Although the autumnal equinox came and went more than a week ago, the final turning has not occurred. Still, the signs are afoot.
The western wind has blown but a few days;
Yet the first leaf already flies from the bough.
On the drying paths I walk in my thin shoes;
In the first cold I have donned my quilted coat.
Through shallow ditches the floods are clearing away;
Through sparse bamboos trickles a slanting light.
In the early dusk, down an alley of green moss,
The garden-boy is leading the cranes home.
Po Chü-i (772-846) (translated by Arthur Waley), in Arthur Waley, More Translations from the Chinese (George Allen & Unwin 1919).
Alexander Sillars Burns (1911-1987), "Afternoon, Wester Ross"
As long-time (and much appreciated!) readers of this blog may recall, I am fond of describing autumn as the season of bittersweet wistfulness and wistful bittersweetness. Is there a tinge of sadness? Of course. More than a tinge, actually. But this only serves to heighten the beauty.
That which is lovely is lovely because it is departing. This is true of all of the World's beautiful particulars at all times of the year. But the pang of departure is keener in autumn. It is a rueful, yet a happy, pang. It bears within it the possibility of acceptance and serenity.
The Trees at Night
Under vague silver moonlight
The trees are lovely and ghostly,
In the pale blue of the night
There are few stars to see.
The leaves are green still, but brown-blent:
They stir not, only known
By a poignant delicate scent
To the lonely moon blown.
The lonely lovely trees sigh
For summer spent and gone:
A few homing leaves drift by,
Poor souls bewildered and wan.
William Kerr, in Edward Marsh (editor), Georgian Poetry 1920-1922 (The Poetry Bookshop 1922).
Adam Bruce Thomson (1885-1976), "Harvesting in Galloway"
The threshold has not yet been crossed. At the beginning of the past week we enjoyed a cool, brilliant mackerel sky day. In Japan, the clouds in such a sky are called urokogumo (uroko means "fish-scale"; kumo means "cloud"; the "k" sound of kumo is changed to "g" for euphonic purposes in the compound word): hence, a fish-scale cloud sky. In Japanese culture, urokogumo carries with it strong associations of autumn. I can understand why: the sight is heart-catching at any time of year, but particularly in autumn, when the blue seems deeper behind the bright white clouds spread across the sky.
Later in the week we had an 80-degree, cloudless day: a brief Indian summer (as we called it in Minnesota when I was growing up) or St Luke's summer (as it is known in the United Kingdom). The warm breeze of that day carried a chill thread within it. Or was this merely my imagination?
Fragile, notice that
As autumn starts, a light
Frost crisps up at night
And next day, for a while,
White covers path and lawn.
"Autumn is here, it is,"
Sings the stoical blackbird
But by noon pure gold is tossed
On everything. Leaves fall
As if they meant to rise.
Nothing of nature's lost,
The birth, the blight of things,
The bud, the stretching wings.
Elizabeth Jennings, Celebrations and Elegies (Carcanet Press 1982). For another lovely poem by Jennings on the season, please see "Song at the Beginning of Autumn," which has appeared here in the past.
Ian MacInnes (1922-2003), "Harvest, Innertoon" (1959)
For now, the green canopies remain overhead, although the universe of green has become paler and thinner. The birds keep up their continual conversation, although their numbers have dwindled. All is proceeding according to plan. Constancy amid constant change.
I may speak of autumnal wistfulness, bittersweetness, and sadness, but make no mistake: my predominant emotions at this time of year are exhilaration, joy, and gratitude. "We live in a constellation/Of patches and of pitches,/Not in a single world." How can we be anything but grateful, joyful, and exhilarated?
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 Watson, Saigyō: Poems of a Mountain Home (Columbia University Press 1991).
Adam Bruce Thomson, "Still Life at a Window" (1944)