Sing A Song of Seasons

Fall Colors in Minnesota

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

October

by William Cullen Bryant (1794 – 1878)

Ay, thou art welcome, heaven’s delicious breath!
When woods begin to wear the crimson leaf,
And suns grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief
And the year smiles as it draws near its death.
Wind of the sunny south! oh, still delay
In the gay woods and in the golden air,
Like to a good old age released from care,
Journeying, in long serenity, away.
In such a bright, late quiet, would that I
Might wear out life like thee, ‘mid bowers and brooks

And dearer yet, the sunshine of kind looks,
And music of kind voices ever nigh;
And when my last sand twinkled in the glass,
Pass silently from men, as thou dost pass


Autumn Fires

by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

In the other gardens
   And all up in the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
   See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over, 
   And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
   The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
   Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
   Fires in the fall! 

Do You Still Remember

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926)

I am so glad you are here.  It helps me realize how beautiful my world is.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Weißt du noch: (ohne Titel)

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Weißt du noch: fallende Sterne, die
quer wie Pferde durch die Himmel sprangen
über plötzlich hingehaltne Stangen
unsrer Wünsche– hatten wir so viele?–
denn es sprangen Sterne, ungezählt;
fast ein jeder Aufblick war vermählt
mit dem raschen Wagnis ihrer Spiele,
und das Herz fühlte empfand sich als ein Ganzes
unter diesen Trümmern ihres Glanzes
and war heil, als überstünd es sie!

Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]

by Rainer Maria Rilke – 1875-1926
Translated by Albert Earnest Flemming

Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky
like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
of our wishes—did we have so many?—
for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
almost every gaze upward became
wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
and our heart felt like a single thing
beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—
and was whole, as if it would survive them


Herbsttag

by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Autumn Day

By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebman

Lord: it is time.
. . The summer was immense.

Lay your shadow on the sundials
and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one
anymore.

Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long
time,
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

.

When Was I Less By Dying?

This Fall’s Arched Cathedral

I Died As A Mineral

by Rumi

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and became animal,
I died as animal and I was human.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God perishes.
Only when I have given up my angel-soul,
Shall I become what no mind has ever conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, To God we shall return.

If you google this quote from Rumi you will find many different English translations but rarely the entire passage from which it comes. This has been a favorite of mine from Rumi for many years. I discovered it during a focused time of spiritual re-awakening that coincided with a period of some of my most productive creative writing.

I wrote Noble Light in the fall of 2014 and it was one of two poems that unknowingly at the time, formed my jumping off point into what has become my obsession with sonnets. You could say Noble Light was my gate way drug. Obviously it is not a sonnet, but this poem was one of the most difficult I have ever written. I had dozens of drafts that I worked on for over a month that eventually I came to the realize, was actually two poems, not one. Once I dissected the lines and phrases and ideas into their respective corners, each poem on its own came together rather quickly. The other poem, also a poem of forgiveness, vaguely resembles a sonnet and Noble Light typical of my free verse, has just a tinge of rhyme to help the flow.

Back in those days, I would often share a finished draft of a new poem with my Mother via email as part of our daily correspondence. She often had interesting insights or suggestions for edits that made my writing better. It was fun to share with her the thrill of creativity and our mutual love of poetry. At that time I was writing so prodigiously I rarely went back to reread what I had written earlier, I filed poems away in the cloud of my little google Chromebook and moved on to the next poem and the next and the next. And so it surprised me a year later on one of our poetry nights, where each of us brought 4 to 5 poems to read, always from other poets not our original work, that she surprised me by selecting Noble Light to read back to me as one of her current favorites. I was honored and after she read it she shared her perspective of why this poem resonated with her. During that conversation, I made the mental connection between what was at the heart of my poem and some of the ideas in Rumi’s poem above, connections that were not obvious to me at the time I wrote it but were suddenly clear.

The next spring my Mother suffered a severe heart attack and wound up in two weeks of rehab following 10 days in the ICU and hospital. It was a long slow recovery. I visited her as often as possible and usually brought poetry. It became a regular ritual for her to ask at some point during our conversation and visit, “please read Nobel Light.” I am not sure how she in that moment connected to the whole of the poem, but the line; But next spring, buds shall swell with longing to be green again, resonated with what she was clinging to in that moment of recovery – hope, a hope that could carry her to wellness and be green again. It was humbling to have a line of my poetry mean that much to my Mother and I was pleased that she never tired of hearing me read it to her. I don’t revisit this poem very often since her death, but every fall, when I am on a walk and encounter popular leaves rattling their sacred song high in the canopy of the forest’s arched cathedral, I think of her and this poem. Happy Birthday Mom.


Noble Light

by T. A. Fry

In October, when infinite shades
of red, orange, green and yellow burn
bright against a brilliant sky;
Bathing everything in noble light
Do you pause in wonder?

Do you close your eyes
And listen to leathery poplar leaves
high in the canopy
rattle a sacred song?

In that moment
if you are drawn to forgiveness,
what do you put asunder?

When the wounded deer
bounded across our path
as we walked in the forest’s
arched cathedral; I could not
hear absolution in the crow’s
caw to the wolves.

But next spring, buds shall swell
With longing to be green again.
The winter’s snow will melt and sanctify
All remains obscured in these woods.

And the warmth of spring renewal
Will release countless bleached bones
From their sepulcher of snow.
To emerge cleansed to bask
Swaddled in hallowed leaves.

I Am Aware There Is Winter To Heed

Gwendolyn Brooks

A Sunset By The City

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.

It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes.
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.
I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.


Winter announced itself uninvited on October 20 this year, nearly a month before we were expecting it. Six inches of cold wet snow fell and unlike usual October snow falls, didn’t have the decency to melt the next day. Even hardy Minnesotans that rave about their enjoyment of winter activities look at this snow a bit eschew thinking “I really do enjoy your company but you could at least let me clean up the place before you arrived for Thanksgiving.” I was in denial that the winter snow warning was real, but finally had to admit it and went out and finished raking and bagging my back yard leaves just minutes before the flakes began to fall.

The start of winter this early, means the start of the heating season nearly a month sooner, so the furnace has come rumbling to life once again. Houses have their own heat signature irrespective of insulation and R values, quality of construction or size or type of furnace. It takes a while to understand how a new house reacts to your presence, your nosing about in its nooks and crannies, cooking and showering, leaving doors open or closed, frequent use off certain rooms, disdain for others.

What if my favorite room is the house’s least? What a let down I would be. I think houses sometimes don’t appreciate their new tenants for a while, sending cold drafts under the table to freeze my feet or baking me in the second floor in summer. Eventually things simmer down as each learns about the other’s habits. We are as much room mates with our rooms as we are with our mates.

I hope this new house is getting used to me. I am learning its creaks and sighs in the middle of the night, figuring out its preferences for which doors to leave open and which to close. The house is enthusiastically encouraging my frequent cooking, warming the entire downstairs when the stove is in use during fall and winter. It cringes at my criticisms of the repairs that are needed and blushes proudly when I admire its finer features. A house that is empty ages quickly into rack and ruin while houses that are lived in remain youthful and energetic. If you are cold, in your cold house, light a fire, in both of your hearts and invite someone to sit down and have a cup of tea and relax by your hearth.


The Night Migrations

by Louise Gluck

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds’ night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won’t see them—
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won’t need
these pleasures anymore;
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.

October Is The Treasurer Of The Year

Minnesota Late October 2020

And were an epitaph to be my story I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

Robert Frost

October

By Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.


Today is likely one of the last mild days of fall, temperatures still in the mid 60’s but with a forecast of much colder air descending into Minnesota tomorrow and it then staying colder for the foreseeable 10 day forecast. There will still be likely one or two pleasant days ahead, but days you can leave the house without a jacket again are likely 5 months away.

There is something more precious in my appreciation of October warm days than there is of the first burst of spring. It feels like spring warmth comes in abundance, while the ever shortening days and longer colder nights of fall make me savor the last warm rays of sunshine. Poetry with fall themes tend be more serious than the poetry of spring, fall is a time for reflection not love sick jocularity.. Fall poetry tends to look backwards over the road just travelled, contemplative and reserved. What’s your favorite time of year? Do you have a favorite fall poem?


October

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

October is the treasurer of the year,
And all the months pay bounty to her store;
The fields and orchards still their tribute bear,
And fill her brimming coffers more and more.
But she, with youthful lavishness,
Spends all her wealth in gaudy dress,
And decks herself in garments bold
Of scarlet, purple, red, and gold.
She heedeth not how swift the hours fly,
But smiles and sings her happy life along;
She only sees above a shining sky;
She only hears the breezes’ voice in song.
Her garments trail the woodlands through,
And gather pearls of early dew
That sparkle, till the roguish Sun
Creeps up and steals them every one.
But what cares she that jewels should be lost,
When all of Nature’s bounteous wealth is hers?
Though princely fortunes may have been their cost,
Not one regret her calm demeanor stirs.
Whole-hearted, happy, careless, free,
She lives her life out joyously,
Nor cares when Frost stalks o’er her way
And turns her auburn locks to gray.

My Leaves All Dissolved In Flight

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September 2

by Wendell Berry

In the evening there were flocks of nighthawks
passing southward over the valley.  The tall
sunflowers stood, burning on their stalks
to cold seed, by the still river.  And high
up the birds rose into sight against the darkening
clouds.  They tossed themselves among the fading
landscapes of the sky like rags, as in
abandonment to the summons their blood knew.
And in my mind, where had stood a garden
straining to the light, there grew
an acceptance of decline.  Having worked,
I would sleep, my leaves all dissolved in flight.


Wendell Berry has been a steady progressive voice for decades, sounding the alarm on environmental degradation and the need to conserve the natural world and agrarian soils and the economies and resources from which our sustenance depends.   His poetry and essays are personal, accessible and lead by example of searching his own soul, not the souls of others, while putting forth challenging and even difficult ideas and opinions.

I am attracted to poets who use the word “I” as the narrator of their poetry.   I know, from my own experience in writing, that using first person does not always mean its autobiographical or my story.   But, by doing so, it changes the dynamics between the writer and the reader such that I feel like the reader is peaking through the window of a house lit up at night, unsure if the person you are observing intended for themselves to be on display or whether the reader is now a voyeur, watching something that might at any moment, the next word, become deeply personal.  It heightens the tension, particularly in short poems.  It puts the reader on notice, that out of our own modesty, we may have to turn away briefly,  if suddenly the writer gets completely undressed before us, before returning our gaze.

If you read the poem above, there are three references to himself, one “I” and two “my”(s).  Think how different the poem would be if it was written in third person:

And in our minds, where had stood a garden
straining to the light, there grew
an acceptance of decline.  Having worked,
We would sleep, our leaves all dissolved in flight.

Now you have to ask yourself, with that small change, did Berry build consensus earlier in the poem? As a writer did he bring his reader’s in under his spell and we have given over to his vision?  We would be left pondering is this really our collective experience and perspective that the poet is sharing or is he being bossy?  By making it first person, the poet is sharing and caring for himself/herself and letting the reader decide what to make of it.

For me, it’s easy to fall into third person when writing because it is the nature of my inner voice speaking to my corporal self.   I find in my own writing that often after the first draft, even writing this blog, not just poetry, that I have to go back and reinsert the first person, make it my own narrative, singular, and let others find the slivers to which they can relate or be shocked by the incoherence of thought that is on the page.   It is an odd thing to send off words into the ether of the internet, only to see a faint trace of where they go, with very little perspective on what the receivers on the other end are thinking, other than a warm glow in my suspicion that we share something in common – a curiosity which is fed and fueled in part by poetry.


Grace

by Wendell Berry

The woods is shining this morning.
Red, gold and green, the leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.
It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is. Running or walking, the way
is the same. Be still. Be still.
“He moves your bones, and the way is clear.”