Monday, October 5, 2009

Dead leaves

Fall arrived this weekend. Last week it was still scorching late Indian summer, with a threat of Santa Ana winds and wildfires. Then suddenly it changed. It was spectacularly beautiful this weekend, with clouds scudding overhead, picturesque white-caps dotting the ocean, and a coolness sufficient to drive me finally out of my summer uniform of shorts and Hawaiian shirts to jeans and a sweater. The light seems more pale and yellowed than it did last week, as the sun continues its southward slant, and today there just seemed to be a stillness in the air and in the crowds on the street.

I generally enjoy the transition to crispness and the shortening days, but this year I just feel melancholy. Autumn eases us to days of dark and cold, of change and death and loss. Another year draws a close, another birthday looms ahead. I'm feeling very blue these days, depressed by work burdens and by aspirations unreached and now unreachable. "I coulda been a contenda", an internal Marlon Brando voice protests, knowing that the chance is gone, fallen like the leaves. The darkness comes. I am in my Matthew Arnold place:
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.


it's margaret said...

This has been put to music. It is devastatingly beautiful.

Thinking of you and your wife. Bless you both.

it's margaret said...

Here is a youtube link to a fairly decent interpretation....

Erp said...

MIST clogs the sunshine.
Smoky dwarf houses
Hem me round everywhere;
A vague dejection
Weighs down my soul.

Yet, while I languish,
Everywhere countless
Prospects unroll themselves,
And countless beings
Pass countless moods.

Far hence, in Asia,
On the smooth convent-roofs,
On the gilt terraces,
Of holy Lassa,
Bright shines the sun.

Grey time-worn marbles
Hold the pure Muses;
In their cool gallery,
By yellow Tiber,
They still look fair.

Strange unloved uproar
Shrills round their portal;
Yet not on Helicon
Kept they more cloudless
Their noble calm.

Through sun-proof alleys
In a lone, sand-hemm'd
City of Africa,
A blind, led beggar,
Age-bow'd, asks alms.

No bolder robber
Erst abode ambush'd
Deep in the sandy waste;
No clearer eyesight
Spied prey afar.

Saharan sand-winds
Sear'd his keen eyeballs;
Spent is the spoil he won.
For him the present
Holds only pain.

Two young, fair lovers,
Where the warm June-wind,
Fresh from the summer fields
Plays fondly round them,
Stand, tranced in joy.

With sweet, join'd voices,
And with eyes brimming:
"Ah," they cry, "Destiny,
Prolong the present!
Time, stand still here!"

The prompt stern Goddess
Shakes her head, frowning;
Time gives his hour-glass
Its due reversal;
Their hour is gone.

With weak indulgence
Did the just Goddess
Lengthen their happiness,
She lengthen'd also
Distress elsewhere.

The hour, whose happy
Unalloy'd moments
I would eternalise,
Ten thousand mourners
Well pleased see end.

The bleak, stern hour,
Whose severe moments
I would annihilate,
Is pass'd by others
In warmth, light, joy.

Time, so complain'd of,
Who to no one man
Shows partiality,
Brings round to all men
Some undimm'd hours.

PseudoPiskie said...


IT said...

Thanks, Margaret. I had not heard that before. I always think (of course) of the Adagio with Barber.

Nice, erp, and well played!
But often, in the world's most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us--to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.

Thank you PseudoP.

Erp said...

Unfortunately I don't known Arnold anywhere near as well as I should.

Perhaps a different poet:


Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
Like wither'd leaves, to quicken a new birth;
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

I went out on San Francisco Bay (or to be a exact a slough) last Saturday and the wind was howling but the skies were blue. We didn't put up sails but we watched the small sail boats, Optimist prams, speeding through the water and racing round the marks having great fun. It was a youth fleet with none of the sailors over 18. What will they do in years to come?

IT said...

erp, If you're going to quote the Romantics you'll have to play with Jake, who is a Wordsworth fan. My affections segues from Shakespeare to the metaphysicals and then take a big jump to the Victorians and thereafter. (My speciality was Victorian novelists, particularly George Eliot).

Erp said...

I tend to be somewhat eclectic and not very deep in my literature
studies, I'm not sure I dare.

Autumn wind rises: white clouds fly.
Grass and trees wither: geese go south.
Orchids all in bloom: chrysanthemums smell sweet.
I think of my lovely lady: I never can forget.
Floating-pagoda boat crosses Fen River.
Across the mid-stream white waves rise;
Flute and drum keep time to sound of rowers' song;
Amidst revel and feasting, sad thoughts come;
Youth's years how few! Age how sure!
-Wu-ti (translated by Arthur Waley)

JCF said...

Autumn eases us to days of dark and cold

In San Diego?! O_o

{snarked JCF in Michigan---I couldn't hold out any longer, and turned on my furnace today :-/}

I'm feeling very blue these days, depressed by work burdens and by aspirations unreached and now unreachable.

I was feeling this way last week; this week I'm better. "This Too Shall Pass", as we 12-Steppers say...