Last week, with the help of John Clare, we extolled in the joys of Autumn – of which there are many – at the season’s prologue…although, there seems to have been a temporary turning back; a retreat as though, like a caterpillar waiting to emerge from its chrysalis, Autumn isn’t quite ready to materialise in all its glory (though no doubt by the time this post is published the late burst of summer will have wilted away and autumnal effects will be in full force once more). However delayed its ‘proper’ start will eventually be at least we’re now in the right frame of mind to bring out the best of the season instead of pondering too much upon the darker, duskier side (I have to say, anyone who has ever viewed Autumn as a gloomy, ponderous time has never had the pleasure of looking out amongst an arching of autumnal-tinted trees, standing tall and marvellous – and certainly a sight which makes even being stuck in a weekend traffic jam enjoyable).
Whichever one we’re in, there’s no mistaking the fact that the seasons are incredibly important to us. They certainly are to poets and authors, the reliable but somehow ever surprising variations they provide giving a point of inspiration both immediately identifiable and on several plains of existence. And also, for us mere mortals, the four seasons are useful markers for not just the patterns of predictable change (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron) but can often coincide with the more significant stages of our lives, arriving almost on a whim but aligning with the longer term. Once more, in using seasonal symbols to draw parallels with an individual’s lifespan, Autumn gets something of a raw deal. Whilst Spring is full of energetic play tempered with innocence and Summer a perfect fit with the excitement and headiness of youth, by the time one arrives at their personal Autumn the pace is slowed somewhat – and the drawing on of time, rather than the performance of anything especially dynamic, looms large as a preoccupation.
Always wanting to go against the grain of what’s conventional here at TRO (and especially as we’ve encountered many people in the autumn of life who still have more than their – and others’ – fair share of verve and vigour), I’d be inclined to look at things a little differently (also because I have my own personal predilection for the season). Rather than being a preface to a conclusion, a final flourish before an inevitable decline, the visible and vibrant changes that accompany Autumn reveal a renewal and re-emergence of the spirit; the autumnal gusts bringing forth a second wind in more ways than one. The French author Albert Camus put it in particularly fitting terms when he said that “Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower”, something vital to remember if you’re approaching (or have already approached) that later stage in life; not to fret or regret about chances passed but instead to shed your skin – metaphorically – along with the falling leaves and gain a new lease of life. Taking another view of the autumn of life is John Keats, who writes wonderfully about the four Human Seasons. For Keats, autumn is the season of the soul – thought rather than action being at the forefront of his observation of all the seasons – with a very clear sense of contentment, peacefulness and also a strong, assured sense of self appearing above all else. Unfortunately, Keats did not get the opportunity to see in his own autumn but he certainly had more than enough soul to be able to envisage it in its multi-faceted forms.
The Human Seasons
Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring’s honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness–to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.
John Keats (1795-1821)