Late fall sonnet

Autumn leaves

Falling Leaves Like Lovers

The leaves, the leaves are gone except the oak,
Which cling to trees and rattle needlessly.
The others flame and fall for all to see.
They streak and sizzle, leaving only smoke.

But oak leaves hang as by some unseen yoke,
All browned and curled awaiting sympathy,
Or sap to course and lend vitality–
The leaves cannot perceive the sorry joke.

For spring will end the lie and they will drop,
To drift and rot and turn in time to dust.
As sure as buds will burst to make a crop
Of new, the old will flutter down–they must.
The falling leaves like lovers never stop.
It’s hardly gentle, but ’tis just, ’tis just.


Notes:  Some of my favorite poems compare the death that comes in the autumn to the end of a love.  Or poems that use the dying natural world when winter approaches as the backdrop for the story.

I think of Robert Frost’s Reluctance, with its heartbreaking line about it being treasonous “to bow and accept the end of a love, or a season.”

Or Thomas Hardy’s Neutral Tones, which uses a frozen landscape as the setting for the realization that a relationship has ended.

Then, there is John Crowe Ransom’s Winter Remembered, with its wonderful image comparing the forsaken lover’s cold fingers to “Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.”

I may never have discovered Ransom had it not been for my 11th grade English teacher,  Paul Hagedorn, back in Marshall, Missouri.  We spent an inordinate amount of time on poetry that year.  The major assignment, as I recall it, was to select an American poet from a lengthy list, and then immerse yourself in the writer’s work, and finally write a paper.

Knowing nothing about most of the choices, I picked John Crowe Ransom solely because I liked the sound of his name.  I got lucky, because I discovered I enjoyed his work.  Had I chosen Wallace Stevens with his difficult, cerebral verse, I probably would have flunked.

Another assignment was to prepare a notebook of our favorite poems.  I remember making daring choices, including song lyrics by such radicals as Paul Simon and Bob Dylan.  Now  that Dylan as been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, I consider myself foresighted.

I was fortunate that Mr. Hagedorn approved of my choices.  He was the cool, young teacher back then.  He managed to fan the flames of inspiration and love for poetry.  They smoldered for years, flaming up now and then, and have finally started burning here in this blog.

Advertisements

Love doesn’t always work out …

John Crowe Ransom, original member of the Fugitives, a group of writers and poets from the South
John Crowe Ransom

When I was a junior in high school, our English teacher, Mr. Paul Hagedorn, gave what seemed like a daunting assignment: Compile a personal poetry notebook of what seemed like an outrageous number of poems we liked, and pick one poet from a prescribed list, and write a term paper on our selection.

I didn’t recognize many names on Mr. Hagedorn’s list. He seemed intent on moving us past the old classic American poets that our parents had loved and to introduce us to modern poets.

I panicked. I already instinctively knew that picking the wrong poet could prove to be deadly. I was going to have to get to know everything about the poet I selected. Read his works and live with him until the term paper assignment was complete.

Nothing worse than being forced to spend time with a boring or impenetrable poet!

So I did the sensible thing. I chose the poet with the most interesting name: John Crowe Ransom.

You must admit. That’s a great name.

I got lucky. John Crowe Ransom proved to be a poet I could read, understand and appreciate. I learned a few new words, but I didn’t have to translate every other word into everyday English.

People love “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter.” I do, too.

But Ransom’s poem that really knocks me out is “Winter Remembered.”  It’s about love and loss.  A common tale, but told so well.

If you’ve got a minute, read the whole thing. (It’s pretty short.  Just five stanzas.)  I’ll quote the last stanza here.  That image of the frozen fingers as frozen parsnips is worth the price of admission.

Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,
And tied our separate forces first together,
Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,
Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather.

I’ve got a few poems about lost love myself.  This one isn’t really in the style of Ransom.  But if I’m reading him right, we have shared some common experiences.

COME GENTLE SNOW

Come gentle snow and cloak the ground,
Shroud budding branches all around,
Let not one scent of spring be found,
Make flowers wait.

Come frost and freeze the throbbing juice,
Break March’s short and shaky truce,
No sprout nor songbird yet aloose,
Let spring be late.

Come wind and make the oak leaves hiss,
When they descend no one will miss
Their brittle shade — no artifice
Can bring them back.

Come night and steal the season’s gain;
The verdure will begin to wane
Despite the wealth of easy rain
If it stays black.

Come sleep and shield me from the past,
Help me forget her I loved last,
Wrap safely me in sanctums vast,
Away from pain.