"The beautiful changes as a forest is changed"

Fall is in the air! And with it come crisp mornings, bright breezy days, and mysterious dark nights. I find myself in a contemplative mood each year as the fall rolls in. The colors of the trees, the bright blue of the sky, the awareness of summer passing and winter encroaching—all these things demand our attention and appreciation. And there’s an implicit paradox in this season of “mellow fruitfulness” which is at the same time the season of harvest: we find ourselves aware both of life and of death, of the deathless soul and of immortality. Autumn seems to beg us to attend to the moment, to appreciate its loveliness, to stop time for a moment to appreciate this season as it passes.

I know no better way of training the mind and heart to slow down in this way than to read poetry. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so I won’t harp on it now. But in short, poetry requires time—it requires that we read and re-read—read aloud, read silently, dwell on the sound and feel of words and the images they conjure. Poetry requires of us an active presence to the world and to ourselves. Wallace Stevens, one of the great modernist poets, describes this in his poem “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour.” Through poetry,

We make a dwelling in the evening air,

In which being there together is enough.

Gathered below are some poems about fall and about this month of October in particular that help us “be there together” with the season and with ourselves. These are of course just a handful of the myriad fall poems written across the ages. I’ve omitted some of the obvious classics: Keats’ “Ode to Autumn” and Shakespeare’s “That time of year thou may’st in me behold” (if you haven’t read these, I heartily recommend you do!) to favor some more or less obscure pieces whose very unfamiliarity might help us appreciate the singular beauty of this season.

01. The Beautiful Changes // Richard Wilbur

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says

They are not only yours; the beautiful changes

In such kind ways . . .

Read the full poem here.

02. Autumn // T.E. Hulme

A touch of cold in the Autumn night –

I walked abroad,

And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge

Like a red-faced farmer.

Read the full poem here.

03. Beginning // James Wright

Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow

Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone

Wholly, into the air.

Read the full poem here.

04. Among the Rocks // Robert Browning

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,

This autumn morning! 

Read the full poem here.

05. For the Chipmunk in My Yard // Robert Gibb

He’s lucky 

To be where he is, wild with all that happens. 

Read the full poem here.

06. Neighbors in October // David Baker

It makes us believers—stationed in groups,

leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters

over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone,

bagging gold for the cold days to come.

Read the full poem here.

07. October // Edward Thomas

But if this be not happiness, — who knows?

Some day I shall think this a happy day,

And this mood by the name of melancholy

Shall no more blackened and obscured be.

Read the full poem here.

08. The Wild Swans at Coole // William Butler Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky . . . 

Read the full poem here.

I hope you find your way through these poems into appreciation and presence with the changing world around, “bagging gold for the cold days to come!”