In praise of Autumn
In our modern calendar autumn began yesterday and in celebration the temperature leapt up as we enjoy something of an Indian summer. Temperatures apart, today was an autumn day and reminded me of why I love this season.
Many will be familiar with Keat’s beautiful ode to autumn and its striking first line “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. For me autumn has always been a season of mystery. First there are the mists. I remember cycling once as a teenager from Solihull to Stratford and being overwhelmed by the beauty of what looked like a sea of mist which hung over the lowerlands as I cycled over the brow of hill on an autumn morning.
Then there are the changing colours of the leaves which like a spectacular last hurrah of the dying transform the landscape into a brilliant tapestry of golds, browns and yellows or if you have the luck to see it on the east coast of the USA, as we did one year, reds as well.
It is also the season of fruitfulness. Supermarkets are slowly destroying our sense of the seasons in food but the autumn is still to be cherished for a succession of plums, pears, apples and blackberries (especially good when collected from a hedgerow in a coat pocket). It is also good for vegetables, especially root vegetables and for me this is the time of the year for soups and stews.
However the really wonderful thing about autumn is the light. There is something about the rich but fading light which itself creates a sense of mystery, especially at the end of the day.
Autumns festivals are special too. At the start of the season the focus is often, as it has been over many pagan and Christian centuries, on the harvest and the celebration of the produce, through the work of human hands, the earth has brought forward.
Later the focus shifts to the festivals of light and fire. Halloween or Winter’s Eve (Calan Gaeaf as it is known in welsh) has revived itself in recent decades (mainly due to American commercial influences) but behind the façade of trick and treating remains one of the most powerful moments of the year, the day which according to myth the gateway between the worlds of the living and the dead stands open.
The leitmotif of autumn is inevitably of decline and decay. It starts while memories of summer are still strong and the harvest freshly gathered in. It itself fades into the cold and darkness of winter. At the same time autumn reminds us that the end of life can be dignified and as beautiful as any other time.
So the autumn is a time for reflection, maybe a touch of melancholy but in these climes at least a time of profound beauty. On which I note I’ll leave the last words to Keats:
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