Tomorrow, September 22, is the first day of fall—the season so nice, they named it twice: fall and autumn. The Earth passes the equinox—the Earth’s pole is pointed parallel to the Sun, neither toward it nor away from it for one small instant, making day equal to night. It is the season when some people regret the fading of summer, but others rejoice in the cool beauty and colors of autumn. I am among the latter…how everything luxuriates in the shifting border between waning days of warmth and waxing nights of cool clarity, how the humidity passes, how the air moves with new sharpness, and how everything begins to turn inward against the coming cold. Autumn brings an automatic sentimentality with it, a sense of having survived the heat and a preparation for the future cold; as Fitzgerald’s Jordan Baker says in The Great Gatsby, “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
But I am more mindful, always mindful, when fall comes, of Keats’s “To Autumn,” what some—myself included—call the most beautiful poem in the English language. He drew an image of autumn that overflows with activity…he persistently turns verbs into adjectives to create a scene that we can “watch” in an active sense, not just “see” in a painterly sense…in his ode of 254 words, he uses 49 verbs and verb forms…just about 20% words of action and movement. Keats profiles autumn as it turns the rich ripeness of late summer into the dead cold of winter…and he makes it happen with words for all our senses: “to swell the gourd” (visual), “by a cider-press…the last oozings” (taste), “the fume of poppies” (scent), “hedge-crickets sing” (aural), “a wailful choir” (vocal), and “until they think warm days will never cease” (tactile). Then he uses that high-school-English personification to see autumn as a woman sitting on the granary floor with her hair being lifted by the winnowing wind…it is a beautiful praise to the season in action and images and anticipation.
Ironically, Keats wrote the poem after a walk in the countryside on September 19, 1819…a few days before autumn technically began and a little more than a year before he died. At the age of 23, Keats devoured the beauty of what he saw along the River Itchen and was moved to forge those impressions into an ode…that is the curse of the poet: his drive to capture and represent in language everything his senses perceived. If he died too young, at least he relished every moment as it came…in writing.
My initial goal in this blog is to express my relevance…and I am sad that the delicacy and passion and beauty of poetry is so rarely appreciated anymore. I think, therefore, that I am somewhat irrelevant with this posting. But only somewhat…I believe that a thing of beauty will never be completely irrelevant. And so, that is my curse: my drive to capture and share in language the beauty I enjoy. I’ll finish simply how Keats beautifully began, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.”