Friday, November 13, 2009

Autumn in Poems

Every season inspires great poems.
I’d like to share a few of my favorite poems
 in hopes
that you'll give your thoughts on them
 or post favorites of your own. 

Hurrahing In Harvest
Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! What lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! Has wilder, willful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Savior;
And éyes, héart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic-as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!-
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart réars wíngs bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet
 - Gerard Manley Hopkins.

It’s a complicated poem in structure and word choice, but I love it. I love the image of the person walking and feasting on nature. Sometimes on beautiful fall days, don’t you feel as if there was never a day as beautiful? I love the hyperbolic adjectives such as “barbarous, Rapturous, azurous” and love that they rhyme one in each stanza like a bright crimson thread.

I also love the use of the word stalwart. In fact, it is because of this poem that stalwart became my favorite word. I love the way Christ is described as having the majesty of a stalwart stallion… and that majest is “very-violet-sweet.”

What could that mean? This problem served as a topic of discussion in my classes each autumn. To me, violets represent of course royalty (the color of kings’ robes) and sacrifice (the liturgical color used during advent preparing us for the holy event of Christ’s birth, and during lent and during “confession”. All three events preceed the great gift of Christ to us so that we might be reconciled to him. I can recall my students’ protest now. “Surely the poet didn’t mean all that! He just wrote it.” We can’t prove what he meant, but the meaning is there in the color. The use of imagery invites all the rich associations of that image into the meaning of the poem. So His majesty involves royalty, the grand and incomparable gesture of becoming human so that we might be reconciled to Him, the resulting tragic sacrifice so precious. Stalwart …truly Sweet… poignantly so.

And I, being a gardener also associate violet with the stubborn little plants that refuse to die in the lawn. My husband mows over them and in their tenacity, they grow back the next week. I made the mistake of transplanting some beneath my apple trees. No! With the better soil and the bit of food, they developed roots as big and tangled as a mass of seaweed. Violets are irrepressible, they come back and I think… they suggest the resurrection in this poem.

And of course, I love the illustration of the devoted heart’s passion in the last line.
Another favorite autumn poem, Shakespeare's
Sonnet 73 --
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

What’s not to like? Shakespeare makes us see truth in his metaphor. But my favorite part is the paradox found in lines 9 – 12. I love the idea that living life creates a robust fire that burns life up to leave only the ashes – the rememberance of the warmth, the glow, the beauty. We give our days, our youth and our strength as the stuff or nourishment of life. It’s what we have to give, but doing so uses up our time, our strength our youth.

What are your favorite autumn poems?


  1. Very nice choices there. One of my favorite autumnal poems is "Poem In October," by Dylan Thomas. It's a fine example of how Thomas wrote as much for the sound (like mouth music) as for the sense of the verse.

  2. "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" also by Hopkins.

    Márgarét, are you gríeving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leáves, líke the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! ás the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By and by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you wíll weep and know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sórrow's spríngs áre the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
    It ís the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

    I love "unleaving," the whole "leafmeal" line, and the final line. Keeping with the Mrs. Nebbia's Senior AP trend, I could only think of this one, but I also like Dylan Thomas's "Poem in October," which is a little long but well worth the read. His language flows in the same vein as Hopkins's and his imagery is every bit as vivid.

    -Caleb Agnew

    by Dylan Thomas

    It was my thirtieth year to heaven
    Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
    And the mussel pooled and the heron
    Priested shore
    The morning beckon
    With water praying and call of seagull and rook
    And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
    Myself to set foot
    That second
    In the still sleeping town and set forth.

    My birthday began with the water-
    Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
    Above the farms and the white horses
    And I rose
    In a rainy autumn
    And walked abroad in shower of all my days
    High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
    Over the border
    And the gates
    Of the town closed as the town awoke.

    A springful of larks in a rolling
    Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
    Blackbirds and the sun of October
    On the hill's shoulder,
    Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
    Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
    To the rain wringing
    Wind blow cold
    In the wood faraway under me.

    Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
    And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
    With its horns through mist and the castle
    Brown as owls
    But all the gardens
    Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
    Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
    There could I marvel
    My birthday
    Away but the weather turned around.

    It turned away from the blithe country
    And down the other air and the blue altered sky
    Streamed again a wonder of summer
    With apples
    Pears and red currants
    And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
    Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
    Through the parables
    Of sunlight
    And the legends of the green chapels

    And the twice told fields of infancy
    That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
    These were the woods the river and the sea
    Where a boy
    In the listening
    Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
    To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
    And the mystery
    Sang alive
    Still in the water and singing birds.

    And there could I marvel my birthday
    Away but the weather turned around. And the true
    Joy of the long dead child sang burning
    In the sun.
    It was my thirtieth
    Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
    Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
    O may my heart's truth
    Still be sung
    On this high hill in a year's turning.

  4. I didn't even finish reading this because I had to comment before I read what you wrote about the Hurrahing in Harvest. I had forgotten about this poem temporarily. I used to teach it to my eigth graders because it is just so full of....everything! I remember when you first introduced it to me in English class in highschool (which is amazing since I barely remember anything). What I remember is feeling to overwhelmed by the vocabulary. As first glance it was just too many adjectives for my brain. But after reading it a few times, I really did fall in love with it. I am sure you led a wonderful discussion and helped us all to appreciate things about it we never would have on our own and that probably added to my passion. I don't remember that part too clearly....okay, now I am going to read what you wrote :)

  5. About what H.I.H means. I think you are right to assume the rich meaning of "very violet sweet." As you have had the advantage of reading other Hopkins works, you know what kind of themes and topics he talks about. He really is a brilliant and deep thinker. In fact, there is probably a whole lot more in there that we don't see that he thought about while writing. Wow, that was bad writing on my part. I am going to drink some tea now.

  6. Just wanted to thank you for your lovely essays on your blog site ~ on rainy days i get lost in them ~ and life seems sunnier

  7. Thanks Andrea for teaching this poem we shared together so long ago! Thanks also to Caleb and Stephen for posting more poems! I love the poem Caleb posted-- love everything about it and especially the points he mentioned. It is like Hopkins holds the words in his hands and polishes them til many meanings shine from them... "Spring and Fall" also is great for teaching because it is more to form, so not so scary for those just meeting Hopkins.
    I am so glad Stephen posted Dylan Thomas' poem as I have never read it before and am now awed by its sound, nuances and power. I love the "heron priested shores" and the sea wet church the size of a snail" I like the idea of looking down on the town, the way the poet brings out what we all think of on our birthdays... where we've come from, where we're going. I think his prayer at the end has been answered as in his poem his "heart's truth", in its exquiste expression is remembered by all who read the poem.