Wednesday, October 03, 2012

`But We Are Seasonal'

The season tips in October, even in Houston. We open windows at night and turn off the air conditioning. The cat sits with his nose against the screen, sniffing as though he were reading the air. On campus I found a hummingbird on the ground beneath a large window in the library. I lifted him by the wing, the first time I’ve ever touched a hummingbird, and he was still iridescent and almost weightless. No leaves have changed color but the long needles of the loblollies fall and collect in brown drifts. From her farm my boss brings sacks of peppers, five kinds, red and green. Charles Tomlinson published “October” in The Shaft (1978):
“Autumn seems ending: there is lassitude
Wherever ripeness has not filled its brood
Of rinds and rounds: all promises are fleshed
Or now they fail. Far gone, these blackberries —
For each one that you pull, two others fall
Full of themselves, the leaves slick with their ooze:
Awaiting cold, we welcome in the frost
To cleanse these purples, this discandying,
As eagerly as we shall look to spring.”
“Ripeness” is Shakespearian and Keatsian, defining a moment of gain and loss, quintessentially human. The dread of autumn and winter has never made sense. We live by rhythms bigger than ourselves, some hardly suspected, and perhaps we’re happiest, or least the least unhappy, when we align ourselves with them. Another poem titled “October” is by the late Tom Disch (About the Size of It, 2007):
“Without the fables of these falling leaves
How would we know how to die? Living on
The veldt we would have to imagine ourselves
Falling prey to lions, praying to leonine gods,
Devourers of our kind. Heaven forbid. Better
To give lip service to the myths of these
More temperate climes, the Aurora of autumn,
April’s putative cruelty, June’s spoonfuls
Of ripe berries. Then if our poets cry
Ashes, ashes, all fall down, we have been
Fortified, inoculated, preserved
Against the day we would have come, if not
To dust, to some similar dismal
Conclusion. But we don’t. We continue
Living, in a manner of speaking, the lives
We have agreed to live, just like these
Deciduous trees, whose leaves we have learned
To make our teas from. We rustle
In the breeze and taking our dying falls,
But we are seasonal, our hours and our days
Recurring, even as the South Pole dies,
Even as we tell ourselves these lies.”

Again, berries and ripeness, signs of the season. Speaking of "mellow fruitfulness," here's a passage from the letter Keats wrote on Sept. 22, 1819, three days after writing "To Autumn," to his friend Charles W. Dilke:

"Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine--good god how fine--It went down soft pulpy, slushy, oozy--all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry."

1 comment:

Helen Pinkerton said...


Louise Bogan seems to have had some trouble getting her emotions to "align" with the Fall season, in "Simple Autumnal"":

The measured blood beats out the year's delay.
The tearless eyes and heart, forbidden grief,
Watch the burned, restless, but abiding leaf,
The brighter branches arming the bright day.

The cone, the curving fruit should fall away,
The vine stem crumble, ripe grain know its sheaf.
Bonded to time, fires should have done, be brief,
But, serfs to sleep, they glitter and they stay.

Because not last nor first, grief in its prime
Wakes in the day, and hears of life's intent.
Sorrow would break the seal stamped over time
And set the baskets where the bough is bent.

Full season's come, yet filled trees keep the sky
And never scent the ground where they must lie.