Notes of Autumn

Notes of Autumn

‘Walking through the leaves falling from the trees,

Feeling like a stranger nobody sees ‘

(Bob Dylan, Mississippi)

I’ve been listening to Tell Tale Signs quite a bit recently. There are so many wonderful songs each with their own universe, characters and meanings that one can fall into on this double album.  I can't claim to have a favourite track, as I love many of them deeply, but I listened to the second version of Mississippi the other morning and the lyrics were on my mind for the rest of the day.  While out walking the dog later I looked down and suddenly saw clusters of red and brown leaves on the pavement at my feet. Autumn peeked out from behind the uniformity of the indigenous cacti. Was it an Old World import? A mirage, conjured by some transplanted flora and fauna? Whether it’s native or foreign I’ll take it; a chance to slip mentally across the ocean or at least from West Coast to East Coast and rejoin the rhythmic flow of seasonal change. I’m there in my mind and that’s good enough for now.

What’s always struck me about autumn is its poetry and no less importantly its musicality. Perhaps because it’s a season of such contrasts it offers endless inspiration to those who are seeking. There is the bounty of the harvest; clearly a traditional time for rejoicing and yet the season holds within itself powerful themes of change, transition and loss that are outwardly manifested in the turning of the verdant greens of summer into rich hues of browns and reds- still beautiful but heralding the inescapable death and cold of winter which is to come. 

We can muse with Keats and see the carefree maiden of his bucolic and very English autumnal vision,

‘Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;’

(Keats, To Autumn)

Or we can take out the vinyl and listen to Billie Holiday sigh for the beauty and promise of an autumn spent in the city of ‘glittering crowds and shimmering clouds’

‘It’s autumn in New York transforms the slums into Mayfair

Autumn in New York, you’ll need no castle in Spain

Lovers that bless the dark

Or benches in Central Park

Greet autumn in New York

It’s good to live it again’

(Vernon Duke, Autumn in New York)

Then we can turn to the Bard and his Sonnet 73 and understand the significance of this season as a beautiful meditation upon aging and the brevity of life,

‘That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang’

(Shakespeare, Sonnet 73)

Or as this Buddhist quotation that has been with me since childhood poignantly puts it,

‘The three worlds are impermanent like autumn clouds;

The birth and death of beings is like viewing a dance;’

(Lalitavistara Sutra)

Autumn is everywhere it seems, and living in the land often claiming to be that of the eternal summer its importance when glimpsed is striking. I look for the trees whose leaves are falling and I am haunted by their significance. In my mind I walk alongside the invisible stranger of Dylan’s poetic vision and share in his autumnal solitude.

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