Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Autumn Deepens

Yesterday was a blustery, but clear, day.  The overall impression was golden:  gold trees against the sky-blue sky and against the dark-blue waters of Puget Sound; gold leaves swirling around my feet, following me down the lane.

And then a black serpent crossed my path.  But this was no ominous serpent:  ten inches long and a quarter-inch in diameter, it was only out to bask in the sun.  As I crouched down to have a closer look, its tiny tongue flicked as it proceeded on its way.

I felt that this was just the sort of incident one could write a haiku about. The components might be:  autumn wind; yellow leaves; a path; a black snake.  However, because I believe that haiku is best left to the Japanese, for whom it reflects over 400 years of tradition and practice, I do not feel qualified to attempt one.

Instead, I offer an autumn haiku by Basho.  Basho may be described, in terms of stature, as the Shakespeare of Japanese literature.  And, to be fair and accurate, I should also say that Shakespeare may be described, in terms of stature, as the Basho of English literature.

                  Paul Maitland, "Autumn, Kensington Gardens" (c. 1906)

     Deep autumn;
My neighbor, --
     How does he live?

Basho (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952).

The English transliteration (i.e., romaji) of the original Japanese is:

aki fukaki
tonari wa nani o
suru hito zo

Aki is "autumn."  Fukaki is "deep."  Tonari is "beside; next to; next-door." Wa is a grammatical particle that serves to identify tonari as the subject (after a fashion).  Nani is "what."  Suru is the verb "to do."  Hito is "person."  O is a particle that serves to identify nani as the object (after a fashion) of suru/suru hito.  Zo is a particle of emphasis (something along the lines of "!", but perhaps not as emphatic).  Please note that these glosses are based upon my inexpert and limited knowledge of the Japanese language.

                                       Paul Maitland, "Hyacinth" (c. 1883)

Two alternative translations follow.

Autumn has deepened,
I wonder what he does,
The man living next door!

Translation by Toshiharu Oseko, in Basho's Haiku (1990).

In this late autumn,
my next-door neighbor --
how does he get by?

Translation by Sam Hamill, in The Essential Basho (Shambhala 1999).

If I had my druthers, I would opt for "what does he do?" or "what is he doing?"  With a meaning that embodies both a literal/external sense and an emotional/internal sense.  The gist might be:  "How is he or she -- like me -- making it through these deepening days of autumn?"  The problem is that "nani o suru hito" is -- no surprise here -- hard to bring over into English.

         Paul Maitland, "Fall of the Leaves, Kensington Gardens" (c. 1900)

Monday, October 29, 2012

"How Beautifully It Falls"

In my previous post, I blithely asserted, without citing any evidence, that autumn can be the stillest time of year.  One of the things that I had in mind was standing beneath a tree, on a windless day, and seeing a single leaf fall to the ground.

I have previously posted Charles Tomlinson's "Elemental" and "One Day of Autumn," which are lovely evocations of such an event.  As is Andrew Young's "The Leaf," which has also appeared here.  In the following poem, Kathleen Raine ponders the implications of such a leaf-fall.

                         James McIntosh Patrick, "Glamis Village" (1939)

            The Leaf

'How beautifully it falls,' you said,
As a leaf turned and twirled
On invisible wind upheld,
How airily to ground
Prolongs its flight.

You for a leaf-fall forgot
Old age, loneliness,
Body's weary frame,
Crippled hands, failing sense,
Unkind world and its pain.

What did that small leaf sign
To you, troth its gold
Plight 'twixt you and what unseen
Messenger to the heart
From a fair, simple land?

Kathleen Raine, The Oval Portrait (1977).

In considering the possible relationship between a single leaf and a single life, it may be helpful to know that Raine was a devotee of the poetry of William Blake.  Thus, Blake's "To see a World in a Grain of Sand" (from "Auguries of Innocence") may be at play in the background of the poem.

                      James McIntosh Patrick, "Autumn, Kinnordy" (1936)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Autumn Refrain"

The nightingale is not, alas, native to the United States.  Thus, its sound is something that we can only imagine, or experience vicariously through the wonder of the Internet.  In the following poem, Wallace Stevens considers the nightingale's absence, an absence that is heightened by its recurrent presence in English poetry.  Commentators on the poem suggest that Stevens is referring to Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale."

                       George Allsopp, "Wharfedale Landscape" (c. 1960)

                    Autumn Refrain

The skreak and skritter of evening gone
And grackles gone and sorrows of the sun,
The sorrows of sun, too, gone . . . the moon and moon,
The yellow moon of words about the nightingale
In measureless measures, not a bird for me
But the name of a bird and the name of a nameless air
I have never -- shall never hear.  And yet beneath
The stillness of everything gone, and being still,
Being and sitting still, something resides,
Some skreaking and skrittering residuum,
And grates these evasions of the nightingale
Though I have never -- shall never hear that bird.
And the stillness is in the key, all of it is,
The stillness is all in the key of that desolate sound.

Wallace Stevens, Ideas of Order (1936).

The latter part of the poem is dominated by the repetition of "still" and "stillness":  "And yet beneath/The stillness of everything gone, and being still,/Being and sitting still, something resides . . . And the stillness is in the key, all of it is,/The stillness is all in the key of that desolate sound." Despite its changefulness, autumn can be the stillest time of the year.  Like a great pause.

                  Bertha Ridley Bell (1898-1955), "Poole Harbour, Dorset"

When it comes to nightingales, Keats's "Ode" is too ornate for my taste.  I prefer these lines by Christina Rossetti, which come from her poem "Twilight Calm":

        Hark! that's the nightingale,
        Telling the selfsame tale
Her song told when this ancient earth was young:
So echoes answered when her song was sung
        In the first wooded vale.

        We call it love and pain
        The passion of her strain;
And yet we little understand or know:
Why should it not be rather joy that so
        Throbs in each throbbing vein?

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862).

                                  Roger Fry, "Village in the Valley" (1926)

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I cannot let October slip away without once again visiting the 1890s.  I began the month with two twilight poems by Arthur Symons.  The following poem is by Ernest Dowson.  If Symons is the Nineties poet of twilight, then Dowson is the Nineties poet of dreams and mist.  As one might expect, they are both quite at home when it comes to Doomed Love.

                           Leonard Appelbee (1914-2000), "Fruit" (1963)


Pale amber sunlight falls across
     The reddening October trees,
     That hardly sway before a breeze
As soft as summer:  summer's loss
     Seems little, dear! on days like these!

Let misty autumn be our part!
     The twilight of the year is sweet:
     Where shadow and the darkness meet
Our love, a twilight of the heart
     Eludes a little time's deceit.

Are we not better and at home
     In dreamful Autumn, we who deem
     No harvest joy is worth a dream?
A little while and night shall come,
     A little while, then, let us dream.

Beyond the pearled horizons lie
     Winter and night:  awaiting these
     We garner this poor hour of ease,
Until love turn from us and die
     Beneath the drear November trees.

Ernest Dowson, Verses (1896).

Pretty doleful stuff, isn't it?  But the dolefulness is so well done that one is willing to surrender oneself to the mood.  There is something endearing and alluring about it.

The third stanza is particularly fine, I think, with its "dreamful Autumn," as well as the lines "A little while and night shall come,/A little while, then, let us dream."  Those two lines echo what is perhaps Dowson's best-known poem, which has appeared here before, but is always worth visiting again.

                                 Leonard Appelbee, "Flower Piece" (1958)

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
          Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
          We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
          Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
          Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson, Ibid.

                          Leonard Appelbee, "Still Life No. 10" (1940-1950)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I think of idleness as a good thing.  I do not associate idleness with lassitude, laziness, or sloth.  Rather, I associate it with repose, reverie, and contemplation.

People who carry on cellphone conversations in public are in dire need of idleness.  People who walk through the world with their head down, peering at their iPhone while scrolling and tapping, are in dire need of repose, reverie, and contemplation.

These thoughts may mark me out as a reactionary anachronism.  For my younger readers, I offer the following anecdote in order to provide some perspective on my fuddy-duddyness.  Long ago, in my early years of practicing law, I received letters from clients and opposing counsel.  These letters arrived in envelopes that had stamps on them.  I would take a couple of days to consider how to respond to each letter.  I would then write a letter in reply, place it in an envelope, put a stamp on the envelope, and deposit it in a mailbox.  I'm not pulling your leg.

Yes, I come from an ancient world.  A lost world.  Hence my fondness for idleness.

                          Paul Gauguin, "Landscape at Pont-Aven" (1886)


It was a time when wise men
Were not silent, but stifled
By vast noise.  They took refuge
In books that were not read.

Two counsellors had the ear
Of the public.  One cried 'Buy'
Day and night, and the other,
More plausibly, 'Sell your repose.'

R. S. Thomas, H'm (1972).

                  Paul Gauguin, "Cove Opposite Pont-Aven Harbor" (1888)

Your gift of life was idleness,
As you would set day's task aside
To marvel at an opening bud,
Quivering leaf, or spider's veil
On dewy grass in morning spread.
These were your wandering thoughts, that strayed
Across the ever-changing mind
Of airy sky and travelling cloud,
The harebell and the heather hill,
World without end, where you could lose
Memory, identity and name
And all that you beheld, became,
Insect wing and net of stars
Or silver-glistering wind-borne seed
For ever drifting free from time.
What has unbounded life to do
With body's grave and body's womb,
Span of life and little room?

Kathleen Raine, The Oval Portrait (1977).  The poem is untitled.

                          Paul Gauguin, "Upstream of Pont-Aven" (1888)

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Every autumn, I hope that October will be free of wind and rain so that the leaves will stay a little longer.  Every autumn, my hopes prove to be forlorn. But there are always compensations.

Yesterday, on my afternoon walk, I passed through a grove of Big-Leaf maples.  The grove is about 200 yards long, and the interlacing top boughs form a canopy overhead.  The compensation of which I speak was at my feet:  the path down which I walked was completely covered with a carpet of fallen leaves.

Granted, this is not unexpected in autumn.  But what set this carpet apart was its pattern of colors.  Fallen Big-Leaf maple leaves are usually yellow or brown, or a rusty combination of the two.  However, because it is still early autumn, hundreds of large green leaves had fallen in the wind as well.  The green and brown and yellow leaves created a lovely tapestry of colors upon the path that lay before me.  The path was a mosaic, a jigsaw puzzle, of yellow and green and brown.

                      Thomas Hennell, "The Avenue, Bucklebury" (c. 1941)

             Falling Leaves Mingle with the Rain

Frosted leaves, trailing the wind, fly, scatter in a tumble,
tumbling with the sudden shower, now this way, now that.
Parting from branches, leaf after leaf raps at my door and window,
joining with the sound of drops from the tall eaves of my study.

Ishikawa Jozan (1583-1672) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jozan and Other Edo-Period Poets (North Point Press 1990).

                Thomas Hennell, "The Guest House, Cerne Abbas" (c. 1940)

A lonely four-mat hut --
All day no one in sight.
Alone, sitting beneath the window,
Only the continual sound of falling leaves.

Ryokan (1758-1831) (translated by John Stevens), in John Stevens, One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan (Weatherhill 1977).

                  Thomas Hennell, "The Beech Avenue, Lasham" (c. 1941)

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Late Butterflies"

At this time of year I often come across black and orange-banded woolly bear caterpillars on the sidewalks and paths.  After a winter's sleep, next spring they will become (I didn't know this: I looked it up) Isabella tiger moths.

Ah, but what of this year's moths and butterflies?

           James Cowie (1886-1956), "The Looking-Glass" (c. 1940-1950)

     Late Butterflies

October days
Red admirals
Flutter among
Falling leaves --
Flakes of the sun
Gone glittering --

Hurrying clouds,
Milkweed seeds
Blowing along,
Birds so loud
In the red leaves,
Robin all rusty
And shabby jay --
Alas, the admirals!

Last year they spun
Their silken shrouds
And died to life,
Only in spring
To spring awake
And cruise for colors
Through the green and green.

Now there's the end
Coming, November
Coming, storms
Of ice and snow.

We see the admirals
Sail forth to seasons
We some survive
Where they will not.

Day darkens and
We take our pity
Back in the house,
The warm indoors.

Howard Nemerov, Gnomes and Occasions (1973).

                                              James Cowie, "Pastoral"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Such Are The Things Remain Quietly, And For Ever, In The Brain"

It's odd what sticks in one's memory.  I'm not talking about births, deaths, marriages, et cetera.  Rather, I'm talking about the random scenes that carry no apparent freight of significance in terms of our life story.  But they nonetheless retain a clarity that is akin to a vivid dream from which one has just awoken.

For instance:  I recall standing in a harvested cornfield in Minnesota on a sunny autumn day nearly 50 years ago.  On the ground around me were corn cobs and corn kernels.  I  remember the bright yellow of the kernels against the dark soil.  High overhead hundreds of Canadian geese, in V-formations, flew away to the south.  Down from the sky came the unending sound: honk, honk, honk.

I have no urge to derive any "meaning" from this memory. There is no skein to be untangled.  It is not the beginning of a path into a dark (or magical) forest.  I've come to the conclusion that the fact that these things happened is enough in itself.

                               Gilbert Spencer, "From My Studio" (c. 1959)


Sometimes, when walls and occupation seem
A prison merely, a dark barrier
Between me everywhere
And life, or the larger province of the mind,
As dreams confined,
As the trouble of a dream,
I seek to make again a life long gone,
To be
My mind's approach and consolation,
To give it form's lucidity,
Resilient form, as porcelain pieces thrown
In buried China by a wrist unknown,
Or mirrored brigs upon Fowey sea.

Then to my memory comes nothing great
Of purpose, or debate,
Or perfect end,
Pomp, nor love's rapture, nor heroic hours to spend --
But most, and strangely, for long and so much have I seen,
Comes back an afternoon
Of a June
Sunday at Elsfield, that is up on a green
Hill, and there,
Through a little farm parlour door,
A floor
Of red tiles and blue,
And the air
Sweet with the hot June sun cascading through
The vine-leaves under the glass, and a scarlet fume
Of geranium flower, and soft and yellow bloom
Of musk, and stains of scarlet and yellow glass.

Such are the things remain
Quietly, and for ever, in the brain,
And the things that they choose for history-making pass.

John Drinkwater, Loyalties (1922).

                                Harold Jones, "The Black Door" (c. 1935)

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Desire For Something None Can Say"

Thomas Hardy's old woman "raking up leaves" in his "Autumn in King's Hintock Park" brought to mind the opening lines of the following poem by A. S. J. Tessimond.  Beyond this, I'm not sure that the poems have much in common -- apart from autumn.

                                                Noel Spencer (1900-1986)
                                            "Cloth Hall Mills, Dewsbury"


Already men are brushing up
    Brown leaves around the saddened parks.
At Marble Arch the nights draw in
    Upon expounders of Karl Marx.

By the Round Pond the lovers feel
    Heavier dews, and grow uneasy.
Elderly men don overcoats,
    Catch cold -- sniff -- become hoarse and wheezy.

Grey clouds streak across chill white skies.
    Refuse and dirty papers blow
About the gutters.  Shoppers hurry,
    Oppressed by vague autumnal woe.

The cats that pick amongst the empty
    Gold Flake boxes, sniffing orts
From frowsy fish-shops, seem beruffled,
    Limp of tail and out of sorts.

Policemen are pale and fin-de-siecle.
    The navvy's arm wilts and relaxes.
With more than usual bitterness
    Bus-drivers curse impulsive taxis.

A general malaise descends:
    Desire for something none can say.
And autumn brings once more the pangs
    Of this our annual decay!

A. S. J Tessimond, Collected Poems (edited by Hubert Nicholson) (Bloodaxe Books 2010).

My response is:  "Ah, it isn't that bad!"  However, I do understand what he means by "vague autumnal woe."  Although I never feel "oppressed" by it. Wistful perhaps.  Bittersweet perhaps.  But never "oppressed."

I also understand what he means by "desire for something none can say." But I wouldn't link it to "a general malaise" that "descends" with autumn. After all, isn't "desire for something none can say" a description of the human condition in general, rather than just a feeling peculiar to autumn? I only presume to speak for myself, of course.

                                  Trevor Makinson, "Street Scene" (1948)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Perspective, Part Four: "The Bedlam Of Time Is An Empty Bucket Rattled"

In addition to "October" (which I posted recently), Patrick Kavanagh wrote a second poem set in that month.  The second poem is more about perspective than it is about autumn.  Just as "October" is more about what it means to say "something will be mine wherever I am" than it is about autumn.  But I wouldn't entirely discount autumn's role in the poems.  The season does tend to evoke these sorts of glimpses into what is important.

                Kenneth Rowntree, "Old Toll Bar House, Ashopton" (1940)

                         October 1943

And the rain coming down, and the rain coming down!
How lovely it falls on the rick well headed,
On potato pits thatched, on the turf clamps home,
On the roofs of the byre where the cows are bedded!

And the sun shining down, and the sun shining down!
How bright on the turnip leaves, on the stubble --
Where turkeys tip-toe across the ridges --
In this corner of peace in a world of trouble.

Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems (edited by Antoinette Quinn) (Penguin 2004).  The poem was first published in The Irish Press on October 27, 1943.

      Kenneth Rowntree, "Underbank Farm, Woodlands, Ashdale" (1940)

Those who are "politically-" or "socially-engaged" may feel that Kavanagh is not evincing sufficient concern for a world that, in 1943, was going up in flames.  They might feel the same way if Kavanagh were alive today and wrote the same poem, titling it "October 2012."  I would respectfully disagree with them.  I confess that I am one of those who think that the term "political poetry" is a perfect example of an oxymoron.  (Whether the politics are left, right, or Martian.)  And, if I hear the words "socially-engaged poetry," I immediately run for the exit.  (Whether the "social-engagement" is left, right, or Martian.)

            Kenneth Rowntree, "Bridge End Farm, Derwent Village" (1940)

               Beyond the Headlines

Then I saw the wild geese flying
In fair formation to their bases in Inchicore,
And I knew that these wings would outwear the wings of war,
And a man's simple thoughts outlive the day's loud lying.

Don't fear, don't fear, I said to my soul:
The Bedlam of Time is an empty bucket rattled,
'Tis you who will say in the end who best battled.
Only they who fly home to God have flown at all.

Patrick Kavanagh, Ibid.  The poem was first published in The Irish Press on March 29, 1943.

              Kenneth Rowntree, "Bridge to Cox's Farm, Ashopton" (1940)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"On Whom The Rain Comes Down"

We have been enjoying a nearly unprecedented (for this part of the world) three-month stretch of nearly rainless and mostly sunny weather.  (Strange to say, but some of us long-time residents begin to miss the rain if it is absent for too long.)  However, the grey curtain is about to come down.

The following poem by Thomas Hardy is apt in terms of what we have in store for us for the next five or six months.  Like "Autumn in King's Hintock Park" (which appeared in my previous post), the poem's mood and meaning are established through the use of a simple refrain.

                               Roland Vivian Pitchforth, "Floods" (c. 1935)

          An Autumn Rain-Scene

There trudges one to a merry-making
            With a sturdy swing,
     On whom the rain comes down.

To fetch the saving medicament
            Is another bent,
     On whom the rain comes down.

One slowly drives his herd to the stall
            Ere ill befall,
     On whom the rain comes down.

This bears his missives of life and death
            With quickening breath,
     On whom the rain comes down.

One watches for signals of wreck or war
            From the hill afar,
     On whom the rain comes down.

No care if he gain a shelter or none,
            Unhired moves one,
     On whom the rain comes down.

And another knows nought of its chilling fall
            Upon him at all,
     On whom the rain comes down.

Thomas Hardy, Late Lyrics and Earlier, with Many Other Verses (1922).

A theme that appears often in Hardy's poetry is the timelessness of human life.  Each of us (I will hazard a guess) tends to think that we (as individuals) and the times that we live in are unique.  Hardy constantly reminds us that it has all been done before, and will all be done again.  "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'" is probably his best-known poem on this theme.

But Hardy does not do his reminding in a portentous or a judgmental manner.  He is very gentle about it.  Thus, there is nothing ominous or chiding in the repetition of "on whom the rain comes down."  It is soft, but relentless:  yes, of course, like the rain.

Not surprisingly, the poem concludes in a graveyard in the rain.  Hardy wrote scores of poems about graveyards in the rain.  This may strike some as being morbid, but it isn't.  After a while, coming across a Hardy poem in which the rain streams down a gravestone, obliterating the carved name and dates, is oddly comforting.  To wit:  Relax.  Rest assured.  It has all been done before and it will all be done again.  With or without you.

                  Roland Vivian Pitchforth, "Night Transport" (1939-1940)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Raking Up Leaves"

One of the great charms of Thomas Hardy's poetry is the large number of human characters who populate his poems.  This may reflect Hardy's years as a novelist.  He was clearly a man who possessed deep powers of observation and understanding.  But, most importantly, Hardy's empathy is profound.  He does not condescend or patronize.

I think that this is a characteristic that he shares with Philip Larkin. Perhaps this is one of the things that attracted Larkin to Hardy's poetry. Yes, both of them can be acerbic and gloomy about human beings and about the human condition.  But beneath it all one senses a tremendous empathy:  We are all in this together.

                Hilda Carline (1889-1950), "Luxembourg Gardens, Paris"

Autumn in King's Hintock Park

Here by the baring bough
    Raking up leaves,
Often I ponder how
    Springtime deceives, --
I, an old woman now,
    Raking up leaves.

Here in the avenue
    Raking up leaves,
Lords' ladies pass in view,
    Until one heaves
Sighs at life's russet hue,
    Raking up leaves!

Just as my shape you see
    Raking up leaves,
I saw, when fresh and free,
    Those memory weaves
Into grey ghosts by me,
    Raking up leaves.

Yet, Dear, though one may sigh,
    Raking up leaves,
New leaves will dance on high --
    Earth never grieves! --
Will not, when missed am I
    Raking up leaves.

Thomas Hardy, Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses (1909).

Hardy sometimes employs technical devices in his poems that may, at first impression, seem creaky and/or quaint.  The refrain "raking up leaves" might initially strike one as falling into this category.  But, as I say: "at first impression."  In fact, the refrain is perfect, bringing together both the outer and inner action of the poem and its individual and universal meaning.

Hardy wrote the poem in the autumn of 1906.  In a letter dated December 21, 1906, Hardy stated:  "I happened to be walking, or cycling, through [the park] years ago, when the incident occurred on which the verses are based, & I wrote them out."  J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Handbook and Commentary (University of North Carolina Press 1970), page 207.

"Those memory weaves/Into grey ghosts by me" is very fine, I think.  As is:  "Will not, when missed am I."

                     Cecil Gordon Lawson, "Cheyne Walk, Chelsea" (1870)

Sunday, October 7, 2012


One needn't go on at length to capture the heart of autumn -- and of life. Sometimes (most of the time?) we say far too much.  A single sentence will suffice.

                                     Eliot Hodgkin, "Leaves" (1941-1942)

     Blowing from the west,
Fallen leaves gather
     In the east.

Buson (1716-1784) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 1: Eastern Culture (Hokuseido Press 1949).

                                         Eliot Hodgkin, "Squash" (1952)

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).

                       Eliot Hodgkin, "Nine Peaches in a Paper Bag" (1961)

     Along this road
Goes no one,
     This autumn eve.

Basho (1644-1694) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 1: Eastern Culture (Hokuseido Press 1949).

                            Eliot Hodgkin, "Six Cape Gooseberries" (1954)

Friday, October 5, 2012

"The Hermitage At The Center"

Autumn is not autumn without a visit to Wallace Stevens.  I do not know exactly what the following poem "means."  Perhaps it has something to do with autumn being both an end and a beginning, and having at its heart both an emptiness and a fullness.  Whoa!  That's way too high-falutin'. Let's just say that it sounds lovely.

And consider this:  the poem is three poems in one.  The first poem consists of the first line of each stanza; the second poem consists of the second and third lines of each stanza; the third poem consists of all three lines of each stanza.  Think of it as something like a round in music: "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or "Frere Jacques."

Then again, it may simply be about the walks that Stevens often took around Elizabeth Park in Hartford, Connecticut.  The park has a duck pond.

        Christopher Sanders, "Study of Long Grass near Polstead" (c. 1961)

         The Hermitage at the Center

The leaves on the macadam make a noise --
     How soft the grass on which the desired
     Reclines in the temperature of heaven --

Like tales that were told the day before yesterday --
     Sleek in a natural nakedness,
     She attends the tintinnabula --

And the wind sways like a great thing tottering --
     Of birds called up by more than the sun,
     Birds of more wit, that substitute --

Which suddenly is all dissolved and gone --
     Their intelligible twittering
     For unintelligible thought.

And yet this end and this beginning are one,
     And one last look at the ducks is a look
     At lucent children round her in a ring.

Wallace Stevens, The Rock (1954), in Collected Poetry and Prose (The Library of America 1997).

A comment on "one last look at the ducks" (line 14):  a "last look" because the ducks are about to fly south for the winter, yes; but it should also be noted that Stevens wrote the poem when he was in his mid-seventies, within the last year or so of his life.

   Christopher Sanders, "Sunlight through a Willow Tree at Kew" (c. 1958)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


At this time of year, I find it difficult to resist the dreamy, twilit, death-haunted pull of the Nineties poets.  No falling or fallen leaves are to be found in the following poem.  However, it was written on August 22, 1895. Thus, according to my definition of autumn, it qualifies as an autumn poem.

What's more, the poem contains a variation on the word "rustle."  Autumn is the season of rustling, wouldn't you say?  Sooner or later, everything rustles in autumn -- not just the leaves.  In this case, the rustling is done by the darkness, which makes perfect sense.

                       Maxime Maufra (1861-1918), "Landscape with Mill"


The pale grey sea crawls stealthily
Up the pale lilac of the beach;
A bluer grey, the waters reach
To where the horizon ends the sea.

Flushed with a tinge of dusky rose,
The clouds, a twilit lavender,
Flood the low sky, and duskier
The mist comes flooding in, and flows

Into the twilight of the land,
And darkness, coming softly down,
Rustles across the fading sand
And folds its arms about the town.

Arthur Symons, Amoris Victima (1897).  In a note to the poem, Symons states that it was written at Dieppe -- a favorite retreat of Decadent poets and artists.

Earlier in his career, Symons wrote a series of three poems that appeared under the heading "Colour Studies."  ("Twilight" itself is a fine "colour study," what with its "pale grey sea," "pale lilac," "dusky rose," and "twilit lavender.")  The following poem is the first of the three.  Symons dedicated it to the painter Walter Sickert.  It was written on September 16, 1893.

                Maxime Maufra, "Autumn Landscape at Goulazon" (1900)

                At Dieppe

The grey-green stretch of sandy grass,
Indefinitely desolate;
A sea of lead, a sky of slate;
Already autumn in the air, alas!

One stark monotony of stone,
The long hotel, acutely white,
Against the after-sunset light
Withers grey-green, and takes the grass's tone.

Listless and endless it outlies,
And means, to you and me, no more
Than any pebble on the shore,
Or this indifferent moment as it dies.

Arthur Symons, London Nights (1895).  "Indefinitely desolate" and "acutely white" are very nice.

                                      Maxime Maufra, "Twilight" (1896)

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Something Will Be Mine Wherever I Am"

It is possible to enter October with a sense of exhilaration -- at least until the wistfulness, the bittersweetness, and the longing arrive.  In fact, according to the following poem by Patrick Kavanagh, October may even make you feel that you are forever 19-years-old.  (I leave it to you, dear Reader, to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.)

When I was 19, I was attending a university that is located beside the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara.  I presume that I had nothing to complain about.  For instance, I remember playing basketball outside in the sun on the asphalt while listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd play a concert in an outdoor stadium that lay across the playing fields from the courts.  I recall "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird" wafting over the green fields on the breeze.

As they say (and I realized this -- with a pang -- on that afternoon):  "It doesn't get any better than this."  I suppose that those are the youthful Wordsworthian intimations of immortality/mortality that one was liable to have at that time and in that place.

                               James Purdy (1900-1972), "Pennine View"


O leafy yellowness you create for me
A world that was and now is poised above time,
I do not need to puzzle out Eternity
As I walk this arboreal street on the edge of a town.
The breeze, too, even the temperature
And pattern of movement, is precisely the same
As broke my heart for youth passing.  Now I am sure
Of something.  Something will be mine wherever I am.
I want to throw myself on the public street without caring
For anything but the prayering that the earth offers.
It is October over all my life and the light is staring
As it caught me once in a plantation by the fox coverts.
A man is ploughing ground for winter wheat
And my nineteen years weigh heavily on my feet.

Patrick Kavanagh, Come Dance with Kitty Stobling and Other Poems (1960).

Kavanagh wrote "October" during the period of exhilaration and creativity that followed his successful treatment for lung cancer in 1955.  I have previously discussed this time of his life in connection with his poems "Is" and "Question to Life."  Like many of the poems that Kavanagh wrote during this period, "October" is a sonnet (or something akin to a sonnet).

                  Stanley Cursiter (1887-1976), "Orkney Landscape" (1952)