Wednesday, September 09, 2015

`To Admire Her Before She Goes'

A treat to see fall again in a northern latitude. During the thirty-mile drive from the airport in Toronto to my son’s boarding school in Aurora, we enjoyed an early-autumn landscape familiar from twenty years of living in upstate New York. Once it was dairy country but development has turned much of it into apartments, condos, gas stations and strip malls. Cows are sparse but the hills that haven’t been leveled are covered with long grasses, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and, most conspicuously, mulleins, all turning brown and gray this time of year. I think of mulleins as the aristocrats among the weeds – they grow in vacant lots and along the sides of country roads. They begin as rosettes of downy leaves, soft as a rabbit’s ear, and send up tall stems with small yellow flowers. In winter, the leafless stalks stand like a field of broomsticks, some tall as a man.      

It was Eric Ormsby who introduced me to the homely, late- Romantic poems of Archibald Lampman (1861-1899), born not far from here in Morpeth, Ontario. In his "Mullein," Ormsby quotes the concluding line of Lampman’s “In November (2)”: “A pleasure secret and austere.” In “Autumn Maples,” Lampman says the trees, turned scarlet in the fall, “Have fired the hills with beaconing clouds of flame.” This reminded me of a passage in “New England: An Autumn Impression,” the lovely first chapter in Henry James’ The American Scene (1907):

“…the way the colour begins in those days to be dabbed, the way, here and there, for a start, a solitary maple on a woodside flames in single scarlet, recalls nothing so much as the daughter of a noble house dressed for a fancy-ball, with the whole family gathered round to admire her before she goes.”

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