Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

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 ruined 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 deathbed whereon it must expire,

Consumed with that which it was nourished by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

SONNET 73 Shakespeare

Shakespeare reflects on the approaching old age and compares that season to Autumn. That time of the year when the leaves turn yellow and fall off, when the singing birds leave the branches. It is the twilight of our day called Life. The fading light after sunset would soon be engulfed by darkness. The poet addresses a young man and tells that the fire in the poet is of dying embers. The young man should not waste time. One must remember ‘to love more strongly’ because we are going to depart everything. The tone of the sonnet is pensive; the brightness of Autumn is a harbinger of the impending darkness.

Autumn, the sound of the word and the concept, has been enticing to one who has never experienced the season. The season must be full of light and striking colours! Shades of yellow, orange and red; fire all around. My all time favourite Autumn poem is definitely Keats’ Ode To Autumn. Rich in imagery, soothing like a song from a flute, ‘To Autumn’ is a celebration of the season. No one would have so passionately depicted Autumn or personified her as Keats did. Autumn, bosom friend of the maturing sun is an advocate of abundance. She loads every vine and tree with fruits and gourds. Every line in the first stanza is pregnant and pulsates with plenitude and prosperity. Though sitting on the verge of the fast approaching cold and dreary Winter, Autumn celebrates every opportunity given to her. There is no time to brood over future. The passage of Time has filled her with exhaustion, yet she revels in the warmth created by herself. Transience of life does not affect Autumn here. Autumn rejoices in her own music…Spring and her music are far ahead, but Autumn has her own unique music.

I met Autumn during my recent visit to the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The visuals depicted in the poem came to life in the pastoral scenes I encountered there; the resilience, the dedicated labour, the patience and an air of gaiety that I found there in the Highlands folks resonate with Keats’ Autumn. It was a delight compiling recent and old photos closely or distantly related to Keats’ Autumn and inserting them between stanzas of my favourite poem was even more joyful.

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.

As we travelled we passed through small farming villages where harvesting is over. Women folk were busy winnowing and piling up fresh hay. I chanced upon this farmer weary after the harvest, yet nonchalant, sitting on the stubbled field, smoking. I found Keats’ Autumn personified there!

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.

Even though I could not meet Keats’ gleaner balancing a load on her head crossing the brook, I witnessed an even more powerful sight. A very young fragile looking mother who belongs to the ethnic minority group with her two children crossing a brook on an old motorbike. An example of admirable grit and strength!

What would it look like, the last oozings from a cider press?

Thus Autumn is filled with bounty, hope and her own music. There is no room for gloom.

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.

Thou hast thy music too

Of the two Autumn poems of Emily Dickinson I’m inclined to this one. So crisp and clean.

The morns are meeker than they were—
The nuts are getting brown—
The berry’s cheek is plumper—
The Rose is out of town.

The Maple wears a gayer scarf—
The field a scarlet gown—
Lest I should be old fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on

Her ‘The name-of it-is Autumn/ The hue-of it-is Blood’ is a a little too fierce for me.

Autumn represents the later years of life and as poets suggest it indeed is a time of jubilation. Grow and glow beautiful as the autumnal leaves do as you stand at the threshold to enter old age. Fill your Life with light and bright colours. It is a good idea to be bold, passionate and chivalrous. They say, Autumn is the second Spring.

There is a harmony

In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,

Which through the summer is not heard or seen,

As if it could not be, as if it had not been!~ Shelley

2 thoughts on “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

  1. Your pairing of the poets’ words with images from your world worked perfectly. It’s proof that culture-rooted doesn’t have to mean culture-bound. English poets in the Vietnamese countryside? Of course! Some experiences — harvest, fruitfulness, nostalgia, longing — are human, not English or Thai or German.

    I laughed at the Dickinson poem. The last lines — “Lest I should be old-fashioned/I’ll put a trinket on” — are just funny. I didn’t know that poem, and I’m so glad to be introduced to it.

    One of the best autumn songs, and a perfect rendition of it, always has seemed to me to be Edith Piaf’s version of “Autumn Leaves.” I think it fits here!


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