Autumn is never the same: you are not who you were last autumn. And who was the person who passed through that long-vanished autumn, x years ago? That never-to-be-forgotten autumn? Only a few wispy revenants remain.
(Isles of Aran)
In the twilight of the year,
Here, about these twilight ways,
When the grey moth night drew near,
Fluttering on a faint flying,
I would linger out the day's
Delicate and moth-grey dying.
Grey, and faint with sleep, the sea
Should enfold me, and release
Some old peace to dwell with me.
I would quiet the long crying
Of my heart with mournful peace,
The grey sea's, in its low sighing.
Arthur Symons, Images of Good and Evil (1899).
Samuel Palmer, "The Weald of Kent" (c. 1833)
"The twilight of the year." Perfect. But, as Symons suggests, for all of the loss that attends it, autumn -- like twilight -- can be a source of peace. Yet it is a peculiar sort of peace: a combination of exhilaration and sadness, the two of them changing places from moment to moment or, quite often, present together at the same time.
Into the Twilight
Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,
Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;
Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,
Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.
Your mother Eire is always young,
Dew ever shining and twilight grey;
Though hope fall from you and love decay,
Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.
Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill:
For there the mystical brotherhood
Of sun and moon and hollow and wood
And river and stream work out their will;
And God stands winding His lonely horn,
And time and the world are ever in flight;
And love is less kind than the grey twilight,
And hope is less dear than the dew of the morn.
W. B. Yeats, The Wind Among the Reeds (1899).
I confess that I love this sort of thing. Unashamedly, unapologetically, and without irony. What a wrong turning the 20th century was.
Samuel Palmer, "The Harvest Moon" (c. 1833)
Yeats, Symons, and the other poets of the Nineties are in their element when it comes to twilight and autumn. Hence, as one might expect, autumn twilight brings them to the very heart of the matter: shadows, fleeting gleams, hopeless love, lost love, murmuring waters, mist, dreams, desires, the moon-washed sea . . .
The long September evening dies
In mist along the fields and lanes;
Only a few faint stars surprise
The lingering twilight as it wanes.
Night creeps across the darkening vale;
On the horizon tree by tree
Fades into shadowy skies as pale
As moonlight on a shadowy sea.
And, down the mist-enfolded lanes,
Grown pensive now with evening,
See, lingering as the twilight wanes,
Lover with lover wandering.
Arthur Symons, London Nights (1895).
Like Yeats, I would love to live in a "grey twilight" world. Like Symons, I would love to "linger out the day's/Delicate and moth-grey dying." Is this quaint daydreaming, mere escapism? It depends upon what one thinks of the 21st century.
Samuel Palmer, "The Timber Wain" (c. 1833)
Yeats wrote the following poem on the other side of the fin de siècle. Does it reveal him as having moved beyond the twilight world of the Nineties and its ofttimes autumnal mood?
The Coming of Wisdom with Time
Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth.
W. B. Yeats, The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910).
Yeats is implying that a poem such as "Into the Twilight" involved some youthful "lying," some aesthetic "sway[ing]" of "leaves and flowers in the sun." Yes, that poem, and many like it, were indeed a product of their time.
But what of "the root is one"? I'm not at all certain that the ever-increasing rhetoric and self-dramatization of Yeats's later poetry brought him any closer to that root. I think that, at their best, the poets of the Nineties are exactly right about "the root": twilight and autumn (and, of course, autumn twilight) are indeed at the heart of the matter. Withering into the truth.
Poetry and art do not "progress." Has modern art "progressed" beyond Samuel Palmer? Has contemporary poetry "progressed" beyond the poetry of the Nineties?
Samuel Palmer, "The Gleaning Field" (c. 1833)