Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Spring and fall

It's been about the most beautiful fall I can remember in almost 20 years in Chapel Hill, the leaves so bright that they demand attention--distracting, really, liable to induce all kinds of thoughts. Michael Pollan, on the other hand, suggests that spring is the season for thoughtful intimations of mortality, that the coming of new flowers every year is "deeply drenched in our sense of time."

Maybe there's a good reason why we find their fleetingness so piercing, can scarcely look at a flower in bloom without thinking ahead, whether in hope or regret. We might share with certain insects a tropism inclining us toward flowers, but presumably insects can look at a blossom without entertaining thoughts of the past and future--complicated human thoughts that may once have been anything but idle. Flowers have always had important things to teach us about time.

The poets, of course, tend to dwell on spring and the fleeting nature of time, none more movingly than Housman in "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now." It wasn't until I was living in Washington, with its annual glory of cherry trees, that I understood viscerally what the poem was saying: Among the many questions you can ask about your life, ponder this one: How many more spring flowerings will it be your luck to see? And so, for a time, my "favorite season" (a ridiculous idea) became spring.

But fall has its poetry and its poets too. On this All Souls Day it seems fitting to repost this post from a couple of years ago.

Fall Morning, Pisgah National Forest

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

--G.M. Hopkins

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