My drive to work takes me along a winding river with views of the Green Mountains. The past couple of mornings the fog that has settled into the valleys and the deciduous trees that are visible above the mists are bright red and orange. As the sun lingers in the liminal space between night and day, its amber glow silhouettes the ravens perched on the tops of the bare trees.
The loss of daylight during this time forces us to slow down. It encourages us to think about what has happened over the past year. This time can bring celebrations, festivals, and bountiful harvests. But it can also be a time of reflection and contemplation on losses. With the leaves dropping from the branches, and the flowers curling in on themselves, the poets are spurred to pick up their pens and write about these transitions.
Lloyd Schwartz is the author of four books of poetry and is the current Poet Laureate of Somerville, Massachusetts. He has a poem titled “Leaves” that begins with these lines.
“Leaves” by Lloyd Schwartz
Every October it becomes important, no, necessary to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded by leaves turning; it's not just the symbolism, to confront in the death of the year your death, one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony isn't lost on you that nature is most seductive when it's about to die, Excerpt from Leaves by Lloyd Schwartz
Schwartz is wasting no time getting into the heart of the matter. How do the changing season relate to our lives?
Schwartz then continues to follow the imagery of the autumn leaves as he investigates, what I believe, is the life long pursuit of happiness.
Schwartz starts by asking us to reflect on the many dead ends in life:
whichever road you take will be the wrong one and you've probably come all this way for nothing
And then there is the intense peak foliage moment. When all the vibrant colors come into view.
It won't last, you don't want it to last. You can't stand any more. But you don't want it to stop. It's what you've come for. It's what you'll come back for. It won't stay with you, but you'll remember that it felt like nothing else you've felt or something you've felt that also didn't last.
It is so interesting to read the about autumn leaves written in this way. The parallels that I find between Schwartz’s writing and the human pursuit of happiness is striking. Once we find it, we want to hold on to it. But we know that lasting intense joy, like foliage, is temporary.
Shifting gears a bit, Georgia Douglas Johnson explores the connection between the fallen leaves and loss in her poem “Dead Leaves”.
“Dead Leaves” by Georgia Douglas Johnson
The breaking dead leaves ’neath my feet A plaintive melody repeat, Recalling shattered hopes that lie As relics of a bygone sky. Again I thread the mazy past, Back where the mounds are scattered fast— Oh! foolish tears, why do you start, To break of dead leaves in the heart?
I have read this poem several times and there is just something that resonates with me. I can imagine myself wandering down a wooded path with my feet crunching the dried leaves. I am deep in thought about all the mistakes I have made and all the opportunities that I let slip by. For me, there is something really intriguing about this one.
For our final poem today, we return to the work to Robert Frost. This poem, “Gathering Leaves”, reflects on the process of raking leaves, but it may also pose some deeper philosophical questions.
“Gathering Leaves” by Robert Frost
Spades take up leaves No better than spoons, And bags full of leaves Are light as balloons. I make a great noise Of rustling all day Like rabbit and deer Running away. But the mountains I raise Elude my embrace, Flowing over my arms And into my face. I may load and unload Again and again Till I fill the whole shed, And what have I then? Next to nothing for weight, And since they grew duller From contact with earth, Next to nothing for color. Next to nothing for use, But a crop is a crop, And who’s to say where The harvest shall stop?
As I read this poem, I am easily carried into the process of trying to corral leaves. The noise of raking and then trying to get the leaves into some sort of container. Although Frost doesn’t tell us exactly why he is trying to gather all these leaves, he does mention that they are a “crop”. Therefore, of some sort of use to him in the end.
What I find really interesting is that last line, “And who’s to say where/The harvest shall stop?” I don’t think we are just talking about harvesting leaves. I think Frost is asking the reader to contemplate something larger than that.
I am wondering if you have any favorite poems about leaves? Or thoughts about the poems presented here. Feel free to share below.
- Lloyd Schwartz published “Leaves” in his 1992 book Goodnight, Gracie. You can read the full poem here.
- Georgia Douglas Johnson published “Dead Leaves” in her 1918 book The Heart of a Woman and Other Poems. You can read the full poem here.
- Robert Frost published “Gathering Leaves” in his 1923 book New Hampshire. You can read the full poem here.
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A glorious post, Mark, thank you! This morning when I opened the curtains, at 06.00 am, I could see the mist rolling slowly along the river that flows not far from here (the Upper Bann). On seeing this, I write in my autumn journal, and in the days ahead a verse might come to life!
Hi Ashley, It does sound like there is a poem ready to be written. River mist is one of those mysterious and magical things that can capture the imagination. Have a great day and I will keep an eye out for that poem!
Leaves changing color offers such beauty and a wonderful inspiration for poetry. Thanks for posting these poems. The Lloyd Schwarz poem connected with me most — the descriptions of elusive feelings, how our hearts can want and not want, how memories can shift.
Hi Dave, thanks for the comment. I also enjoyed Schwartz’s poem and the structure that he used to talk about larger live issues. Thanks again for adding to the conversation!
Reblogged this on Solitary 4 Tomorrow and commented:
a compilation of wonderful poems, wonderfully compiled by Mark S:
I very much enjoyed reading the Schwartz poems. Almost 100 gone by and Frost’s poem just as alive as the day he wrote it.
Hi Lisa, I agree with those statements. I am surprised at how much I am enjoying rediscovering Frost’s work. Great to read again.
… Lloyd Schwartz I had not heard of before and his poem resonated with me, so looking him up, I did not find a book of his in my local library, but I did find a photo which in return reminded me of the one last blazing performance he speaks of – autumn leaves – looking at a series of photos in fact in google, I see him growing into glowing … here is one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lloyd_Schwartz
Hi Barbara, his book isn’t at my local library either. It may be hard to find. Schwartz photo makes me think of someone who is content with where he is in life. Thanks for doing a little bit of research. Talk soon.
What an enjoyable cosy post, Mark! I love the whole section on Lloyd Schwartz, especially:
“whichever road you take will be the wrong one
and you’ve probably come all this way for nothing.”
I don’t know why this made me laugh but it did 🙂 I like the metaphor of autumn leaves as the lifelong pursuit of happiness. It’s human nature to be hopeful though, isn’t it?
Hope you are well 🙂
Hi Sunra, I agree with your comment about those lines. I was thinking how bold of him to just name it! Thanks again for your comment and support. Talk soon,
You’re most welcome. Thanks for your support too!