D. B. Hart, The Poetry of Autumn

We rhapsodize about “New England Autumns,” and for good reason; but, really, Autumn anywhere in the deciduous forests of North America, especially in the East—from upper Canada to the deep South—is magnificent, and far outshines anything the Old World has to offer. In those years in which I’ve found myself in some corner of Europe during the fall, I have never been able to suppress a certain feeling of disappointment at the limited palette nature employs there for what is surely my favorite of the seasons. This isn’t to say European autumn isn’t lovely enough, with its muted light and drifting mists and pale flavescence. But the chromatic spectrum is narrow. For the most part, the trees pass from a darker to a more limpid green, and then to light gold, and then to ochre and brown, before their branches are stripped bare. There are occasional bright flashes of red and maroon amid the tawny pallor, though mostly from imported species of flora. But, to an eye accustomed to the endlessly varying hues of America’s autumn, it all seems a little insipid.

Perhaps it’s only because I come from the east coast of North America that I think fall the most poetical of months. Of course, every season is a season for poetry, and every season has been the subject of poetry; but I tend to think of this time of year as the most intrinsically poetic in nature. This may just be because of the contrasts in color: all that purple, crimson, scarlet, orange, cadmium, gold, and so forth, shifting and intermingling against a backdrop of luminous gray; it all seems like such a perfect coincidence of gaiety and melancholy, exuberance and death. Or perhaps it’s because of a certain strange quality in the air that imbrues everything with an additional tincture of mystery: whole days washed in a kind of opaline twilight, the sun blanched to a cold silver by ubiquitous clouds, wood smoke floating through soft rains, and so on. Or perhaps it’s simply because, as the temperature drops, one spends more time inside, ideally by a fire, and so has more time to devote to reading poetry.

Whatever the case, now that fall is fully upon us, and I—in my forested retreat—can spend far more than my fair share of idle hours wandering about among the trees, I’ve begun making lists in my head of my favorite poems about autumn. There’s far too much to choose from, of course, for this to be a useful occupation, unless one’s compiling one of those ephemeral anthologies that show up now and again, always already on sale, at Borders or Barnes and Noble (which I’m not). But it’s an enjoyable pastime, and innocuous, and so I thought I might offer a brief extract here, and solicit additional suggestions.

In English, obviously, the autumnal poem is Keats’ “Ode to Autumn,” whose images, cadences, mood, and music seem more evocative of the season’s feel than any other lyric in the language. It’s probably too well known to need quoting, but there’s no harm in recalling at least the first stanza:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cell.

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