The First Breath of Autumn

Autumn Leaves, by John Everett Millais (1856)
Autumn Leaves, by John Everett Millais (1856)

Just a short post this week, as I’m currently up to my neck in proposals, synopses, and pre-promotional activity for A Song at Twilight, which comes out in less than two weeks! But it’s worth noting that today is September 21, traditionally considered the autumn equinox (it’s also apparently the UN International Day of Peace–a touch ironic given the current state of world events, but let’s not dwell on that just now). And tomorrow will be the official first day of autumn.

Autumn was a season I had to learn to love. When I was a kid, it meant going back to school, usually amid scorching temperatures, and settling (reluctantly) back in harness. As an adult and a full-time writer, I’m almost always in harness now, either writing or thinking about my next project, so that aspect of autumn has sort of lost its sting. And when the September heat wave passes–and it’s been cooler than usual this year–mornings becomes misty and overcast, days shorter, and nights longer, although we do get an hour back to compensate. And there’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the onset of the Christmas holidays to anticipate . . . or dread, depending on one’s perspective!

On the West Coast, we don’t get the same brilliant display of foliage that the East Coast and Midwest enjoy. But even here there are occasional pockets of vibrancy and color, purplish-reds and orangey-golds among the fading, yellowish-greens. And pine cones drop to the ground, and so do those annoying spiky things that look like morning star flails in arboreal form. They might be horse chestnuts, but whatever they’re called, they’re a nuisance, especially underfoot, which means I need to be extra-careful on my morning walks so I don’t do a face plant into the sidewalk.

Autumn in England can be beautiful, I’ve heard, and this ode by John Keats seems to bear that out. So, whenever I’m feeling grumpy about the fall, I remember this poem and try, as Keats did, to find the beauty in this most contradictory of seasons.

To Autumn

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-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d 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-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

–John Keats (1795-1821)

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