September 2022

Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness: Poems for Autumn

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce


It's probably still summer where you are, but to meteorologists, autumn begins on September first. The fall is my favorite season here in the mid-Atlantic, so here's a few poems to get the season started.

The first actually takes place in that transitional period between summer and fall. Robert Frost beautifully captures the time in "The Oven Bird":

"There is a singer everyone has heard,

Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,

Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.

He says that leaves are old…

The bird would cease and be as other birds

But that he knows in singing not to sing.

The question that he frames in all but words

Is what to make of a diminished thing." (1)

Possibly the best known poem for English readers about autumn is, of course, John Keats' great ode, "To Autumn":

"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….

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too…."

Further excerpting cannot do justice to this poem, so I urge the reader to read the entire work for herself. (2)

Less well known is a poem by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke called "Herbsttag" (titled "Day in Autumn" in Mary Kinzie's translation):

"After the summer's yield, Lord, it is time

to let your shadow lengthen on the sundials

and in the pastures let the rough winds fly." (3)

American poet Samuel Menashe is sadly almost unknown to most readers, but not for lack of talent. His poem "Autumn" is a small gem:

"I walk outside the stone wall

Looking into the park at night

As armed trees frisk a windfall

Down paths that lampposts light" (4)

Menashe's poems are well worth seeking out. A good start is his "New and Selected Poems," published by the Library of America. (5)

Mary Oliver, on the other hand, is very famous, for a poet at least, and popular even with those who may not ordinarily read poetry.

"Don't you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the fires that will come—six, a dozen—to sleep
inside their bodies?" ("Song to Autumn") (6)

It's clear that autumn is a particularly poetic time of year. The Poetry Foundation alone lists dozens of poems by a wide variety of poets on the topic. I myself have penned a few autumnal poems, such as "Autumn With Dog":

"Some say autumn's not

the season of dying

but rather of life renewing—

to be honest, I just now

thought that, scuffing

through the dead leaves,

Bella in the lead. Who knows

what her nose might turn up

even now under those leaves,

or what, after they decompose

into soil, might be found

next spring?"

© 2022, Gregory Luce

Finally, we come to a possibly unexpected poet. Joan Mitchell was one of the greatest American painters of the 20th Century. Many, however, are unaware that she was also a fine poet. We'll close with a poem that, remarkably, she composed at the age of 10:

"The rusty leaves crunch and crackle,

Blue haze hangs from the dimmed sky,

The fields are matted with sun-tanned stalks‚ÄČ—

Wind rushes by.

The last red berries hang from the thorn-tree,

The last red leaves fall to the ground.

Bleakness, through the trees and bushes,

Comes without sound." ("Autumn") (7)

I wish my readers a mellow and restful season.


(1) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44269/the-oven-bird

(2) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44484/to-autumn

(3) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/50937/day-in-autumn

(4) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51416/autumn-56d22f23907b2

(5) https://loa.org/books/235-new-and-selected-poems

(6) https://bookriot.com/autumn-poems/ Other fine poems for the season here as well.

(7) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/56075/autumn-56d23840ef134


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Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
He is the author of five books of poetry, has published widely in print and online and is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic, he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA. More at: https://dctexpoet.wordpress.com/
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives

©2022 Gregory Luce
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine





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