A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 17 September 2007

Song At The Beginning Of Autumn

Another poem about autumn which I like very much has come to mind. It's called Song at the Beginning of Autumn and is by Elizabeth Jennings (1929-2001). Elizabeth Jennings was born in Lincolnshire, where I was born, and became a librarian, which I became for a while. I think many of her quiet, sacramental poems are very fine indeed. This poem is taken from her early collection A Way of Looking (1955), and is included in the paperback Elizabeth Jennings: New Collected Poems (2002) edited by Michael Schmidt and published by Carcanet Press.

Song at the Beginning of Autumn

Now watch this autumn that arrives
In smells. All looks like summer still;
Colours are quite unchanged, the air
On green and white serenely thrives.
Heavy the trees with growth and full
The fields. Flowers flourish everywhere.

Proust who collected time within
A child's cake would understand
The ambiguity of this -
Summer still raging while a thin
Column of smoke stirs from the land
Proving that autumn gropes for us.

But every season is a kind
Of rich nostalgia. We give names -
Autumn and summer, winter, spring -
As though to unfasten from the mind
Our moods and give them outward forms.
We want the certain, solid thing.

But I am carried back against
My will into a childhood where
Autumn is bonfires, marble, smoke;
I lean against my window fenced
From evocations in the air.
When I said autumn, autumn broke.

Beautifully written. I hadn't read this poem for a long time; it must have been somewhere at the back of my mind waiting to be rediscovered. Strange how yesterday, when discussing the poem by Keats, I drew, as Jennings does, a connection with Proust. My subconscious must have "remembered" her mention of the madeleine cake, for I didn't consciously recall the poem's specific details (except for that wonderfully simple but effective last line) until I took her book from the shelf just now. Perhaps we never really forget anything - we just mislay things.

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