Tuesday 23 October 2018

Autumn: Maples, Rosemary, Haze

As the leaves fall from the maples, here's a seasonal beauty from Richard Wilbur, one of his more overtly religious poems, dense with Christian imagery...

October Maples, Portland
The leaves, though little time they have to live,Were never so unfallen as today,And seem to yield us through a rustled sieveThe very light from which time fell away.
A showered fire we thought forever lostRedeems the air. Where friends in passing meet,They parley in the tongues of Pentecost.Gold ranks of temples flank the dazzled street.
It is a light of maples, and will go;
But not before it washes eye and brain
With such a tincture, such a sanguine glow
As cannot fail to leave a lasting stain.
So Mary's laundered mantle (in the tale
Which, like all pretty tales, may still be true),
Spread on the rosemary-bush, so drenched the pale
Slight blooms in its irradiated hue,
They could not choose but to return in blue.

For myself, I'd have preferred this poem shorn of its last five lines. However, the legend of Mary and the rosemary also inspired a poem by Marianne Moore...


Beauty and Beauty's son and rosemary -
Venus and Love, her son, to speak plainly -
born of the sea supposedly,
at Christmas each, in company,
braids a garland of festivity.
    Not always rosemary -

since the flight to Egypt, blooming differently.
With lancelike leaf, green but silver underneath,
its flowers - white originally -
turned blue. The herb of memory,
imitating the blue robe of Mary,
    is not too legendary

to flower both as symbol and as pungency.
Springing from stones beside the sea,
the height of Christ when he was thirty-three,
it feeds on dew and to the bee
'hath a dumb language;' is in reality
    a kind of Christmas tree.

Only Marianne Moore could end up likening rosemary to a Christmas tree.
The words in quotation marks are from Sir Thomas More, a lover of rosemary: 'As for rosemary, I let it run all over my garden walls, not only because my bees love it but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance and to friendship, whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language.'

Richard Wilbur also wrote one of the great autumn poems, a beautiful piece, full of longing for lost summer and spring yet to come...

In the Elegy Season
Haze, char, and the weather of All Souls':
A giant absence mopes upon the trees:
Leaves cast in casual potpourris
Whisper their scents from pits and cellar-holes.
Or brewed in gulleys, steeped in wells, they spend
In chilly steam their last aromas, yield
From shallow hells a revenance of field
And orchard air. And now the envious mind
Which could not hold the summer in my head
While bounded by that blazing circumstance
Parades these barrens in a golden trance,
Remembering the wealthy season dead,
And by an autumn inspiration makes
A summer all its own. Green boughs arise
Through all the boundless backward of the eyes,
And the soul bathes in warm conceptual lakes.
Less proud than this, my body leans an ear
Past cold and colder weather after wings’
Soft commotion, the sudden race of springs,
The goddess’ tread heard on the dayward stair,
Longs for the brush of the freighted air, for smells
Of grass and cordial lilac, for the sight
Of green leaves building into the light
And azure water hoisting out of wells.

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