Words for the Season

Like every English schoolgirl I learned Keats’s Ode to Autumn by heart and can still remember fragments of it now. Uplifting as that is, I wish the part of my brain that retains poetry would also hang on to some useful stuff, like PINs and phone numbers.

Autumn is a rich seam for poetry readers. John Clare is good, and Emily Bronte’s Fall, leaves, fall. Siegfried Sassoon’s too, though his lines are better suited to November remembrance.

One of my own favourites is Betjeman’s Diary of a Church Mouse which I thought of this morning in a church that was two thirds empty a few weeks ago but packed to the rafters today. One of my most powerful childhood memories is of standing with my classmates in the school playground, belting out Come Ye Thankful People, Come, while our mothers jostled for pole position ready for the veg stall scrum. My bet is, the children who lugged their gifts of vegetables and seeds and flowers and fruit up to the altar today will remember the moment all their lives. Thankfulness is an underestimated force for happiness.

Robert Frost is also very good for the season. O hushed October morning mild…  but my Frost of choice is After Apple Picking. We used to have a recording of the man himself reading it. Heaven knows what became of it. Lost in one of our many moves, or loaned and never returned. My husband knew the poem by heart and would recite it when called upon. Like Frost, he’s done with apple-picking now. And with reciting poems. He has fallen silent. Dementia has got his tongue.

But I still have mine, so when I visit him this week I’ll be bringing along Robert Frost and his two-pointed ladder sticking through a tree. Essence of winter sleep is on the night…

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