As the month of September slips away, so does the season of Autumn breathe a sigh. Like the dying embers of coal on a frosty morning that had glowed heartily through the night; or those brittle leaves that are destined to crumble and dissipate under a snowy grave.
Poets and writers have captured the auburn hues of the gingery clime from the very first time that the rainy season calms till Autumn’s final days with the onset of winters.
“Autumn is over the long leaves that love us,
And over the mice in the barley sheaves;
Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us,
And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.”
Emily Dickinson in ‘Autumn’ wants to be a part of the season’s ware:
“The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry`s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I`ll put a trinket on.”
Crimson foliage carpets the landscape; sinuous brooks are icy, signaling the chilly weather ahead. Trees are either gaunt bare or wrapped in withering deep red and yellow leaves. There is a slight nip in the air, which is both refreshing and exhilarating.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning is aflutter in ‘The Autumn’:
“Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them --
The summer flowers depart --
Sit still -- as all transform`d to stone,
Except your musing heart.”
Autumn is the time when the youth of the seasons fades away. The flowering season is over and trees are now laden with the rich bounty of fruits. John Keats says in ‘To Autumn’:
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss`d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core”
William Blake says in ‘To Autumn’:
“The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.`
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o`er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.”
Soft nights in autumns can be especially spectacular. As dusk begins to embrace darkness, a dazzling array of shining stars and the moon bejewel the clear sky. Winding paths are lined by trees on the curves; the leaves, already dainty due to the weather, silently float down in the rolling breeze, touching the solitary rambler so gently that his whole being ruptures into ecstasy. His train of thoughts rides uninterrupted on the monotonous sound of the crunch beneath the feet.
William Butler Yeats paints the picture in ‘The Wild Swans of Coole’:
“The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty Swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used this time of the year to relate the romantic search of Evangeline for her lover Gabriel in the story ‘Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie’:
“Now had the season returned, when the nights grow colder and longer,
And the retreating sun the sign of the Scorpion enters.
Birds of passage sailed through the leaden air, from the ice-bound,
Desolate northern bays to the shores of tropical islands,
Harvests were gathered in; and wild with the winds of September
Wrestled the trees of the forest, as Jacob of old with the angel.”
In such a scenario, travelling through the countryside on a crisp autumn day becomes a pleasurable experience….Amy Lowell took the ‘The Road to Avignon’:
“I know a country laced with roads,
They join the hills and they span the brooks,
They weave like a shuttle between broad fields,
And slide discreetly through hidden nooks.
They are canopied like a Persian dome
And carpeted with orient dyes.”
On a different tangent….plots of some of the most interesting stories are set in Autumn including the intriguing mystery of ‘The Red-headed League’ penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The flaming red hair of the client may just have happened to be a coincidence:
“I had called upon my friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman with fiery red hair. With an apology for my intrusion, I was about to withdraw when Holmes pulled me abruptly into the room and closed the door behind me.”
Herman Melville has made remarkable use of Fall in drawing a simile to one of his characters in ‘Enchantadas’:
“All bepatched and coiled asleep in his lonely lava den among the mountains, he looked, they say, as a heaped drift of withered leaves, torn from autumn trees, and so left in some hidden nook by the whirling halt for an instant of a fierce night wind, which then ruthlessly sweeps on, somewhere else to repeat the capricious act.”
The most common comparisons of Autumn remain with that of human life. For a start John Keats draws an analogy in ‘The Human Seasons’:
“His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness--to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.”
As the year deepens so does the gravitas in life; when one yearns for younger days, to rediscover the child in oneself. Knowing well the journey ahead is short….one aspect is then to live to the fullest, while another to mull the loss of what could have been. Our existence thus sometimes enters leafless days…without zest, and shorn of zeal and vigour.
Walt Whitman delves into the depths in ‘As I Ebb`d with the Ocean of Life’:
As I ebb`d with the ocean of life,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walk`d where the ripples continually wash you Paumanok,
Where they rustle up hoarse and sibilant,
Where the fierce old mother endlessly cries for her castaways,
I musing late in the autumn day, gazing off southward,
Held by this electric self out of the pride of which I utter poems,
Was seiz`d by the spirit that trails in the lines underfoot,
The rim, the sediment that stands for all the water and all the land
of the globe.
Autumn is a potent symbol of the greatest truth of life – death. It is emblematic of the nearing end. It indicates to the traveller, whose spirit is now weary of journey that started in the glaciers, that the ocean is not far. And that the last vestiges of his being will soon be engulfed into the boundless cosmos. With the realization that our days on earth are like sand slipping through our fingers, the closer we feel to divinity…
The deeply religious poet Anne Bradstreet contemplates in ‘Contemplations’:
Sometime now past in the Autumnal Tide,
When Phoebus wanted but one hour to bed,
The trees all richly clad, yet void of pride,
Were gilded o`re by his rich golden head.
Their leaves and fruits seem`d painted but was true
Of green, of red, of yellow, mixed hew,
Rapt were my senses at this delectable view.
I wist not what to wish, yet sure thought I,
If so much excellence abide below,
How excellent is he that dwells on high?
A point to ponder….