Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Until they think warm days will never cease

Yes, Keats' "To Autumn" has been running through my head (and Harriet's as well, evidently, since she used the first line of the poem as a title earlier this week), and today it was joined by The Fantasticks singing "Soon it's gonna rain, I can feel it, Soon it's gonna rain, I can tell." The trees are vivid yellow, green, gold, and red against a gray sky, and through the open windows, I can hear fallen leaves scuttering across the driveway in the breeze.

Yesterday I drove through miles of early morning sunshine on turning leaves to meet my classes and talk about some poems, including "Leaves" by Lloyd Schwartz:

Every October it becomes important, no, necessary,
to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded
by leaves turning; it's not just the symbolism,
to confront in the death of the year your death,
one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony
isn't lost on you that nature is most seductive
when it's about to die, flaunting the dazzle of its
incipient exit, an ending that at least so far
the effects of human progress (pollution, acid rain)
have not yet frightened you enough to make you believe
is real; that is, you know this ending is a deception
because of course nature is always renewing itself--
the trees don't die, they just pretend,
go out in style, and return in style: a new style.
Is it deliberate how far they make you go
especially if you live in the city to get far
enough away from home to see not just trees
but only trees? The boring highways, roadsigns, high
speeds, 10-axle trucks passing you as if they were
in an even greater hurry than you to look at leaves:
so you drive in terror for literal hours and it looks
like rain, or snow, but it's probably just clouds,
(too cloudy to see any color?) and you wonder,
given the poverty of your memory, which road had the
most color last year, but it doesn't matter since
you're probably too late anyway, or too early--
whichever road you take will be the wrong one
and you've probably come all this way for nothing.
You'll be driving along depressed when suddenly
a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through
and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably
won't last. But for a moment the whole world
comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives--
red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher, vermilion,
gold. Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations
of burning. You're on fire. Your eyes are on fire.
It won't last, you don't want it to last. You
can't stand any more. But you don't want it to stop.
It's what you've come for. It's what you'll
come back for. It won't stay with you, but you'll
remember that it felt like nothing else you've felt
or something you've felt that also didn't last.

I've never been a person who goes out of her way to admire turning leaves in the autumn. There are so many opportunities to get surrounded by them (I like the turning in a circle feeling, the dizziness of " to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded/ by leaves turning"). But at least twice a week, during my 50-mile commute, I look for those moments when the sun breaks through the clouds and lights up the tops of yellow trees--it's that "goldengrove" image from Hopkins' poem "Spring and Fall." Every single time it feels like nothing else I've felt.

Just this moment, rain began to fall, and the sound of it made me look up.

1 comment:

Harriet M. Welsch said...

Yes, Keats is always running through my head in October. It's one of a few poems the Spy Family reads out loud every year. I'm happy to be introduced to the Schwartz. It's a nice complement.