A few days ago I walked past a big-leaf maple. About thirty feet tall, it had only a few hundred yellow and brown leaves remaining on its branches. I stopped to look up at the leaves, which were set against a blue sky scattered with white and grey clouds, remnants of a storm that had recently passed through. The blue above was bright, illuminated by the rays of the late afternoon sun, which was hidden by the clouds. The yellow emanations from an unseen source seemed to give the blue a greater depth, a greater distance. Unreachably beautiful.
As I looked, suddenly, but only for an instant, I was a child on a cold autumn afternoon in Minnesota, gazing up at the leaves of a tree against a blue and grey sky. 1962? 1963? I couldn't say. But I was not "remembering" that childhood day in Minnesota: in that instant, I was there. It was a matter of feeling, not of recollection. I was in two times and in two places at once. For better or worse, nothing had changed. There I was and here I am. One and the same. And then the instant was gone.
The prisoners of infinite choice
Have built their house
In a field below the wood
And are at peace.
It is autumn, and dead leaves
On their way to the river
Scratch like birds at the windows
Or tick on the road.
Somewhere there is an afterlife
Of dead leaves,
A stadium filled with an infinite
Rustling and sighing.
Somewhere in the heaven
Of lost futures
The lives we might have led
Have found their own fulfilment.
Derek Mahon, The Snow Party (Oxford University Press 1975).
William Samuel Jay (1843-1933)
"At the Fall of Leaf, Arundel Park, Sussex" (1883)
My beloved tree tunnels are not what they were three months ago. But they remain lovely. The leaves that are left still rustle in the wind, but in a different key. One walks toward, and into, an open, mottled world of gold and red and brown, a patchwork of colors overhead and at one's feet, not into a closed, deep-green world. The light and air within take on the color of the leaves. "The world is a continual change," Marcus Aurelius tells us. (Meditations, Book IV, Section 3; translated by Francis Hutcheson and James Moor, 1742.) "Earth never grieves!" So Thomas Hardy reminds us. ("Autumn in King's Hintock Park.") And, finally, Ryōkan quietly says: "The wind has brought/enough fallen leaves/to make a fire." (Translated by John Stevens, 1977.) Nothing is awry.
Yellow tunnels under the trees, long avenues
Long as the whole of time:
A single aimless man
Carries a black garden broom.
He is too far to hear him
Wading through the leaves, down autumn
Tunnels, under yellow leaves, long avenues.
Geoffrey Grigson, The Collected Poems of Geoffrey Grigson 1924-1962 (Phoenix House 1963).
John Milne Donald (1819-1866), "Autumn Leaves" (1864)