September 22, 2006

Springing Into Fall

Mister John Keats, five feet high.

For all my literary pretense, I have to confess that I'm really not all that much of a fan of poetry. Nonetheless, there are a handful of poets and a handful of poems with which I thoroughly connect. And as I usually do, I welcome the advent of Autumn today with just such a poem by just such a poet:

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-eaves 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,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd 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 barrèd 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 redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


Autumn is easily my favorite season. And I love every part of it: that early sense of relief from the torpor of Summer; the mellow middle period (about which Mr. Keats seemed primarily concerned); the first, sharp blasts of cold air; the dank and dark fag-end. I'm sure there's some primitive hunter-gatherer hardwiring buried somewhere in my psyche that is responsible for it, but the sense of change, of approaching Winter's sleep always makes me feel that much more wide awake.

Posted by Robert at September 22, 2006 07:56 AM | TrackBack

Very nice. Fall is Mr. P's favorite time too. I think you're right about being much more wide awake as the senses aren't so dulled by the heat. Mr. P put up a post on poetry and WWI today you might like.

Posted by: Mrs. P at September 22, 2006 09:12 AM

Yes, indeed. I did like.

That post put me in mind of a book that I picked up somewhere a long time ago called The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman by Mark Girouard. It traces the revival of chivalric norms from the Regency through the Victorian and Edwardian Eras and right on into the Great War, norms which I think governed and guided the poets of whom Mr. P speaks.

In the end, it is chilling. Absolutely chilling. Allow me to quote just a bit:

"And then there were the knights of the future, brave handsome boys fearlessly riding their ponies and looking life in the face with clear blue eyes. The image of a little boy on a horse had acquired a special poignancy as a symbol of chivalry in embryo, especially in upper-class families of the time. When the sculptor Alfred Gilbert came to Avon Tyrrell in 1901, to stay with Lord and Lady Manners and model a bust of their son John, he never forgot the sight of him returning from a paperchase, riding up a valley towards the house, sparkling with excitement: 'he was a gallant boy with all the makings of a hero, which he looked; a true type of what England alone can produce to the highest point of excellence.' George Wyndham wrote a poem about his own little son Percy on horseback:

Heart's Delight is five years old
And rides an old white pony
With the easy seat of a rider bold
By grassy ways and stony....

Heart's Delight is five years old
His face is fresh and sunny
His English hair just touched with gold
Amidst a browner honey
And English eyes of deepest blue
Whose courage looks you through and through.

'Heart's Delight' and John Manners were both killed in the Great War in September 1914. Their friends Julian and Billy Grenfell, Edward Horner, Charles Lister and Patrick Shaw-Stewart, with whom they had spent their boyhood in what Billy Grenfell called a 'band of brothers' were all killed too."

The accompanying photos of the little boys Percy Wyndham and John Manners on horseback are heartbreaking.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at September 22, 2006 10:29 AM

"O it's fun to be a sailor and to be fighting the Turk. No mud, no cold, very little danger and infinite glory of avenging the Paleologi and entering Byzantium.
"I am not 100 miles from the plains of Troy, where I expect to meet the enemy, and before meeting him I feel impelled, on the exceedingly off chance of his registering a score on my cautious retiring person, to tell you just as far as three lines will carry me what I thought of you this winter. I thought, one may say, everything.
"You know several of us have been thought ill of in connection with this war. Evan once told me in no measured terms that R. and I had. In the same way eminent women have described our parties as the "dances of death" and others have cast doubts on your professional career. Still others have cast doubts on (a) my (b) N's (c) E's sobriety on various historic occasions. In fact those of us who survive this war will without a doubt undergo yet a little more opprobrium than we are already used to. This makes it the more essential to keep our mutual admiration. What I say to you is that I have never seen you one half so glorious as in these times. You were (and by God's grace are) surer of yourself, more central, more indispensible, fairer, wittier, more seductive, than I have ever known you before. and I have known you wellish since 1907 and it is saying a good deal. If one circumstance or another has prevented my making this as clear to you as I could have wished (the most permanent and irritaing circumstance is the number and assiduity of your first-line lovers) that makes it all the more imperative that I should make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt.
"Darling Diana, just in case I should be killed I do want to impress it on you that you have practically the burden of this generation on your shoulders. Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and SALT IT, and encourage the good and cause the undesirable to writhe, and never say that you forgive little moral obliquities only because their perpetrator comes straight from the trenches."

Patrick Shaw-Stewart to John Manners' cousin, Lady Diana Manners, future wife of Duff Cooper 1915, about one month after Patrick had buried Rupert Brooke and two years before he himself fell.

They were real men and a real loss to this world. Thankfully, there are still enough real men about to comprehend this.

Posted by: Mrs. P at September 22, 2006 12:04 PM