Autumn Bramble

The shapes are pleasing but the influence is melancholy.  What rises from the heart and gathers to the eyes when looking at the happy autumn fields?  Idle tears.  I think of this poem this time of year.  It drives me crazy of course, because the style is so purple, and the subject so ochre.   Also because Tennyson says he knows not what they mean, but he guesses emphatically that the tears mean he is thinking of days that are no more.  Do you cry for days that are no more?  I cry for jam that is no more.  I really like jam.

I don’t mind autumn’s exhaustive references to death, I like the color death turns things, but I do find the seeds a bit much.  The seeds seem every year to bite off more than the earth can chew.  Dormancy.  Fecund pressure.   Farms plant in spring, but an autumn untended is all seeds slowly bursting forth and seed spreaders scurrying fast.

I don’t miss days that are no more, not enough to bust out crying just from looking at a field.  It is not the remembered kisses after death but the too abundant opportunity for redemption.  Think of all the people who haven’t yet died to whom we could blow a kiss today, if we just got started early and didn’t break for lunch.  We could just have one of those shakes.   It is not ideal, but it wouldn’t kill us.

I’m not helping myself by bringing pods into the house and strewing my desk with them.  Still, each pod has seeds and each seed works its way out of the pod and eventually ends up between my thumb and forefinger with me saying Thus the amber fields of grain?  Are you freeking kidding me?   That the mighty oak falls doesn’t weird me out if I’m not in too gravitational a mood (very grave), but the acorn gets me, not the size of it, but the number.   Were there only one seed in the world, think how precious it would be.  The implication is that morality responds much too precisely to quantity.

Well, ah, look.  (My impression of the prezelect.) Maybe autumn and Tennyson and my inner lizard brain all just keep acting like Socrates when the guards took the chains off his legs, and he rubbed his ankle and said: Even to the end, pleasure follows pain.  So often together those two.

There’s something awful in the straight shots of words like sad, strange, and wild, and phrases like, “O Death in Life,” but none of this is any more obvious or overdone than the natural world in autumn, which is cornucopic and given the later destruction of so much of it, obscene.   Enjoy!

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others, deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.


About jennifermichaelhecht

I'm a poet with a PhD in the History of Science from Columbia University and I've written five books, two poetry, two popular philosophy, one intellectual history. I live in Brooklyn with my husband and our two little kids. I teach seminars in poetry in the MFA programs at The New School and at Columbia.
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