Placing so much value on them now, wishing them to stay longer as they disappear, I wonder whether I gave them the attention they deserved from spring through summer. "First known when lost." Or something like that.
I am reminded of two lines from a poem by Ishikawa Jozan (1583-1672) about fallen cherry blossoms in spring: "When blossoms were at their finest I neglected to call./The blossoms did not betray me. I betrayed the blossoms." Burton Watson (editor and translator), Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jozan and Other Edo-Period Poets (North Point Press 1990).
He would have liked to find a use for leaves,
So simple a thing it seemed, so many of them
Flying and falling, going to waste and wet
And stopping up the gutters and the drains
Or drying in the still November days
Until swept into heaps, gone up in smoke
As if all summer's shade had never been.
And so he dreamed, and idly enough,
For many summers, many falls, until
His spell upon the earth was done, come time
To fall, while the useless leaves still came and went,
And the green had told him nothing, nor the sere,
That he might leave for men to profit by.
Howard Nemerov, War Stories: Poems about Long Ago and Now (University of Chicago Press 1987).
Funny thing about leaves: they have no agenda; they pay us no mind. Imagine being nothing but yourself.
John Milne Donald, "Autumn Leaves" (1864)
However many years pass, my heart-of-autumn feeling will always come from 50 or so years ago, in the lost land of Minnesota. The earthy scent that comes after jumping into a pile of raked-up oak leaves. At dusk, looking down the street at neighbors standing beside their smoky piles of burning leaves. No, we shan't have any of that anymore, shall we? Someone's idea of "Progress": an autumn world without the smell of burning leaves.
Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.
I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.
I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?
Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.
Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?
Robert Frost, New Hampshire (1923).
"And who's to say where/The harvest shall stop?" Is this one of those mischievous Frostian endings? Is it an expression of joy at the inexhaustible beauty of the wondrous World around us? Or is it a reminder of mortality?
Alexander Brownlie Docharty, "An Autumn Day" (c. 1917)
All of this abundance comes our way unbidden, unasked for.
The wind has brought
enough fallen leaves
To make a fire.
Ryokan (1758-1831) (translated by John Stevens), in John Stevens, One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan (Weatherhill 1977).
As I suggested in a recent post: gratitude ought to be with us always. "Who's to say where the harvest shall stop?"
William Samuel Jay, "At the Fall of Leaf, Arundel Park, Sussex" (1883)