Sunday, November 08, 2009

`A Golden and Stinking Blaze'

No doubt someone has already written The Tao of Leaf Raking or The Bodhisattva and the Leaf Blower but I can recommend leaf removal as an inexpensive, mindless way to achieve “no mind.” If meditation is self-emptying, the trees in and around our yard produce sufficient biomass to purge an ego four or five times a day in November. Please phone ahead. Rakes provided. This is Geoffrey Hill in Section XII of Mercian Hymns:

“It is autumn. Chestnuts-boughs clash their inflamed
leaves. The garden festers for attention: telluric
cultures, enriched with shards, corms, nodules, the
sunk solids of gravity. I have raked up a golden
and stinking blaze.”

“Telluric” is terrestrial, of or referring to the earth, and also refers to the planet’s natural electric current. “Corms” are bulb-like underground plant stems in which food is stored. “Inflamed leaves” and “golden and stinking blaze” reiterate the poem’s images of gold coins and seals, newly minted and buried for centuries, of King Offa of Mercia (757-796). Hopkins places “Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls” among his pied beauties. I too found a sort of gold while raking – lovely white and yellow mushrooms, delicate and unblemished, spawned beneath big-leaf maple leaves and bushels of pine and cedar needles. Everything drips and smells of slow decay. Chesterton writes in “Gold Leaves”:

“In youth I sought the golden flower
Hidden in wood or wold,
But I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold.”

1 comment:

William A. Sigler said...

Thanks for the providing the Hill dictionary apparatus -- very scholarly of you. It's challenging to stay within the flow of Hill's three-dimensional surfaces while having to stop and look up so many words and nuances -- many of them not in conventional dictionaries.

I've been re-reading Mercian Hymns somewhat obsessively recently (is there any other way to read Hill?). How masterfully he hides so much pain, like mushrooms under leaves, below surfaces of deepest gold. You know a poet is great when even a few lines on raking leaves in the backyard arrow in straight to his central, ever-present poetic concern: the interpenetration of English soil and people and history in each moment of living.

The Chesteron quote is also fabulous. Your "autumn collection" is much appreciated in this here mulchless, ever-dessicated desert.