“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.