Emily, Mabel and the change of season

I’m thinking this week about a couple of lines from Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Summer begins to have the look” (poem 1693 in the Franklin edition, 1682 in Johnson). In the second stanza of this poem, Emily wrote that “Autumn begins to be inferred” by the changing types of clouds or the intensifying hues that start to cover the landscape. As usual, she encapsulated it brilliantly.

This is the time of year in New England when summer, indeed, starts to have a certain look: plants look tired, the grass is tinged brown. The light at different times of day has changed. Trees have begun to hint at the brilliant palette they’ll soon fully reveal. It’s no longer really summer, and not yet really fall.

Mabel, too, wrote frequently of her love for autumn, about the changes it brought and the associations it brought her. She’d written in 1879 of her hopes for her yet-unborn daughter, “My little child must worship the sky, and exalt in the autumn.” Early in her relationship with Austin she penned, “All his life he has passionately loved all nature. The autumn chirp of crickets thrills him most pressibly, and the misty hills and the first red leaves.”

And years after Austin’s death, still mourning him, the start of fall brought bittersweet associations:  “Austin dawned upon my horizon, and I recognized him – and never more on earth or in heaven can I know loneliness or despair. In each of my heights a higher one; to all my aspiration a celestial lift above my idealist dreaming.  And so the glory grew and grew, and the autumns were ever more holy time, the springs a benediction. In the streams of leaves, the windy sky, the far lights on the hills, the crisp air, the early twilight drawing in where a hearth fire should have burned – in the pathetic green grass, velvety under the low sun – in all the sweetness, the sadness of this dear month, I saw a radiant light beyond earth, because one noble soul lived who fitted me and complemented my heart. And now the hills lie under the sky with a beauty that stills the heart from beating, the sky, the sun, all are more beautiful than I ever have seen before.”

So here we are, on the precipice of season’s change. With the start of the new school year and the new semester, the pace of life has quickened for me. And we all, as Emily wrote, “reluctantly but sure [perceive]” this change in the tempo of life, as summer inexorably gives way to fall.

Photo by Andrew Small on Unsplash


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