If they were meant to ripen under those
slow summer clouds, cooled by their small green fans.
Nobody seeds this harvest, it just grows,
nodding assent to every wind that blows,
uselessly safe, far from our knives and pans.
These apples may be sweet. Nobody knows
what future orchards live in cores one throws
from glossy limousines or battered vans.
Nobody seeds this harvest; it just grows,
denied the gift of purpose we suppose
would give it worth, conferred by human hands.
These apples, maybe sweet (nobody knows),
soften and fall, as autumn comes and goes,
into a sleep well-earned as any man’s.
Nobody seeds this harvest, it just grows.
These apples may be sweet. Nobody knows.
William Wordsworth captures the "sun going down" feeling of autumn surpassingly well . . .
It Is A Beauteous Evening, Calm And Free
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worship'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.
Louse Bogan reveals the "departure aspect" of autumn . . .
Song For The Last Act
Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd's crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.
Now that I have your face by heart, I look.
Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music's cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat's too swift. The notes shift in the dark.
Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.
Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.
Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.
THT featured poet R. S. Gwynn leads us to "all that lags and eases" . . .
Slow for the sake of flowers as they turn
Toward sunlight, graceful as a line of sail
Coming into the wind. Slow for the mill—
Wheel's heft and plummet, for the chug and churn
Of water as it gathers, for the frail
Half-life of spraylets as they toss and spill.
For all that lags and eases, all that shows
The winding-downward and diminished scale
Of days declining to a twilit chill,
Breathe quietly, release into repose:
And what is more dreary than a cold autumn rain, similar to the one Shelley describes so ably here . . .
The Fitful Alternations Of The Rain
The fitful alternations of the rain,
When the chill wind, languid as with pain
Of its own heavy moisture, here and there
Drives through the gray and beamless atmosphere.
And yet each such rain has its aftermath; THT featured poet Jared Carter reminds us to look for the unexpected . . .
what is hidden here
requires a different view—the glance of one
not looking straight ahead, who in the clear
light of the morning sun
simply keeps wandering across the rows,
letting his own perspective change.
After the rain, perhaps, something will show,
glittering and strange.
Who better than William Butler Yeats to capture the sense of loss of what might be a cold late autumn or early winter night spent reading a book of poems and thinking about an aging lover far away in place and time . . .
When You Are Old
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
These lines from "Feria de Paques, Arles 1996" by THT poet Jim Barnes make me think of early autumn as "the beginning of the end" . . . not of an abrupt end, but of painfully (and pain-filled) slow death . . .
You think of Florida
and Key West, Hemingway drunk since
hearing the news of Scott's death,
and of Apollinaire crazy with pain
and throwing out the marks that words
stumbled on. What is the center
of this life if not the sound
of ending? The flow of the corrida
corrupts the sand, and it begins.
Edward Arlington Robinson has a lovely, mysterious line in "Luke Havergal" that warrants scrutiny . . .
God slays Himself with every leaf that flies
. . . and I have to wonder this: when God allowed death to come into the world, and saw His beloved leaves and sparrows beginning to age and die, what must He have thought, perhaps looking forward to Golgotha? But perhaps we know as much about letting go and loss as God does, and perhaps we understand that they serve a purpose, as THT poet Jack Butler intimates . . .
She's checking the luggage again, buckling up.
The boyfriend starts the little red Cavalier,
hangs a left at the corner: They're out of here,
they're off to college.
You let a small sigh slip,
and turn, as I thought you might, a quick half-step,
to fold with me. You shake with loss, with clear
sweet sorrow, with letting go.
I read, once, we're
identical to rings, our prototype
the torus, gullet and skin a single map,
one surface, continuous.
than any topology, but I would swear
I've seen, somewhere in you, that glimmering shape
the soul must have, a loop of pure bright hope
scattering daughters to the ringing air.
Whatever God knows about loss—and who can say what that knowledge is, or what it portends for the future of this planet?—men and women certainly understand loss, and all the omens of autumn and decay. The lines below were written by THT featured poet Esther Cameron about her poetic mentor, Paul Celan, but they may speak also for anyone who has seen a loved one gone ahead, trailblazing the most desolate paths of loss . . .
In the most desolate places of the soul,
where nothing lives but the wan ghost Despair,
I found your word, as on a canyon wall
crude petroglyphs, proclaiming you were there.
What men share with God that the rest of the universe does not seem to share, is ably stated by THT featured poet Alfred Dorn . . .
And meanwhile the galaxy, that spiral ear
carrying us through darkness, does not hear.
And there is yet another aspect of autumn in our human life. Jack Butler again . . .
For Her Surgery
Over the city the moon rides in mist,
scrim scarred with faint rainbow.
Two days till Easter. The thin clouds run slow, slow,
the wind bells bleed the quietest
of possible musics to the dark lawn.
All possibility we will have children is gone.
I raise a glass half water, half alcohol,
to that light come full again.
Inside, you sleep, somewhere below the pain.
Down at the river, there is a tall
ghost tossing flowers to dark water—
jessamine, rose, and daisy, salvia lyrata . . .
Oh goodbye, goodbye to bloom in the white blaze
of moon on the river, goodbye
to creek joining the creek joining the river, the axil, the Y,
goodbye to the Yes of two Ifs in one phrase . . .
Children bear children. We are grown,
and time has thrown us free under the timeless moon.
And it's not only our sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mentors that the earth claims. Rhina P Espaillat again, from her poem "Weighing In" . . .
Body, how useful you became, how lucky,
heavy with news and breakage, rich, and sad,
sometimes, imagining that greedy zero
you must have been, that promising empty sack
of possibilities, never-to-come tomorrow.
But look at you now, body, soft old shoe
that love wears when it’s stirring, look down, look
how earth wants what you weigh, needs what you know.
Sometimes there is the air of a black dirge to autumn; Ernest Dowson intones one for us . . .
A Last Word
Let us go hence: the night is now at hand;
The day is overworn, the birds all flown;
And we have reaped the crops the gods have sown;
Despair and death; deep darkness o'er the land,
Broods like an owl; we cannot understand
Laughter or tears, for we have only known
Surpassing vanity: vain things alone
Have driven our perverse and aimless band.
Let us go hence, somewhither strange and cold,
To Hollow Lands where just men and unjust
Find end of labour, where's rest for the old,
Freedom to all from love and fear and lust.
Twine our torn hands! O pray the earth enfold
Our life-sick hearts and turn them into dust.
And, yes, there is a finality to death, seeing that men are not reborn (at least not as themselves) in this earth. As young soldiers and civilians die in wars, battles, skirmishes, riots and torture chambers all over the world, our hearts go out to the combatants, willing and unwilling alike. A. E. Housman speaks from the grave for the young men who fight for countless unaccountable strangers in the name of "homeland." Whether or not we agree with the reasons they go to war, let us not forget they do so risking all on our behalf . . .
Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.
I am very thankful that young men have been valiant enough to fight on my behalf, regardless of who was "right" and who was "wrong." Too often in this life, everyone and everything seems wrong, incredibly wrong. Death is all the testimony we need that the wrongs of this world are ultimately incurable. The curse of autumn is premature death: everything lovely and worthwhile withers and dies too quickly. What is reborn lives on the corpse of all earlier loveliness.
And yet there is something endlessly hopeful about autumn, the promise of regeneration. The world goes on, if we do not, and while we do live, Hope is a curious bird, as Dickinson explains . . .
Hope Is A Thing With Feathers
Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings a tune without words
And never stops at all.
And sweetest, in the gale, is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That keeps so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet, never, in extremity
It ask a crumb of me.
And, yes, I'm extremely thankful for hope! But is there a reason for hope? In the following poem, Hart Crane suggests that love blooms like a tardy flower: an amazingly silly flower, to bloom when everything is in the process of dying! But is it the dying world that wins in the end, or is it love? . . .
It sheds a shy solemnity,
This lamp in our poor room.
O grey and gold amenity, —
Silence and gentle gloom!
Wide from the world, a stolen hour
We claim, and none may know
How love blooms like a tardy flower
Here in the day's after-glow.
And even should the world break in
With jealous threat and guile,
The world, at last, must bow and win
Our pity and a smile.
Of course there are many theories about what happens to the soul after the body's death. If there is no afterlife, there's no great harm in death. Really, then, what is all the fuss about? The first time the negatives of this life outweigh the positives, it would be immensely logical to avoid needless suffering and choose "not to be" over "to be." Yet few of us willingly take the "not to be" option, and perhaps this tells us that we are hopeful of our "distant prospects."
A poet can, in the blackest of poems, look back to "the far sent messages of the years" while simultaneously looking forward to "the coming glory of the light," as Edward Arlington Robinson does in a poem that begins, "I cannot find my way: there is no star / In all the shrouded heavens anywhere."
I cannot find my way: there is no star
In all the shrouded heavens anywhere;
And there is not a whisper in the air
Of any living voice but one so far
That I can hear it only as a bar
Of lost, imperial music, played when fair
And angel fingers wove, and unaware,
Dead leaves to garlands where no roses are.
No, there is not a glimmer, nor a call,
For one that welcomes, welcomes when he fears,
The black and awful chaos of the night;
For through it all—above, beyond it all—
I know the far sent message of the years,
I feel the coming glory of the light.
Sometimes poets don't just speculate about the afterlife . . . they seem somehow to participate in it, as in this poem by THT poet Beverly Burch (no relation, which explains her far better looks!) . . .
Reflections at Gualala Point
Six days together, bolted with light—
a sun of extravagant brilliance
for that fog-bound coast, and you
so intent, burning to stay alive.
Two months later I’m here without you,
everything still kindled, even the fog,
a purplish flush blooming over water.
Yesterday by the hidden pool
I sat where we sat, a curved cypress limb,
heard you saying your luck
wasn’t hard, not like some others.
On the beach I swear you rose again
from the waves, gleaming
in that white nylon running suit,
gauzy Venus calling forever into the wind,
arms lifted, sleeves opening like wings,
reflecting the shimmer, sun on water.
I went back to the tiny chapel,
its strange design squat like a mushroom,
stained glass windows shaped to the landscape.
When we were there, you felt some presence.
It might have been your own—
just off, just the near future.
It’s still there—
as if you learned to release yourself,
infinitely thinned, pellucid, transparently embodied
in the air, the water, the earth here.
As if you’ve become wave and particle,
transmitting. It might also be me,
through sheer longing
receiving signs of you everywhere.
But in the end, autumn is a mystery, and it's a mystery that we find sorrow and hope so mingled and entangled they seem hard, if not impossible, to tell apart. Robert Frost again . . .
My November Guest
My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted grey
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
And yet, in the end, after everything unknowable has been mused and perused, then uttered profoundly or merely muttered, perhaps there is something heroic about how living things cling to life, as though it might be the sacrament Dickinson suggested. Perhaps light is not the sacrament, but what it illuminates. As Alexander Pope says of men . . .
You purchase pain with all that joy can give,
and die of nothing but a rage to live.
When I Pope's lines, I think immediately of Dylan Thomas's villanelle to his dying father . . .
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Now, back to Thanksgiving . . .
One day a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the purpose of showing his son how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from the trip, the father asked his son what he had learned. The son answered: "I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them." The boy's father was speechless. Then his son added, "Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are." — Excerpted from a piece (author unknown) circulating on the Internet and e-mailed to me by Michael Bennett
Writing and thinking as I go, I am accosted by seemingly disjointed thoughts about "things autumnal" and Thanksgiving. Let me briefly delve a little into a mystery: was it an accident that America lay undiscovered for so long, and that America ended up being what it is today? I'm reminded of a quotation of Ronald Reagan's that I can't remember verbatim, but along the lines that America was meant to draw a special breed of men and women from all corners of the globe: men and women who loved freedom and who had the courage to abandon everything in search of it, even their lives. This may seem like a strange thought, but if there is a God in heaven, or such a thing as Divine Providence, why not? People who desperately desired freedom above all things needed a new place, a fresh start, far away from kings and tyrants and despots. What better place to birth a new breed of nation than a new, unspoiled country? And what better people to populate it than mongrels and half-breeds? Who knows how many types of blood I contain? I believe I have English, Scottish, Cherokee and all other sorts of mingled bloods in my veins. And the more, I say, the merrier!
I'm thankful for year after year splendidly crowned with a golden harvest of goodness, and for paths that "drop fatness." I'm thankful for pastures clothed with flocks, so that we have more clothes to wear than we know what to do with, and for valleys so covered over with corn that we have more food to eat than our bellies and silos can hold.
Of course, all is not "sweetness and light" here, nor anywhere in the world . . .
Thou hast shown Thy people hard things:
Thou hast made them to drink the wine of astonishment.
Since 9-11, we have had to drink the wine of astonishment.
Thou tellest my wanderings:
put Thou my tears into Thy bottle:
are they not in Thy book?
And yet we must choose the way of thankfulness, or fall into ingratitude and, therefore, despair. Victor Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning: “We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a (person) but one thing; The last of his freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
Not to choose one's own way is surely to lose one's way entirely. If we don't choose to be thankful, we have chosen to the way of ingratitude. Whether we call it "choosing" or "forgetting," the results are the same. Lately, we have forgotten to forgive others, and all too often to forgive ourselves. A neighbor speaks contrary to our opinion, and we insult and revile him. We call him a fool for being stupid enough to disagree with us. We have forgotten that our nation was founded on the precept that people can and do have radically different ideas about everything imaginable, and yet we imagine a Utopian society in which everyone is accepted, in which everyone is honored, in which everyone's vote counts exactly the same as anyone else's. We have forgotten that we are a nation of equals: that every man is as good as (but no better than) his neighbor. We have forgotten that in the midst of so much abundance, if we concentrate too long and too hard on what we "lack," we may well starve, having convinced ourselves that we have "nothing good" to eat.
But fortunately we do have much to be thankful for! If you're entirely responsible for your own accomplishments, or if you consider yourself a happy (or unhappy) accident, be thankful for yourself, or for your lucky stars. If you believe in God, why not tip the cap of thankfulness respectfully heavenward? And, having thanked whomever you choose to thank, why not think about extending love and forgiveness and mercy and grace toward everyone you meet . . . including everyone who thinks differently than you . . . which is, in all likelihood, everyone you meet.
This article was written by THT editor Michael R. Burch.
There is a related THT article here: Flying the Flag on 9-11
Related Pages: The Best Thanksgiving Poems and Poems of Gratitude and Hope