I’m not really sure what I feel about Autumn, maybe it’s because my feelings are ambivalent, contradictory. There is a tensions about it for me. Yes, it’s about bursting ripe fruits, and golden harvests, the bounty gleaned from the farmed land, the glowing leaves of Fall, the wily red squirrels hoarding their piles of nuts in readiness for winter…but it’s also about declining growth and dying back. Those flaming yellows and oranges through to the russet reds of the autumn leaves are due to the withdrawal of the life-giving green chlorophyll in preparation for the trees to survive through the winter to come. So it’s beautiful, and yet it feels sad.
Here is an extract from a favourite poem of mine called ‘To Autumn’ by John Keats, Romantic poet, (1795-1821). The tone changes as you read it through, from celebratory with the bountiful harvest of warm sunny days, to the weary addressing of labours on the farm, to the plaintive longing for Spring in the dying dusk of the day, as the swallows prepare to fly away for warmer climes.
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.
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 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.
Autumn first makes an impression on me in my garden. There is a drawing in, rather than a growing out. The weeds no longer flourish. The fruits begin to rot. The roses struggle on, still thinking it’s summer, but get battered by frequent squalls of wind and rain. The Virginia Creeper colours up to red too fast and drops its leaves too soon. A few primroses are confused into believing it’s Spring by trying hard to flower. Hawthorn berries and rosehips stipple the hedgerows with vermillion yet the leaves of the trees are just beginning to turn. There is a sense of the undecided.
As the days shorten, there is a new chill in the morning air, and an earlier closing of the curtains in the evenings. For most of the day a low slanting sun casts longer shadows instead of a full overhead beam casting none. We may feel a sense of urgency to bask in some later seasonal sun like lizards on rocks storing up heat to keep themselves active. And that sense of the harvest being done has a symbolic resonance within us. Our very natures are part of this cycle, this rhythm, though it has taken me a few years to realise it. So what effects can it have?
Well, we may ask ourselves whether we have achieved what we planned to this year, a year that no doubt stretched out like a trail farther than the eye can see, yet has now shrunk to just a couple of more months well within walking distance. We may blame ourselves for not having done more with our time, or wonder where all that time went. How many of our goals did we achieve? Why didn’t we do more? We should have done more! So thinking about these negative vibes (because we can tend to be too hard on ourselves in this respect), I had a little look to see if there was any philosophy about the changing seasons, autumn in particular, and I found an interesting take on it within Chinese Philosophy.
Unsurprisingly , summer is symbolic of joy, but autumn is associated with both melancholy and bravery. Autumn is sad because life is withering and the light is dying, as Earth’s orbit around the sun tilts on its axis to carry us away from the direct rays of the sun. The days get briefer, plants wind down their growth cycle. They are preparing to save their energy below ground. The philosophy argues that sadness is simply part of nature and to be accepted, and I can see that. But where does courage come in? Well, they believe at this time you should focus on your visions and dreams and the path you are on in life, then find the courage to face what’s ahead.
So we can take stock, knowing that this is part of the natural cycle. We can try to appreciate what we have achieved that is meaningful to us, rather than what we haven’t, not forgetting relationships we may have spent time investing in. And we can make resolutions for what we want to complete or achieve in the future. And hey, we’ve still got a couple of months to knuckle down and focus on our creative work or whatever is meaningful to us, before the Christmas tinsels glistens, and we can look forward to winter when we can surely concentrate more on our work with less to distract us. And when autumn pleasures do beckon, as they should, we can get out and enjoy the stirring of an invigorating breeze, and feast our eyes on those radiant colours of the season.
So what does autumn mean to you?
(landscape photograph from pixabay)