The Dying of the Year: A Poet's Reverie

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(Photo: Free images)

I came across this beautiful poem today that captures so eloquently how I feel about this transitional time, when autumn's colors quickly fade, the winds blow, and the earth is laid bare, waiting to be kissed by a blanket of snow.

My favorite line from the poem, perhaps, is "The gnarled thorn seems a crooked hag."

The other day, I imagined myself a painter as I beheld a cluster of trees on the horizon. I wondered how my brush could ever capture the twisted blackness of those limbs, layered in the foreground against a backdrop of more limbs, stretching ever backward through the forest, with hints of gray sky peeking through. The winds had all but ripped away the last of the curled yellow leaves.

I'm not a painter, so my brush may never craft that scene. But I'll forever celebrate the blank lined sheet with which a poet begins. The page is the canvas, the words are paint, and the poem is a finished scene.

In that spirit, may I present Madison Cawein:

"Under Arcturus"

By Madison Cawein (1865-1914)

I

"I belt the morn with ribboned mist;
With baldricked blue I gird the noon,
And dusk with purple, crimson-kissed,
White-buckled with the hunter's-moon.

"These follow me," the Season says:
"Mine is the frost-pale hand that packs
Their scrips, and speeds them on their ways,
With gypsy gold that weighs their backs."

II

A daybreak horn the Autumn blows,
As with a sun-tanned hand he parts
Wet boughs whereon the berry glows;
And at his feet the red fox starts.

The leafy leash that holds his hounds
Is loosed; and all the noonday hush
Is startled; and the hillside sounds
Behind the fox's bounding brush.

When red dusk makes the western sky
A fire-lit window through the firs,
He stoops to see the red fox die
Among the chestnut's broken burrs.

Then fanfaree and fanfaree,
His bugle sounds; the world below
Grows hushed to hear; and two or three
Soft stars dream through the afterglow.

III

Like some black host the shadows fall,
And blackness camps among the trees;
Each wildwood road, a Goblin Hall,
Grows populous with mysteries.

Night comes with brows of ragged storm,
And limbs of writhen cloud and mist;
The rain-wind hangs upon his arm
Like some wild girl who cries unkissed.

By his gaunt hands the leaves are shed
In headlong troops and nightmare herds;
And, like a witch who calls the dead,
The hill-stream whirls with foaming words.

Then all is sudden silence and
Dark fear -- like his who cannot see,
Yet hears, lost in a haunted land,
Death rattling on a gallow's-tree.

IV

The days approach again; the days
Whose mantles stream, whose sandals drag,
When in the haze by puddled ways
The gnarled thorn seems a crooked hag.

When rotting orchards reek with rain;
And woodlands crumble, leaf and log;
And in the drizzling yard again
The gourd is tagged with points of fog.

Now let me seat my soul among
The woods' dim dreams, and come in touch
With melancholy, sad of tongue
And sweet, who says so much, so much.


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2 comments:

Adam said...

I really enjoyed this poem. It inspired me to look up Arcturus, and there is at least one connection with the mythological figure: he had two hunting dogs. He also accidentally killed his mother (while she was turned into a bear by the jealous Hera). I found the story and some interesting facts about the star Arcturus here:

http://sa.apana.org.au/~paulc/lorecanopus.html

Rachel Watson said...

Cool, thank you for sharing that.