Saturday, September 5, 2015

"The First Winds Of Autumn"

As I have observed here in the past, the turning of the seasons is a matter of emotion and of sensory impressions.  The seasons come to our hearts when they come, regardless of equinoxes and solstices, or of dates on the calendar.

Last week, I received the first hint that autumn was imminent.  As I walked towards a favorite tree, I noticed a single spray of bright red leaves amidst its uppermost boughs.  Then, just as I passed into the tree's shadow, a lone red leaf fluttered down in front of me and landed at my feet.  This was a lovely and gentle signal.

This week, autumn arrived in earnest.  As I passed through a meadow on my afternoon walk, a row of trees on my left, a sudden breeze crossed the field from the west.  There was no mistaking the underlying chill -- however subtle -- in that breeze.  Autumn had arrived.

Even in a person
most times indifferent
to things around him
they waken feelings --
the first winds of autumn.

Saigyō (1118-1190) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watston, Saigyō: Poems of a Mountain Home (Columbia University Press 1991), page 67.

In the original Japanese, the word that Burton Watson translates as "feelings" is kokoro.  Kokoro is a wonderful word which means both "heart, feelings" and "mind, mentality."  Kodansha's Romanized Japanese-English Dictionary (Kodansha 1993), page 263.  I like to think of it as an amalgam:  something along the lines of "heart-mind-soul."

Note that Saigyō uses kokoro, not a value-laden word such as "sadness" or "happiness."  Kokoro is perfect, for it covers any and all of the emotions that may arise when we feel the first winds of autumn.

George Vicat Cole, "Iffley Mill" (1884)

The image of Robert Frost as a kindly, homily-spinning nature poet is by now a cliché.  It is an image that Frost worked hard to create, probably to throw us off track.  In fact, Nature and the Universe are often indifferent, and sometimes even threatening, in Frost's poetry.

                   Now Close the Windows

Now close the windows and hush all the fields:
     If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
     Be it my loss.

It will be long ere the marshes resume,
     It will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
     But see all wind-stirred.

Robert Frost, A Boy's Will (1913).

I've never known quite what to make of this poem.  It appears to be set in autumn, just before the onset of winter:  is there something foreboding in that prospect that makes the speaker want to shut out Nature?  On the other hand, the speaker only desires Nature to be silent:  he remains willing to "see all wind-stirred."  There is something beautiful in seeing the trees "silently toss," isn't there?  Is Frost telling us that we ought to keep all of our senses awake to what is around us?  At this point I feel myself venturing close to "explanation" and "explication," the death of poetry. Time to stop.

Trevor Makinson, "Maryhill Goods Yard"

As long-time readers of this blog know, I am very fond of the Poets of the Nineties, particularly Arthur Symons and Ernest Dowson.  Their dreamy world of wistful longing is one that I am willing to dwell in for days at a time.

Although the Poets of the Nineties are certainly not "nature poets," they are quite good at teasing out the emotional implications of those parts of Nature that are dear to their hearts:  twilight, mists, autumn, birds twittering in the shadows, the sound of a stream flowing in the distance, wind . . .

                    The Lovers of the Wind

Can any man be quiet in his soul
And love the wind?  Men love the sea, the hills:
The bright sea drags them under, and the hills
Beckon them up into the deadly air;
They have sharp joys, and a sure end of them.
But he who loves the wind is like a man
Who loves a ghost, and by a loveliness
Ever unseen is haunted, and he sees
No dewdrop shaken from a blade of grass,
No handle lifted, yet she comes and goes,
And breathes beside him.  And the man, because
Something, he knows, is nearer than his breath
To bodily life, and nearer to himself
Than his own soul, loves with exceeding fear.
And so is every man that loves the wind.
How shall a man be quiet in his soul
When a more restless spirit than a bird's
Cries to him, and his heart answers the cry?
Therefore have fear, all ye who love the wind.
There is no promise in the voice of the wind,
It is a seeking and a pleading voice
That wanders asking in an unknown tongue
Infinite unimaginable things.
Shall not the lovers of the wind become
Even as the wind is, gatherers of the dust,
Hunters of the impossible, like men
Who go by night into the woods with nets
To snare the shadow of the moon in pools?

Arthur Symons, The Fool of the World and Other Poems (1906).

I realize that this sort of thing is not everybody's cup of tea.  But I think it is a wonderful poem.  It is the sort of poem that only a poet of the Nineties could write.  I love the repetitions (a characteristic Nineties technique): "Can any man be quiet in his soul;" "How shall a man be quiet in his soul." And: "he who loves the wind;" "every man that loves the wind;" "all ye who love the wind;" "the lovers of the wind."  I love the fact that Symons uses the word "soul" three times.  It is a crucial word in Nineties poetry.  And what a lovely image at the end:  "like men/Who go by night into the woods with nets/To snare the shadow of the moon in pools."  Yes, there is something in the poetry of the Nineties that cannot be found anywhere else.

Walter Goodin, "The River Beverley" (1938)

A return to spareness is in order as we consider autumn, and what follows.

     To the Roaring Wind

What syllable are you seeking,
In the distances of sleep?
Speak it.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (1923).

This poem provides a good counterpoint to Saigyō's poem.  Stevens was not one to talk openly of "feelings."  At first thought, I would not associate the word "kokoro" with Stevens's poetry:  it is a pretty cerebral business.  Yet I think my first thought does Stevens a disservice:  he has a different way of bringing "feelings" and emotions into his poetry.  But they are there.

Thomas Train (1890-1978), "Headlights"


Fred said...


Is it a coincidence?

Three of the four poems speak of shutting out the sound of the wind.

The fourth, Saigyo's haiku, is ambiguous. The winds "waken feelings --/ the first winds of autumn" in those previously "indifferent" to their surroundings.

Seeing the winds' effects seems to be acceptable, but hearing?

George said...

I suppose that my favorite line regarding wind is in Yeats's "1919": "Those winds that clamor of approaching night." As for Symonds, doesn't the King James Version translate as "The wind bloweth where it listeth" what plainer translations give as "the Spirit breathes where it will"?

Bex said...

I have to tell you, I love your web site. I have non-stop chronic pain - it rules my life for most of the 24 hours of every day. Except when I light on your page, with the wonderful artwork there, the ambiance of your page design is splendid, and the content of your text is even more so. I am no intellectual, just a person who enjoys the written word, and I've just come to realize that for the minutes when I am reading your blog, my pain all but disappears and your words replace it, somehow. It's such a wonderful feeling, to have something be so engrossing that actual pain can fade into the background of my consciousness like that. So, I think you so much for your very well done and wonderful blog!

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: That's an interesting thought. Poetic words for the sound of the wind tend to be along the lines of "roaring" and "sighing," don't they? Words that have an element of sadness or disturbance in them. And then there is "soughing," which is gentle, but still has a tinge of sadness to it. Hence the desire to "shut out" its sound?

That being said, do you think Stevens is talking about shutting out the wind? I'm not sure: he seems to be compelled to listen to it, but he wants it to "speak." And I'm not so sure about Symons's lover of the wind wanting to shut out the wind either. Yes, the wind "cries," "and there is no promise in the voice of the wind," but perhaps this is a classic subject of Nineties poetry: doomed/tragic love. The lovers of the wind know their love is doomed/tragic, but they will not give it up: they continue to listen. I think that this is the point of the lovely final lines: "like men/Who go by night into the woods with nets/To snare the shadow of the moon in pools." A case of unrequited love. But they cannot help but listen to the wind. Just a thought.

As always, it is a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you very much for stopping by again.

Stephen Pentz said...

George: Thank you for the line by Yeats, which is lovely. And thank you as well for providing the connection between the Bible verse and Symons's poem, which is a nice parallel. Many of the Nineties poets were alternatively living a bohemian, absinthe-tinged life or contemplating converting to Catholicism and joining the priesthood (which John Gray actually did). So your observation is an apt one.

Thank you very much for visiting again, and for sharing those thoughts.

billoo said...

A cloud in the wind
At the corner of the world.

Tu Fu.

It is the same child now who watches the clouds change.
They appear from out of sight and change as the moment passes through them.

Stephen, without voice does time stop? Isn't there something ghostly about that?

Stephen Pentz said...

Bex: I'm hard put to come up with appropriate words to thank you for your kind thoughts. But please know that I deeply appreciate them. My only goal is to share the things I love, and it is extremely gratifying and humbling to find that these things may resonate with others. But please note that I only see myself as a messenger: it is the poets and the painters who matter. My task is to stay out of their way.

I'm delighted that you discovered the blog, and, if it provides a few moments of calm space to you now and then, I am, as I said above, humbled and gratified. Again, thank you so much.

Bruce Floyd said...


I was not familiar with Symons's "The Lovers of the Wind." I felt a stab of regret that I had missed such a splendid poem. I find myself reading it over and over again. Thank you for introducing me to a great poem, though of course the panjandrums of criticism would brand us heretics, barbarous in our taste. I even confess to an affinity for Dowson.

To me, Symons's poem dwarfs the mediocre work of most contemporary poets, who, it seems to me, do nothing but write vapid prose and arrange it into lines to look like a poem, though no poem it is.

Tennyson's melancholy line comes to mind: "In looking on the happy autumn fields / And thinking of the days that are no more." As you intimate, the stealing away of summer and the arrival of autumn touches something deep in the human psyche. To the imagination, autumn is much more than just a season. Is it a profound symbol?

A few days ago I came across the below poem, one I had never read before, by a poet I'd never heard of. The poem possesses the serenity of Keats's great ode "To Autumn." The conclusion of the poem says it best, this mystery of autumn to the human heart:

. . .learn to love
All that leans into its finish, truly pleased
To bask in bereavement’s graceful glow,
Alive in it, until it, too, must go.

Consolations of Autumn
by Ernest Hilbert

Some are happiest when autumn comes,
Long for turning leaves, aficionados of first frost,
Put out gourds, ornamental sheaves of wheat.
They dress front porches as forsaken tombs,
Imagine themselves ghoul, zombie, and ghost,
Use kitchen knives to jab holes in sheets.
They relish mornings when windows are panes of ice,
Yearn to don soft panoplies of scarves and gloves,
And wait all year to welcome the hard freeze
That forces birds south, woodchucks to earth, mice
To infiltrate warm cupboards, learn to love
All that leans into its finish, truly pleased
To bask in bereavement’s graceful glow,
Alive in it, until it, too, must go.

Stephen Pentz said...

billoo: Thank you very much for the lines from Tu Fu and Merwin, which are lovely, and which complement the other poems nicely. And thank you as well for your thought-provoking final observation. "Ghostly" is a fine way to put it. "Ghostly," but not frightening. It applies particularly well to Frost's poem, I think.

As ever, thank you for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Floyd: I'm pleased you liked the poem by Symons. This is one among many fine poems by him, in my humble opinion. It's a pity that he, Dowson, John Gray, Victor Plarr, and other poets of the Nineties seem neglected. But these things have a way of working themselves out over the years. They won't be forgotten.

Thank you for the lines by Tennyson, which capture part of the essence of autumn, and for the poem by Ernest Hilbert, who is new to me.

As ever, thank you for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Fred said...


My computer is down and I'm typing this laboriously by hand, one letter at a time. I will respond later to your response.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks.

Fred said...

"Therefore have fear, all ye who love the wind.
There is no promise in the voice of the wind,
It is a seeking and a pleading voice
That wanders asking in an unknown tongue
Infinite unimaginable things.
Shall not the lovers of the wind become
Even as the wind is, gatherers of the dust,
Hunters of the impossible, like men
Who go by night into the woods with nets
To snare the shadow of the moon in pools?"

If you don't see this as a warning about listening to the wind, then I have no further argument, except that the entire poem suggests the dangers of listening to it and therefore a warning against it.

As for Stevens, the title suggests a threat to me.
Vocalissimus: a song without words, a voice searching for a syllable but can't find it, in sleep, a nightmare?

However, Stevens is hard for me to make sense of much of the time, so I could be wrong here.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: You and I are in complete agreement that both Symons and Stevens regard the wind as being something of a "threat," or something perhaps to arouse "fear." I also agree that Symons is warning us about the dangers associated with falling in love with the wind. I guess where we may depart is how Symons and Stevens themselves intend to deal with the wind. In my view, as I indicated in my original (probably inarticulate!) response to your first comment, I think both of them still intend to embrace the wind. But, yes, I agree they see something of a threat in it.

Thank you very much for your follow-up thoughts. I know from reading your blog recently that you are having computer issues, so I appreciate your taking the time to respond. I hope you get the problems resolved.

Fred said...


I guess we will just have to agree to disagree here.

So far, the problem remains. For some reason, the problem doesn't exist here as I'm able to reply using the PC. It's a strange situation where I can reply on some blogs, such as yours, while I'm blocked on others, including my own.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: Thank you very much for your follow-up comment. I hope you get those computer issues worked out. It sounds very frustrating.

Fred said...


Very--and perplexing also.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: Yes, at times like that, I need to call in my nephews for help. I'm at a loss.