Monday, October 21, 2019


Autumn encourages reflection, don't you think?  More so than any other season, perhaps.  All of this passing and vanishing, all of this melancholy beauty and beautiful melancholy.  Even haiku poets, who tend not to be self-referential, are liable to look inward.

     The autumn of my life;
The moon is a flawless moon,
     Nevertheless --

Issa (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 396.  Although the phrase "the autumn of my life" could be written at any time of the year, the reference to "a flawless moon" places the poem in autumn.

The final word of the poem is nagara, which Blyth translates as "nevertheless."  Following his translation of the haiku, Blyth notes: "Issa was fond of using nagara."  Ibid, page 396.  However, he does not mention Issa's use of the word in what is likely Issa's best-known poem, although he does translate the poem later in the same volume:

     This dewdrop world --
It may be a dewdrop,
     And yet -- and yet --

Issa (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 433.

Nagara appears twice at the end of the haiku, this time translated by Blyth as "and yet," rather than as "nevertheless."  Blyth writes:  "This verse has the prescript, 'Losing a beloved child.'  This child was Sato-jo, and Issa's feelings at this time are portrayed in Oragaharu [a prose diary containing haiku].  He had already lost two or three children when this baby girl died."  Ibid, page 433.  Issa's moving description of his daughter's sudden illness and death appears in an earlier post.

Here is an alternative translation of the haiku:

     The world of dew
is the world of dew.
     And yet, and yet --

Issa (translated by Robert Hass), in Robert Hass, The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, and Issa (The Ecco Press 1994), page 228.

Autumn is indeed the season of "and yet -- and yet --" and of "nevertheless."  A song by Mark Linkous (performing as Sparklehorse) comes to mind:  "Sad and Beautiful World."

Edward Waite (1854-1924)
"The Mellow Year Is Hastening To Its Close" (1896)

Depending upon one's mood at the moment, or one's overall view of life, "nevertheless" may be an exclamation of joy, a cry of despair, or a sigh of acceptance (or some combination of each of these, in varying degrees).  Consider, for instance, this haiku by Bashō:

     This autumn,
How old I am getting:
     Ah, the clouds, the birds!

Bashō (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 3: Summer-Autumn, page 334.

Bashō wrote the poem on November 13, 1694, during his final illness. He died two weeks later, at the age of 50.  The poem is preceded by this title:  "A wanderer's thought."  (Makoto Ueda, Bashō and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary (Stanford University Press 1991), page 407.)

Nagara does not appear in the haiku.  However, "Ah, the clouds, the birds!" functions as a "nevertheless," as an "and yet -- and yet --," to Bashō's opening observation.  But what sort of "nevertheless" is this? One of joy, despair, or acceptance?  Well, that's best left for each of us to decide.

Edward Waite, "Autumn Colouring" (1894)

What a wonderful and breathtaking circumstance:  each year, the seasons play out for us the arc of our life.  This beautiful and mysterious gift should give us pause.  One might fancy that we are part of something that is beyond our ken, and beyond words.  In the meantime, autumn and winter and spring and summer come and go, each with its own "and yet -- and yet --," its own "nevertheless."  How lucky we are.


Leaves talked in the tree
"It will be,"
Wind with lifted tune
A squirrel shook the bough,
"Quick," "Now."

Branch is not changed:
Stands the high stairway where the squirrel ranged,
Just as it stood.
Wind, on fallen key,
"It had to be;"
Leaves drift through the wood.

Geoffrey Scott (1884-1929), Poems (Oxford University Press 1931).

Edward Waite, "Fall of the Year"


  1. Thanks for the Geoffrey Scott, which is perfect. The haiku also, so very fine. And Sparklehorse, new to me, thanks for that also.

    The post says everything that might be said and, as we know, there is so much that may not.

    be cause

    ~ for Stephen Pentz

    all the best,


  2. The name—of it—is "Autumn"—
    The hue—of it—is Blood—
    An Artery—upon the Hill—
    A Vein—along the Road—

    Great Globules—in the Alleys—
    And Oh, the Shower of Stain—
    When Winds—upset the Basin—
    And spill the Scarlet Rain—

    It sprinkles Bonnets—far below—
    It gathers ruddy Pools—
    Then—eddies like a Rose—away—
    Upon Vermilion Wheels—

    No one noticed the change of seasons more than Emily Dickinson. Never having lived in New England (I know the autumns only of the deep American South), I can't say I know what the arrival of fall means "up there," but I know from my reading of Dickinson that fall's arrival in Amherst was spectacular, a time of great beauty and yet an admonition also--it was, the leaves on fire, Indian summer too lovely to bear,a harbinger of the frigid winter waiting patiently in the wings. And to state the obvious, and perhaps by now the banal, the arrival of fall summons an image of the stricken leaves whispering to us as they spiral to the ground: "We are the prophets of the human predicament." In the end, no matter the splendor of fall, the hyperbole it coaxes from us, the eloquence about blue skies, delight at the leaving of the torrid summer, yes, no matter: the arrival of autumn is always, at bottom, in the core of the human heart, about death. It's a promise we receive every year, as if we needed a reminder.

  3. Funny, I've actually been thinking of Mark Linkous a bit lately. I always recall that he was only 47 when he died, and I cross that temporal milestone later this week. I remember having a several-day span of wallowing in Sparklehorse's music in early 2010 interrupted by the shock of hearing of his suicide. If ever a musical artist's sound could be described as "fragile melancholy," it would be his, I think. Very well suited to this time of year, indeed. Though I seem to have made Nick Cave the soundtrack for this season so far.

  4. Don: Thank you very much. I'm pleased you like Geoffrey Scott's poem and the song. I suspect you were already acquainted with the haiku, but they are always worth revisiting. And thank you for your poem, which is a lovely gift. It sums things up quite well.

    As always, it's a pleasure to hear from you.

  5. Bruce: Like you, I have not experienced a New England autumn, but Dickinson's poem (which is new to me) is certainly a revelation. She is quite something, isn't she? And your meditation is a fine complement to her poem, particularly in its conclusion: autumn is, as you say, "at bottom, in the core of the human heart, about death." Edward Thomas suggests something alone these lines near the end of The South Country: "The motion of the autumn is a fall, a surrender, requiring no effort, and therefore the mind cannot long be blind to the cycle of things as in the spring it can, when the effort and delight of ascension veils the goal and the decline beyond." Of course, one needn't sink into despair at this. It is simply a fact. And one that presents itself in a breathtakingly beautiful fashion. Hence, "nevertheless."

    Thank you very much for once again sharing your thoughts, as well as your deep knowledge of Dickinson.

  6. Damian: "Fragile melancholy" is a perfect description. (Although, as you know, he certainly had his loud and manic moments.) I agree that autumn and many of his songs go well together. His death, and in such a fashion, was indeed a sad thing.

    On a lighter note: Happy Birthday! I wish you the best. Thank you very much for stopping by again.

  7. A most beautiful post, the Edward Waite paintings, especially the first, perfectly in harmony with the poems. Nagara indeed.
    And soon time for my November favorite - the 23rd Sonnet.
    Thank you for the beauty you share.

  8. Mary: It's great to hear from you again. Thank you very much for your kind words.

    Yes, that first painting by Waite is quite something, isn't it? The way he captures the light and the colors of a grey, nearing-the-end-of-autumn day is wonderful.

    Thank you for the autumn visit. I hope you have been enjoying the season, and will continue to do so. Best wishes.

  9. There is so much to love about this post; finally I have, on an early dark evening, time & inclination to respond.
    "and yet, and yet".... I have a charming small old hardcover of Blyth's Summer -Autumn Haiku.
    I had read Issa's wistful one shortly before your post. And I very much like Geoffrey Scott's poem, which is new to me.
    And now the paintings. The first two are old friends; the first is lovely. I like the second because, improbably, to me it very much resembles a familiar landscape in Central Park -- the colors, too, are so close to ours. And the third one took my breath away with its melancholy.
    Here in the "Heat Island" of New York City the leaves are turning color reluctantly. It's been such a wet fall that much is still lush & green.
    "First Known" is a great source of pleasure for me -- a resource I often turn to last on the internet in the evening, as a source of calm.

  10. Susan: It's always nice to have an autumn visit from you. Thank you very much for your kind words about the post, and about the blog.

    I remember you commenting favorably on Waite's paintings a few years back -- I've taken to re-posting the paintings each autumn, for I am fond of them as well. They do capture the light and colors of autumn wonderfully, don't they? I understand what you mean about the "melancholy" of the third painting. It is particularly beguiling to me because it captures perfectly the light and color of certain autumn scenes from my childhood in Minnesota. The years vanish, and, for a moment, I return. Nothing has changed. But that light and those colors are found in many places in autumn, aren't they?

    I have the same "charming small old hardcover" of Blyth's Haiku: Summer-Autumn. About 35 or so years ago (can it be?), just after graduating from law school, I came across a set of all four volumes in a used bookstore in Seattle. Those "charming small old" volumes are among my dearest possessions.

    Thank you again for your kind words about the blog. As I have noted before, your long-time presence here means a great deal to me, and I can never thank you enough for being here over the years. I wish you a wonderful and beautiful autumn.