Tuesday, October 04, 2022

'Almost an Inseparable Accident'

“Of seasons of the year, the autumn is most melancholy.” 

I’ve never found it so even when living in the North, as I did for my first fifty-two years. October seems to confer a clarity on the year after the murkiness of summer, which is hardly surprising at 31° north latitude. Transplanted Northerners traditionally eulogize the gaudiness of autumn trees and the blurring of four discrete seasons. The green of healthy trees in Houston grows a little drabber this time of year but the leaves don’t fall. We still have butterflies and hummingbirds in the front garden, though not much “mellow fruitfulness” except in the produce department at the grocery, where seasons overlap and I can get watermelons and Honeycrisp apples. My Henry James professor and I once tried to recite “To Autumn” from memory in her office. I blew the first line and came up with the semi-Keatsian “fruitful mellowness.”


The line at the top is direct, not at all convoluted and quite un-Burtonian. You’ll find it in Partition One, Section 1 – “‘Of Diseases in General, and of Melancholy; with a Digression of Anatomy” -- of The Anatomy of Melancholy. Burton issues it as an inviolate truth, nothing to be argued with. In the North, fall is the bittersweet season. In Texas, we get a middling drop in temperature and humidity. Autumn here is a lesser summer. Nostalgia for old autumns might lend the new ones a sweet melancholy, but I seem to be immune to that. Burton continues the passage:  


“Of peculiar times: old age, from which natural melancholy is almost an inseparable accident; but this artificial malady is more frequent in such as are of a middle age.”


No longer middle-aged, I turn seventy – unambiguously old – later this month. Let’s take comfort in the knowledge that October is the real Poetry Month.


Richard Zuelch said...

Speaking of poetry, I've ordered "Minor Poets of the Caroline Period," edited by George Saintsbury; 3 volumes (1905-1921), from a used bookshop in England. Looking forward to their arrival.

The Caroline Period, of course, is the fancy name for the reign of King Charles I (1625-1649).

George Saintsbury (1845-1933), British literary critic, educator, and voluminous author, is one of my literary heroes. His "A Short* History of English Literature" (1898) continued to be reprinted and used in colleges and universities into the 1970s. Not a bad run.

*By "short," he means 818 pages of small print. Heh.

Thomas Parker said...

The time of year to sit by the window on a rainy day, listening to Sinatra's last great album, September of My Years.

Of course, living in California, my next rainy day may be sometime in the 2030's.

slr in tx said...

Houston only has two seasons - hot and not so hot.

Brian said...

I am often given reason to think of this poem, perhaps though, most often in autumn when the sun is lower and the colours in Nova Scotia are burnt.

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
'Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

Tim Guirl said...

Seventy's not so bad if you're lucky enough to have reasonably good health and can hold the four C's at bay: cancer, cognitive decline, constitutional senescence, and coronary disease.