I remember searching for the "perfect" leaf to preserve. Oak. Elm. Maple. Birch.
Where have all those wax-encased leaves gone to? In a box or a scrapbook somewhere. But where?
Green thoughts, the feel of pink -- remembered in the mind;
but those spring splendors, like dreams, are gone beyond recall.
The whole village in yellow leaves, I shut the gate, lie down --
once again the year is already deep into fall.
Kashiwagi Jotei (1763-1819) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jōzan and Other Edo-Period Poets (North Point Press 1990).
Eliot Hodgkin, "Two Dead Leaves" (1963)
The fallen leaves are always reminding us of . . . something. In the grand scheme of things, they whisper to us of transience and mortality. No surprise there. But they get more personal than that. I suspect that most of us could trace a path back into our past leaf by leaf, if we wished.
Do you remember that day in the park, and the leaf that you saved so as to never lose the memory of that moment? Who knows how far back we could go?
A Musician's Wife
Between the visits to the shock ward
The doctors used to let you play
On the old upright Baldwin
Donated by a former patient
Who is said to be quite stable now.
And all day long you played Chopin,
Badly and hauntingly, when you weren't
Screaming on the porch that looked
Like an enormous birdcage. Or sat
In your room and stared out at the sky.
You never looked at me at all.
I used to walk down to where the bus stopped
Over the hill where the eucalyptus trees
Moved in the fog, and stared down
At the lights coming on, in the white rooms.
And always, when I came back to my sister's
I used to get out the records you made
The year before all your terrible trouble,
The records the critics praised and nobody bought
That are almost worn out now.
Now, sometimes I wake in the night
And hear the sound of dead leaves
Against the shutters. And then a distant
Music starts, a music out of an abyss,
And it is dawn before I sleep again.
Weldon Kees, in Donald Justice (editor), The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees (University of Nebraska Press 1975).
Eliot Hodgkin, "Dead Leaves and Birds' Eggs" (1963)
The trees are nearly empty. The wind and the rain have seen to that. Now is when our companionship with leaves begins in earnest. Call me sentimental (I am unapologetically guilty), accuse me of embracing the Pathetic Fallacy (guilty again), but, as the fallen leaves stroll with me down the street, the wind coming up from behind us, I cannot help but feel that we are in this together.
Lost in vacant wonder at how the months flow away in silence,
I sit alone in my idle hut, thinking endless thoughts.
An old man's cares, like these leaves, are hard to sweep away.
To the sound of their rustling I see autumn off once again.
Tate Ryūwan (1762-1844) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jōzan and Other Edo-Period Poets (North Point Press 1990).
Eliot Hodgkin, "Two Chestnut Leaves" (1973)
When it comes to leaves, and their place in our lives, a visit to Robert Frost is a necessity. He knew a thing or two about this topic. In his simple-sly way he says it all.
In Hardwood Groves
The same leaves over and over again!
They fall from giving shade above
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove.
Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up.
They must go down into the dark decayed.
They must be pierced by flowers and put
Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
However it is in some other world
I know that this is the way in ours.
Robert Frost, A Boy's Will (1913).
"A crowd, a host, of golden daffodils . . . fluttering and dancing in the breeze." (William Wordsworth, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.")
The arc of our life is not complicated: dancing flowers and fallen leaves.
Eliot Hodgkin, "Four Dead Leaves" (1961)