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Essay

When Autumn Leaves Begin to Fall

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“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

–George Eliot

Autumn has always been my favorite season: I like the weather. I have the best wardrobe for it. My favorite holiday (Thanksgiving) occurs during it.  I like apples and squash and mums (which never bloom at my house til October).  And I must say George Eliot’s whimsical sense of going from autumn to autumn to autumn is deeply appealing.

Spring and summer might get sexier poems, and nothing beats winter as a metaphor for death, but maybe because it’s such a lovely mix of beauty (color tours, anyone?) and decay (leaf raking, anyone?) fall gets its share of fabulous poems, too: the gorgeousness of Keat’s “To Autumn,” the poignancy of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73,” the eucharastic celebration of Hopkins’ “Hurrahing in Harvest.” 

In fact, I think that mix of beauty and decay is what I find most appealing about fall. Maybe it’s because I’m solidly middle-aged now, but autumn is the season that seems to represent the condition of the world the most accurately.  Exquisite days aflame with color, but threaded through with melancholy that comes as the trees are slowly stripped bare.  A slow waning of life, but with the promise of coming rebirth. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins and Mary Oliver–two poets I particularly love–express this inherent tension in the season just about perfectly.  Perhaps their poems will be reminder as the days length and the temperature chill of the hope contained in the glories of autumn.  

 

Spring and Fall

Gerard Manley Hopkins

              to a young child  
Márgarét, áre you gríeving 
Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leáves, like the things of man, you 
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? 
Ah! ás the heart grows older 
It will come to such sights colder 
By and by, nor spare a sigh 
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; 
And yet you will weep and know why. 
Now no matter, child, the name: 
Sórrow's spríngs áre the same. 
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed 
What heart heard of, ghost guessed: 
It ís the blight man was born for, 
It is Márgarét you mourn for.

 

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

by Mary Oliver

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

 

“Spring and Fall” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Available at http://www.bartleby.com/122/31.html

“Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness” by Mary Oliver, from A Thousand Mornings. © The Penguin Press, 2012. 

 

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

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