12 September 2014

‘Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound’

Blackberries by the railway line in Greystones, Co Wicklow, this afternoon (Photograph: Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

On the train from Cambridge to Stansted Airport yesterday, the colours of the landscape were beginning to change from the gold and green of summer to the brown of autumn.

The harvest is almost in, and farmers are beginning to prepare the land for a new season of sowing and planting.

Despite the large number of cattle on Coe Fen and Sheep’s Green, there is little beef or dairy grazing in this part of East Anglia.

But late summer is lingering little longer than expected. After the morning mists burn off each day, the temperatures in East Anglia and in Ireland are hovering around 20 and sometimes a little higher. Once morning warms up it becomes a little difficult to ponder how the English Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821), in his poem To Autumn, called this the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.”

I took a break from work this afternoon, and two of us went to Greystones for lunch in the Happy Pear and a walk on the beach.

Coaches were delivering students from language schools to the beach, a few people were out sailing, and one, lone, brave figure was swimming, despite the fact that the water was chilly and cold.

The one reminder that autumn is fast approaching came with the blackberries beside the railway line which are beginning to reach the point when they should be picked, and some are tasty already.

We tasted just a few before I returned to a busy weekend at work. As we climbed up the hills north of Greystones, passing fields of green and gold, I thought of how the Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) also wrote about autumn.

Walking by the shoreline at the beach in Greystones, Co Wicklow, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Autumn (1833), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Go, sit upon the lofty hill,
And turn your eyes around,
Where waving woods and waters wild
Do hymn an autumn sound.
The summer sun is faint on them —
The summer flowers depart —
Sit still — as all transform’d to stone,
Except your musing heart.

How there you sat in summer-time,
May yet be in your mind;
And how you heard the green woods sing
Beneath the freshening wind.
Though the same wind now blows around,
You would its blast recall;
For every breath that stirs the trees,
Doth cause a leaf to fall.

Oh! like that wind, is all the mirth
That flesh and dust impart:
We cannot bear its visitings,
When change is on the heart.
Gay words and jests may make us smile,
When Sorrow is asleep;
But other things must make us smile,
When Sorrow bids us weep!

The dearest hands that clasp our hands, —
Their presence may be o’er;
The dearest voice that meets our ear,
That tone may come no more!
Youth fades; and then, the joys of youth,
Which once refresh’d our mind,
Shall come — as, on those sighing woods,
The chilling autumn wind.

Hear not the wind — view not the woods;
Look out o’er vale and hill —
In spring, the sky encircled them —
The sky is round them still.
Come autumn’s scathe — come winter’s cold —
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne’er be desolate.

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