Have you looked up at the skies recently? While we hop between puddles and huddle against a fresh wind in the Yard, fall blossoms. With the sweeping away of summer, the world begins to look like a setting fire. Pinkish hues at sunset cool the atmosphere. Then the colors touch the leaves. This season of splendor and solemnity makes poets of us all during the moments we look and listen. Here is a collection of three short poems by American poets from the past century to get you in the autumnal mood.
A call to remember what’s most important (and forget midterms...)
The ephemerality of fall evokes the preciousness of the present moment in this poem by the new Poet Laureate of the U.S., Joy Harjo, the first Native American to hold the post. Taught sensorial observations of fall’s darkness and dampness spring into a meditation on the “divine”: Don’t we all need “a song that will keep sky open” in our minds? Yet the season’s imperfect, overcast skies resist the search for perfection in a single moment; rather, we should be in the moment, don’t “lose now,” of which the rest of time will make sense. The precise concluding lines return us to the empirical world as the narrator comes home from an autumnal walk. There in the hallway, two coats hang beside each other as precarious leaves. In this one terse metaphor, fall is love burnished by a consciousness of human life’s brevity.
To herald Halloween, a hellish poem that embraces the witches of history!
An actress hailing from Newton, Massachusetts, Isabella Gardner was also a notable writer and editor of poetry during the mid-20th century. The name Isabella Gardner may bring to mind the art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner whose eccentric wonderland of an art collection is housed in Boston, and there is in fact a familial connection: Isabella Gardner was the latter’s great-niece. In this particular poem, fall is invoked as a pathetic fallacy of the observer’s condemnation of witch trials. Gardner mocks charges of heresy by subversily associating both heaven and nature with flames and kindling of destruction. Most disturbingly is how the “starving field” through such witch trials implies a spiritual autumn resolved by sowing death. The autumnal notion of fall is thus intertwined with the Biblical notion of postlapsarian man. Gardner deploys theological concepts against persecution on religious grounds. The “Fall” of the poem’s title, when read as man’s descension into sin, characterizes the witch trials and not the witches. Hell yeah!
A light-humored meditation to ward off the cold
The mid-20th century American poet Lorine Niedecker remained largely removed from the city-based poetry scene and lived most of her life in Wisconsin where she was born. Her sweet and spare poetic language embraces flora and fauna. The seasons, meanwhile, are her spectacles, and in part three of this poem she humorously perceives the autumnal in us: “Fall / We must pull / the curtains — / we haven’t any leaves.” Niedecker reads us as newly-naked trees in another play on Biblical connotations of “fall.” To keep warm when icy gales blow, consider the branches up above shaking not because of the wind but out of embarrassment that someone’s looking at them.
— Staff writer Alice J. Donnellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.