Monday, August 31, 2009

`The Instinctive Joys of Song'

The cashier at the grocery reminded me we had met last spring when I accompanied her son’s class on a field trip to a shopping mall and nearby city park. He’s a third-grader with Down syndrome, an engaging, strong-willed boy eager to sing the chorus to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma.” His mother handed me the receipt and said “See you Monday,” though I’ll be subbing in a high school for the next two weeks.

It surprises me I can remember the names, faces and personalities of so many kids I haven’t seen in more than two months, none of whom I know intimately. The cashier’s son and my memories of his singing, mingled with the sudden arrival of September, remind me of these concluding lines from a sonnet:

“'Mid frost and snow, the instinctive joys of song,
And nobler cares than listless summer knew.”

They’re from the other great autumn poem written by an English Romantic poet – Wordsworth’s “September 1815”:

“While not a leaf seems faded; while the fields,
With ripening harvest prodigally fair,
In brightest sunshine bask; this nipping air,
Sent from some distant clime where Winter wields
His icy scimitar, a foretaste yields
Of bitter change, and bids the flowers beware;
And whispers to the silent birds, `Prepare
Against the threatening foe your trustiest shields.’
For me, who under kindlier laws belong
To Nature's tuneful quire, this rustling dry
Through leaves yet green, and yon crystalline sky,
Announce a season potent to renew,
'Mid frost and snow, the instinctive joys of song,
And nobler cares than listless summer knew.”

We feel fall before we see it, long before the calendar catches up. “Bitter change,” yes, but its “nobler cares” are congenial to a northern mind that finds comfort in the disciplines of solstice and equinox (as in the disciplines of metrical form). It’s a serious season:

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

Go here and scroll down to read all of Louise Bogan’s “Simple Autumnal.”

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