I have always loved the autumn, ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. There is something so romantic and beautiful about walking through the woods near my home on an autumnal afternoon, wrapped up in a hat and scarf and winter coat newly liberated from their summer storage, kicking up kaleidoscopic leaves and revelling in the dry crackling underfoot, watching each gust of wind send leaves spiralling through the air like fairies. There’s a quietness to autumn, I always think, which can be calming – but also a sense of sadness in the air, that what was once healthy and verdant and green is now dying; that with each day the weather cools; that an end is drawing nigh.
This year, I feel that sadness, that poignancy, more than ever. It has been an incredibly difficult year, and I think we all feel great anxiety as we look ahead to the winter of this global pandemic. With that in mind, I have delved into my collection of poetry books in search of words of comfort for this season. I hope these poems will warm your heart and bring you hope and solace.
Fall, Leaves, Fall
‘I shall smile’, ‘I shall sing’… this is Emily Brontë’s attitude to the fall. Can you let the leaves speak bliss to you?
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.
This poem, by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, was part of a collection published in 1885 entitled A Child’s Garden of Verses. Perhaps it will stir memories of your childhood, when October was a time of bonfires and conkers and leaf mountains and Halloween parties.
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!
Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.
Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!
John Keats’ poem devoted to autumn is such a celebration of this time, filled with warm and vivid imagery. Take from this especially that while the ‘songs of spring’ may be distant, we should ‘think not of them’, for autumn has its music too – we should enjoy this moment, live in this moment, practise mindfulness.
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;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Lastly, my favourite autumnal poem, by one of my favourite poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. If autumn heralds an ending, then what a wonderful, positive, jubilant ending – here is a call to action, to throw your arms wide and welcome the autumn and the winter creeping in its wake. I hope that, having read this poem, you too can look out o’er vale and hill and ne’er be desolate.
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.
How there you sat in summer-time,
May yet be in your mind;
And how you heard the green woods sing
Beneath the freshening wind.
Though the same wind now blows around,
You would its blast recall;
For every breath that stirs the trees,
Doth cause a leaf to fall.
Oh! like that wind, is all the mirth
That flesh and dust impart:
We cannot bear its visitings,
When change is on the heart.
Gay words and jests may make us smile,
When Sorrow is asleep;
But other things must make us smile,
When Sorrow bids us weep!
The dearest hands that clasp our hands, —
Their presence may be o’er;
The dearest voice that meets our ear,
That tone may come no more!
Youth fades; and then, the joys of youth,
Which once refresh’d our mind,
Shall come — as, on those sighing woods,
The chilling autumn wind.
Hear not the wind — view not the woods;
Look out o’er vale and hill —
In spring, the sky encircled them —
The sky is round them still.
Come autumn’s scathe — come winter’s cold —
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne’er be desolate.