Mention ‘Autumn’ and like-as-not someone will think of and, if they don’t have a filter between their mind and their mouth, trot out the line “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. It has become so much a cliché that I suspect the fact that it is the opening line of a poem by Keats is lost in the mists of time1.
I can’t write poetry and don’t often read it but I sometimes admire the skill that some people have to express amazingly succinctly thoughts/ideas/observations which chime with my perception of ‘truth’. But “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, and indeed the rest of the poem, strikes me as poetic cobblers. Poetic, yes. But it certainly doesn’t accord with my take on Autumn, not now nor at any time I can remember. I guess that it was also far removed from Keats’s experience of Autumn, but was rather a romantic flight of fancy. He was, after all, along with the likes of Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley one of the ‘Great Romantic Poets’ of the mid 18th Century onwards.
That style of poetry is not to my taste but I don’t denigrate it for that. What gets me is the total distortion of the ‘actualité’ 2 which it perpetrates and perpetuates, fostering a perception of Autumn which only existed in the poet’s mind. True there are odd days when there are mists, the dry fallen leaves rustle underfoot and fruit is on the trees. But not often. Certainly this Autumn it is mostly a gloomy grey, strong winds and heavy rain having brought the leaves down, and they have become a soggy mass underfoot. The Autumn raspberries are going mouldy on the canes and the birds have pecked the apples which are rotting on the branch before they too fall to earth.
Better to face reality rather than try to escape into a Never-Never Land
It was great working in the garden on Monday under cloudless blue sky but the Autumn colour in my tiny ‘acer glade’ is now carpeting the ground. There is still colour in the leaves but they are already decomposing and what it offers is not so much aesthetic as a promise of improved soil next year.
1 Read the poem for yourself: http://www.artofeurope.com/keats/kea1.htm
2 Coined by Alan Clark MP in a statement in Parliament in 1992 when he admitted being ‘economical with the actualité’ to avoid admitting to the House that he had lied.