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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.  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 and decay fall gets its share of fabulous poems, too: the gorgeousness of Keat’s “To Autumn,” the poignancy of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73,” the eucharistic celebration of Hopkins’ “Hurrahing in Harvest.” 

In fact, 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.  Gorgeous 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 eventual rebirth. 

This week, like every year when fall arrives, I thought of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who expresses this inherent tension in the season just about perfectly.  I love his poem “Spring and Fall,” and its exquisite ache. So here’s to fall–nature’s and our own.

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 wíll 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 Margaret you mourn for.

Here’s a lovely recording as a bonus:

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). As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids, a city I've come to love. I count myself rich in friends and family. 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 used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” I don't have the car anymore, but the sentiment is still true.

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