For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Mellow Fruitfulness

Of course there's really no such thing as the end of one season and the beginning of the next. The seasons, like the stages of our lives, merge imperceptibly one into the other. This said, autumn, or fall as they say in America, will be with us before we know it. Next Sunday 23 September marks the autumnal equinox - the culmination of harvest, and a time when day and night, light and dark, are equal. John Keats wrote one of my very favourite poems about autumn. I learnt this poem, along with many others, for school English lessons. Memorizing poetry off by heart was the norm in the English grammar schools of the 1960s. This was a chore at the time - but now I'm very glad I did it. Like piano lessons. But perhaps not like cross-country running. Anyway, here's the poem:

To Autumn

Seasons 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-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed 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 brimmed 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-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed 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 cider-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.

I really enjoyed typing that out. The feel and sound of the words, as I keyed them and repeated them to myself, transported me back 40 years, rather like the taste of Proust's madeleine cake. Keats paints such a vivid and sensual word-picture that you can almost see, hear, smell and taste the autumn.

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