I just returned from a walk, during which I spent a fair length of time daydreaming about the walks I will take when it becomes cold and the leaves begin to change. There is no greater earthly pleasure than walking in crisp weather, when a chilly wind is blowing and the trees are red and gold, unless it be to lie on a slope with the breeze rustling your hair and leaves flying. It is a little sad to think that it will be weeks, perhaps many, until I may have that delight, but the wait will make it even sweeter when it arrives. I just re-read The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, which dwells largely on this theme of mortality; the idea that the very fleetingness of the joys of life lends them their beauty and mirth.
It is not quite the Christian perspective, which sees all these things as small, dim reflections of the bliss of heaven, but it has truth in it, though it can be easily corrupted into the carpe diem, the practice of seizing every pleasure now lest it be gone forever. Somehow, I don’t feel that the book intends to teach that; perhaps it is because of the melancholy with which it is so imbued, and which makes it so lovely. One can feel this bittersweetness in Tolkien’s work, in parts of Narnia, in Till We Have Faces, in Homer and Virgil; Yeats is drenched in it; Chesterton hints at it occasionally, though he is a poet of day, rather than of the evening that it lingers in.
It has an affinity for starlight and moonlight and echoes, for dark forests and white flowers; a feeling of autumn, of things pale and ancient and far away. Though not all autumnal poetry is of this sort; there are chiefly two kinds, it seems to me. There is the autumn that is filled with gold and red and hearth fires, the poetry of the harvest; and the autumn that is the fading away of the year, the cold winds, the dying leaves, the bare branches; the poetry of November.
* Note: the title of the post is taken from Yeats’ wonderful poem, “The Host of the Air”.