The Poetry of Autumn

My friend Louis posts a Song of the Week at his blog, Ralston Creek Review. In recognition of the season he recently included Van Morrison’s Moon Dance on his list, observing “Ireland has produced some fantabulous poets over the centuries.  Keeping to fairly modern times, we think of William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan – and the list goes on.  Come October, when the leaves on the trees are falling to the sound of the breezes that blow, we are reminded to include Van Morrison on that list.”

Autumn brings a certain quality of air and light conducive to reflection, and in the contemplative calm of the season we are moved to consider many things; the arc of our personal history through our own time, the arc of other lives through their own times, the passage of cultures and civilizations which have risen and fallen throughout history.  It’s the time before winter – the dark season of death, the season when the longest night gives way to growing light – reaps its final harvest. In the fall winter is close, yet not so close that we are engaged there. In the days of October and November we are far enough removed to observe and reflect upon what comes next, as well as what has gone before.

Here are a couple of songs –for poetry is song – to add to Moon Dance in this season. The poet is Archibald Macleish. Macleish addresses themes both Louis and I have covered in our blog posts at various times, our own  harvest gathered down through our own years: Life. Growth. Love. Death. The human experience. And the thoughts brought forward in this season when we “feel how swift, how secretly, the shadow of the night comes on” in the universal cycle everything is a part of.

————

You, Andrew Marvell

And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth’s noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
The earthy chill of dusk and slow
Upon those under lands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow

And strange at Ecbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange
The flooding dark about their knees
The mountains over Persia change

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass

And Baghdad darken and the bridge
Across the silent river gone
And through Arabia the edge
Of evening widen and steal on

And deepen on Palmyra’s street
The wheel rut in the ruined stone
And Lebanon fade out and Crete
High through the clouds and overblown

And over Sicily the air
Still flashing with the landward gulls
And loom and slowly disappear
The sails above the shadowy hulls

And Spain go under and the shore
Of Africa the gilded sand
And evening vanish and no more
The low pale light across that land

Nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
To feel how swift how secretly
The shadow of the night comes on …

—————
Not Marble Nor The Gilded Monuments

The praisers of women in their proud and beautiful poems
Naming the grave mouth and the hair and the eyes
Boasted those they loved should be forever remembered
These were lies

The words sound but the face in the Istrian sun is forgotten
The poet speaks but to her dead ears no more
The sleek throat is gone – and the breast that was troubled to listen
Shadow from door

Therefore I will not praise your knees nor your fine walking
Telling you men shall remember your name as long
As lips move or breath is spent or the iron of English
Rings from a tongue

I shall say you were young and your arms straight and your
mouth scarlet
I shall say you will die and none will remember you
Your arms change and none remember the swish of your garments
Nor the click of your shoe

Not with my hand’s strength not with difficult labor
Springing the obstinate words to the bones of your breast
And the stubborn line to your young stride and the breath to your breathing
And the beat to your haste
Shall I prevail on the hearts of unborn men to remember
(What is a dead girl but a shadowy ghost
Or a dead man’s voice but a distant and vain affirmation
Like dream words most)

Therefore I will not speak of the undying glory of women
I will say you were young and straight and your skin fair
And you stood in the door and the sun was a shadow of leaves on your shoulders
And a leaf on your hair

I will not speak of the famous beauty of dead women
I will say the shape of a leaf lay once on your hair
Till the world ends and the eyes are out and the mouths broken

Look! It is there!

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2 Responses to The Poetry of Autumn

  1. Louis W. says:

    Half a lifetime ago I wrote a poem that ended with the words, “I’d rather be than write a poem;/Rather touch the moon than trace it.” For several years now I have been thinking that those lines were related to something you had written. However, now that you bring up Archibald Macleish, it all comes back to me. I had intended the lines to be a response to Macleish’s “Ars Poetica”:

    “A poem should be palpable and mute
    As a globed fruit,

    Dumb
    As old medallions to the thumb,

    Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
    Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

    A poem should be wordless
    As the flight of birds.

    *

    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs,

    Leaving, as the moon releases
    Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

    Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
    Memory by memory the mind—

    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs.

    *

    A poem should be equal to:
    Not true.

    For all the history of grief
    An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

    For love
    The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

    A poem should not mean
    But be.”

  2. bobgriffith says:

    It’s humbling to be confused with Archibald MacLeish. This was one of the first MacLeish poems I encountered. It was in a book entitled “Sound and Sense”, by Laurence Perrine. I bought my own copy when I was seventeen and it is one of only a very few books to arrive here with me after a long history which included a couple of times when everything I owned was contained in two suitcases, one packed with my favorite carpentry hand tools and clothing, the other containing my favorite books. The pages have yellowed with time. It has no cover, a broken back, dog-eared pages, large inked asterisks marking my favorites. It’s become a record of my passage through life, an unchronological collection of mileposts marking times both good and bad which have enriched my life and personal consciousness.

    “Ars Poetica” is an exquisite poem, as clean and sparse and clear and perfect a poem as has ever been crafted. It reminds us all that the art of evoking consciousness in another with words is about calling forth what is already present there, and not about hammering it in to them. A high standard, and MacLeish met it often in his work. A great share, Louis. Thank you.

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