves turning gold and sere and yellow, and then, inexorably, falling to the earth. It's something we view and ponder about, hot something we attempt to explain. We can, if we want, find out the reason this inevitable event occurs every autumn; but does it matter to the human imagination? The voices we hear from the trees and the leaves spiraling to the ground say nothing of chlorophyll and the such: they speak to our hearts, remind of the human predicament. We have no place to hide from our self-consciousness.

To my quick ear the Leaves -- conferred --
The Bushes -- they were Bells --
I could not find a Privacy
From Nature's sentinels --

In Cave if I presumed to hide
The Walls -- begun to tell --
Creation seemed a mighty Crack --
To make me visible --

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Floyd: thank you very much for the lovely thoughts on autumn, and for once again sharing something from Dickinson. As always, she looks at things in a way that one never expects and in a way that causes one to look at things anew.

As ever, I appreciate hearing from you.

Bovey Belle said...

Another new Thomas Hardy poem - thank you. It calls to mind the beach tree felled one spring, on a hillside going into town. It cheerfully put out leaves, only for them to wither and brown and be a corner of autumn in a summer field.

The Robert Frost poem I know well and love and the Andrew Young poem encapsulates what we all feel at times, walking through the leafmould of a former generation, so deep is it.

The intensity of the blue in the Rothenstein picture lifts the spirits, although I would have all three pictures on my wall in there was room in my wee office!

Bovey Belle said...

P.S. And then there is that wonderful line from Edward Thomas's poem 'The Small Long Room' - "The hundred last leaves stream upon the willow", with the clever juxtaposition of the words 'hundred' and 'last' making such a difference to its resonance and mind's-eye picture.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: thank you very much for your thoughts. I like the anecdote of the fallen beech tree: it fits well with Hardy's poem, with the lovely additional touch of it briefly putting out green leaves. And thank you for reminding me of the last line of Thomas's poem: that line is one of my favorites.

I am very fond of all three paintings as well. I think at least two of them have appeared here before, but I cannot help returning to them.

Thanks for stopping by again.