Songs of the Season: Autumn

Autumn is upon us, with all its beauty of orange and red, and the sentiments that it arouse, emotions that have moved poets through the ages to pour their hearts out as red gives way to the white of winter. I share three poems of autumn. The first by the inimitable Emily Dickinson, the doyen of American poet. The second is by one of the most gifted of 20th century poets, Pablo Neruda, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. And the last piece is by Li Bai of the Tang Dynasty, perhaps the most famous Chinese poet of all time.

‘Autumn’ by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1866) is regarded as one of America’s greatest poets. She was a descendant of Puritan settlers from England and lived during a time of revival of strict Calvinism. While Dickinson never accepted the Calvinist Christian doctrine, some of her poems reveal a profoundly religious sentiment that celebrates the beauty of nature and the sublime joy that nature brings. “Autumn” is a good example of this poetic expression. It is reproduced below in a slightly edited form, omitting the context-specific second stanza.

Besides the Autumn poets sing
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the haze

Still is the bustle in the brook
Sealed are the spicy valves
Mesmeric fingers softly touch
The eyes of many Elves

Perhaps a squirrel may remain
My sentiments to share
Grant me, Oh Lord, a sunny mind
Thy windy will to bear!

Comments: In this elegant poem, Dickinson pines for the golden mood of summer which is gone. What remains between autumn and the snowfall of winter are a few ‘prosaic’ days. Even the brook is dry and the elves are asleep. The poem is more than a statement of the passing of seasons. It is a prayer, though not so much in the spiritual sense of the word. Dickinson has a simple wish – that she will experience sunshine in her heart even as the cold and darkness of winter approaches. Don’t we all?

‘Ode to Autumn’ by Pablo Neruda

Our next poem is by Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), regarded as the greatest Latin American poet of the 20th century as well as a controversial political figure. Neruda’s vision and wide range of themes are extraordinary and his work continues to inspire new generations of writers. From his hometown of Temuco in southern Chile, Neruda grew up close to nature. and in dozens of odes, including this one, he expressed his joy in the beauty of nature and simple things.  Here is an extract of the full ode which is quite long.

Autumn is modest
like the woodcutters.
It’s hard to remove
all the leaves
of all the trees
of all the countries.
Spring sewed them together on the fly
and now
one must allow them
to fall
as if they were
yellow birds.

Autumn Air’ by Li Bai

The autumn air is clear,
The autumn moon is bright
Fallen leaves gather and scatter
The jackdaw perches and starts anew.
We think of each other, when do we meet again?
My feelings are hard this hour, this night!

秋 风 清,
秋 月 明,
落 叶 聚 还 散,寒 鸦 栖 复 惊。
相 思 相 见 知 何 日?
此 时 此 夜 难 为 情!

Leave a Reply