Tag Archives: autumn

Thoughts on “A Late Walk” by Robert Frost

Vincent Van Gogh

When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

In this poem, Frost uses autumn as a symbol for impending death. It appears that someone close to him is nearing the end of his or her life, and this imminent death is cause for Frost to reflect on his own mortality.

In addition to the ABCB rhyming scheme, Frost incorporates alliteration, which works nicely. The phrases “garden ground,” “withered weeds,” “leaf that lingered,” and “disturbed, I doubt not” instill a somber musicality to the poem that evokes a feeling of inner reflection.

I have often walked alone in the fall, smelling the dead leaves and listening to the wind rustling the bare branches of trees. At these times, I am very aware of the fragility of life, along with the promise of spring and rebirth.

It is the promise of rebirth that offers a ray of hope in this otherwise sad poem. Frost uses the aster flower as a symbol for spring and rebirth. Death is just part of the cycle of life, but the cycle continues and from death comes new growth.

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“Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

(excerpt from poem)

This is a fairly long poem, and I debated whether to include the entire text here. I decided to include some excerpts and a link to the entire text. Click here to read the poem on the Edgar Allan Poe Society website.

This is a poem about being haunted by the loss of a loved one, not unlike “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven.” It is set in October and incorporates seasonal metaphors symbolizing death, such as withering leaves, ashen skies, and cypress trees. But for me, the most intriguing aspect of this dark poem is the exploration of the subconscious mind.

The protagonist describes travelling with his Psyche, or Soul, through the boreal regions of the north.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

As I read this, I envision the frozen northlands, the Aurora Borealis, and vast expanses of wilderness coated with ice and frost. These represent the speaker’s subconscious mind, where memories and dreams lie frozen in an area that is difficult to reach. He enters this realm with his Psyche, the part of his consciousness connected with the realm of dreams, imagination, and memory. There is also an active volcano, which symbolizes fiery and painful passion and emotion surging up to the surface from deep within. It’s an incredibly powerful image and captures the deep sorrow that the protagonist feels.

While in the deepest recesses of the subconscious, Poe describes the appearance of the goddess Astarte.

At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

Astarte is a goddess of fertility and sexuality, often associated with Venus. I interpret this as the protagonist envisioning the soul of his departed love having merged and become a part of the divine feminine. It’s an interesting idea, that male souls emanate and return to the masculine aspect of the godhead, while the female souls emanate and return to the feminine aspect of the divine. It is almost like a dualistic version of Plotinus’s theory of divine emanation. I suspect this is something I will be meditating on for a while.

Overall, this is a beautifully crafted and evocative poem that works on many levels for me. While I don’t think it’s as popular as some of Poe’s other poems, I feel it is as good if not better.

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“The Enemy” by Charles Baudelaire

Baudelaire

My youth was but a tempest, dark and savage,
Through which, at times, a dazzling sun would shoot
The thunder and the rain have made such ravage
My garden is nigh bare of rosy fruit.

Now I have reached the Autumn of my thought,
And spade and rake must toil the land to save,
That fragments of my flooded fields be sought
From where the water sluices out a grave.

Who knows if the new flowers my dreams prefigure,
In this washed soil should find, as by a sluit,
The mystic nourishment to give them vigour?

Time swallows up our life, O ruthless rigour!
And the dark foe that nibbles our heart’s root,
Grows on our blood the stronger and the bigger!

(Translation by Roy Campbell)

So the first thing I would like to discuss regarding this poem is the title, which in French is “L’Ennemi.” I think this is one of those times where something key is lost in translation, because the word “ennemi” seems too similar to ennui for coincidence, in my opinion, especially considering how prominent ennui is in many of Baudelaire’s poems. I should note that in my version of The Flowers of Evil, the translator, Robert Lowell, translates the title as ‘The Ruined Garden,” which I feel is a less accurate translation, at least regarding the title of the poem.

The sonnet begins with Baudelaire describing his youth, which is depicted as troubled and painful. The garden is symbolic of his mind and the source of his artistic expression. But this garden was not able to produce when he was young. It was only later in life that the “new flowers,” or poems, grew from the ailing and damaged garden bed.

It is in the last stanza that the mysterious enemy appears, described as “the dark foe that nibbles our heart’s root.” I believe that the enemy is ennui, slowly eating away at the poet’s heart. He knows he has “reached the Autumn” of his life and that he must express himself now or he never will. There is a palpable sense of urgency in his words. But ennui is ever there, gnawing at him, seeking to destroy his creative urge.

For those of you who are interested, there is a great website that has multiple translations of this poem, as well as the original French. I encourage you to read some of the other translations to get a better feel of this great sonnet. Cheers!

fleursdumal.org

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“October” by Robert Frost

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

This is a gorgeous poem that draws on images of autumn as a metaphor for growing old. If one considers the seasons as symbolic of the cycle of human life (spring/birth, summer/youth, fall/maturity, winter/old age and death), then it is clear that the speaker in this poem is in the later stages of maturity and sensing the closeness of death, represented by the leaves beginning to fall from the trees. Once the leave are all gone, that symbolizes the time of death before the cycle begins again.

He entreats the leaves to fall slowly, “for the grapes’ sake.” I see the grapes as a metaphor for his children. Fruit is a frequent symbol for offspring, such as in God’s instruction to be fruitful. Anyway, the poem’s speaker is not ready to leave his children. He still feels connected to them, they are still part of his vine. It’s possible he feels they have not ripened or reached maturity.

The image of amethyst caught my attention, and I related to it, since I am already seeing the leaves around my home getting tinged with purple. Anyway, something told me to do a quick search on some of the meanings and properties of amethyst and I found something very interesting. The word amethyst comes from Greek mythology and is connected to Bacchus and grapes.

The name Amethyst derives from the Greek word ametusthos, meaning “not intoxicated,” and comes from an ancient legend. The wine god Bacchus, angry over an insult and determined to avenge himself decreed the first person he should meet would be devoured by his tigers. The unfortunate mortal happened to be a beautiful maiden named Amethyst on her way to worship at the shrine of Diana. As the ferocious beasts sprang, she sought the protection of the goddess and was saved by being turned into a clear, white crystal. Bacchus, regretting his cruelty, poured the juice of his grapes over the stone as an offering, giving the gem its lovely purple hue.

(Source: Crystal Vaults)

I really liked how this myth ties into the poem. It adds a whole other level of interpretation which I find moving.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope that your autumn days are full of beauty and inspiration.

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“To Autumn” by William Blake

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Today is the fall equinox, so I thought this would be an appropriate poem.

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stainèd
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

`The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

`The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.’
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

I really love the imagery in this poem. For me, it expresses the bounty of the harvest. But even more important, it hints at the promise of future growth. Within the harvest are the seeds for future crops. As Autumn flies over the bleak hills to make way for Winter, he leaves behind “his golden load”: an abundance of food, seeds for the Spring, and a feeling of joyous celebration.

May this fall season fill your life with happiness and abundance!!

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“My November Guest” by Robert Frost

From Archive.org

From Archive.org

I love autumn—the sound of rustling leaves in the cold wind, the skeletal trees silhouetted against dark skies, the smell of foliage beginning to decay. For me, the season symbolizes the end of growth and the vibrant transition to death, with a promise to be reborn after the cold, white season of rest. I decided to read something this morning that spoke of autumn, so I pulled my copy of The Complete Poems of Robert Frost off my shelf, figuring that would be a good place to look. And there, the third poem listed in the table of contents, was “My November Guest.”

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
For they are better for her praise.

This poem expresses exactly how I am feeling as I listen to the steady wind outside my window. It’s a strange blend of sadness and wonder. Although Nature is in her final stages, shaking off the last vestiges of life, there is the promise of renewal. Come spring, the cycle will begin anew.

Like Frost, it was “not yesterday that I learned to know the love of bare November days.” This is something I have always felt, a feeling instilled in me as a child camping and exploring in the woods of the northeast. I’m grateful to live in a place where I can experience the seasons and witness Nature’s cycles each year. There is something spiritual about it that is difficult to express, although Robert Frost does it quite well.

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“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving

SleepyHollowFor me, few stories capture the spirit of the Halloween season quite like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. We know the story and most likely have read it many times. Traveling home alone, lanky Ichabod Crane encounters the spectral rider who chases him through the woods, resulting in Crane’s disappearance. Still, no matter how many times you read it, it still sparks the imagination and brings to life all the imagery and magic that is a part of this season.

The last time I had read this story, I was living in Miami. Now that I live in the mountains of North Carolina, the imagery is much more immediate. Every year I experience the sights, sounds, and smells of autumn, when the harvest is done and the trees shed their leaves, the symbolic dying of nature making way for the rebirth associated with spring.

It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frost into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet.

Often, during autumn, I like to walk in the evening, listening to the crunch of dried leaves beneath my feel and looking at the skeletal trees silhouetted against a dark sky. This always thrills me in a way that is difficult to explain. There is just something mysterious about trees at night, and Irving captures that beautifully.

He was, moreover, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid. In the center of the road stood an enormous tulip-tree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air.

One of the things that stood out for me in this reading was how tales actually become part of one’s psyche. It is almost like the stories we hear help define how we perceive reality. The tales that Ichabod hears actually mesh with his consciousness and directly impacts his sense of the world around him.

All these tales, told in that drowsy undertone with which men talk in the dark, the countenances of the listeners only now and then receiving a casual gleam from the glare of a pipe, sank deep in the mind of Ichabod.

I had a similar experience as a kid. There was a legend that we all told about Bloody Mary. The legend was, if you do into the bathroom at midnight and gaze into the mirror with all the lights out and whisper “Bloody Mary” 100 times, her bloody face would appear to you in the mirror. Well, I of course had to try it. The crazy thing is, I swear I saw the face. Looking back, I can see how my perception was influenced by the tales we told each other as kids. This is something that I think about often: how art, stories, and mythology influence how we interpret our own realities.

Stories have definitely helped shape who I am and how I view the world, and as I continue reading, I hope that my view of the world will continue to expand.

Cheers!

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