The other morning I went outside to bring the dog in. Her forlorn whimpers from behind the chain link gate conveyed a sense of distress that felt well proportioned to the uneasiness I had there on the short sidewalk between the garage, even if I was doing less moaning about it. In the days just before the clocks around the country reverted back to Standard time, it was a certain kind of dark in the minutes ahead of seven o’clock—a kind of dark that did not exist a few days earlier, one that felt like the sun had broken and could not be fixed and in any case, would not be showing that day.
Of course, by the time I was ready for a pot of tea, the sun had reconsidered and gotten itself in order, making a bright fall appearance and even indulging us here in the Midwest with an unseasonably warm day.
The dog, of course, would have none of fall’s last thrust, her biology already having shifted into a sort of hibernatory state which gave the call of a bed in a dark corner of the garage a much grander appeal, as though she already knew that the next day would bring the first snowflakes and remind us that in these parts, all but the coldest season run very short.
Whether the snowflakes are beginning to drift your direction, or you’re still listening to crisp rustle of fallen leaves on your early morning walks, may you find a way to extend autumn just a little longer with this great collection of fall poems.
I rest a while in this enclosure
walk through primrose, spirea, eranthus,
kneel among dark-green dagger-leaf crocus
trail fingers on trembling frost-flower
(absence—) … stand on stone-edged path of heather
pluck ruffled heads and garland dianthus
drop star-dart bittersweet, brush past iris
watch pale-winged insects wheel-swoop glide-hover
painted flowers on the old woman’s hat
petals, petals, brush stroke wheels of roses
rise from sleep under watered earth with tears
“Is he dead and gone?” the blooms say: “not that—
we’ve been where dead things are” it exposes.
Shake bolt—step out—cold wind; now autumn’s here.
(Based on The snow queen)
Pound Ridge, Autumn
There are so many years
like these fields
now stand between us; you never stop
moving South, touching
tops of bronzed grass bending
to the weight of September.
I hold quite still, note
that you don’t look back.
And I don’t want
to look forward.
—L.L. Barkat, from Love, Etc.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
—John Keats, “To Autumn”
November, and I’m dropping
the end of it in my shirt tails. Not the rarified oxhearts
and beefsteaks of July, but late Israels split at the hardheaded
stem, shrunken to lesser greatness in a wooden kitchen bowl.
Slowly their cells drink thin western light, recall the high life—
painted ladies twirling at each potent flower, the abundance
weightier, juicier, redder.
Now autumn folds the prickly stalk,
our contrary bones, former glories splintered under the skin—
and bruises, once sore and glaring, seep into forgetfulness.
O winterful dream rivers to the elbow, pounds the table
for more, more brandywines cupping the sun, seeds bursting
hot-blooded seams, our mouths at last unpuckered.
— Linda Parsons Marion, author of Bound
They brought it. It was brought
from the field, the last sheaf, the last bundle
the latest and most final armful. Up up
over the head, hold it, hold it high it held
the gazer’s gaze, it held hope, did hold it.
Through the stubble of September, on shoulders
aloft, hardly anything, it weighed, like a sparrow,
it was said, something winged, hollow, though
pulsing, freed from the field
where it flailed in wind, where it waited, wanted
to be found and bound with cord. It had
limbs, it had legs. And hands. It had fingers.
Fingers and a face peering from the stalks,
shuttered in the grain, closed, though just a kernel
a shut corm. They brought him and autumn
rushed in, tossed its cape of starlings,
tattered the frost-spackled field.
— Mark Wunderlich, author of Voluntary Servitude
It’s autumn in the country I remember.
How warm a wind blew here about the ways!
And shadows on the hillside lay to slumber
During the long sun-sweetened summer-days.
It’s cold abroad the country I remember.
The swallows veering skimmed the golden grain
At midday with a wing aslant and limber;
And yellow cattle browsed upon the plain.
It’s empty down the country I remember.
I had a sister lovely in my sight:
Her hair was dark, her eyes were very sombre;
We sang together in the woods at night.
It’s lonely in the country I remember.
The babble of our children fills my ears,
And on our hearth I stare the perished ember
To flames that show all starry thro’ my tears.
It’s dark about the country I remember.
There are the mountains where I lived. The path
Is slushed with cattle-tracks and fallen timber,
The stumps are twisted by the tempests’ wrath.
But that I knew these places are my own,
I’d ask how came such wretchedness to cumber
The earth, and I to people it alone.
It rains across the country I remember.
—Trumbull Stickney, featured in How to Read a Poem
If we had to be their girls,
then there had to be ironweeds
around that house, needling up
through the pine shreds where
treelight divided one hard season
from the next. And there had to be
iron afternoons we laid our red
bodies down on the asphalt
for the smelting, waiting for sun
to hammer the bloom. And our mother
had to be hours at the iron,
where steam rose to meet her skin
from creases of our father’s
soft shirts and she bent
into the work, not knowing we were a house
under siege, that the ironweeds
were our battlements,
their purple spikes bright crenels
and merlons, that the crooked
walls of vernonia sheeted
our bodies with uneven shade
and guarded us from patches
of history and bloodshed,
from time to come. We could not know
that we would open here despite
the heat, that we would close
like the bristle of bruised threads.
We had to be hard as those stems
to withstand autumn, her face
pink and wet in the wind,
the dry ironweeds swinging low
and all those shirts
coming down off the line.
Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
Laid on it for a covering,
And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?
And how the swift beat of the brain
Falters because it is in vain,
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf
Knowest thou not? and how the chief
Of joys seems—not to suffer pain?
Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the soul feels like a dried sheaf
Bound up at length for harvesting,
And how death seems a comely thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?
—Dante Gabriel Rossetti
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.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Among the Rocks
Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
This autumn morning! How he sets his bones
To bask i’ the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet
For the ripple to run over in its mirth;
Listening the while, where on the heap of stones
The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.
That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;
Such is life’s trial, as old earth smiles and knows.
If you loved only what were worth your love,
Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:
Make the low nature better by your throes!
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!
Photo by Andras Csore, Creative Commons license via Flickr.