Monday, October 12, 2009

The Spirit Grieves

Still Hanging On, Right Outside My Window: One Last Rose

Summer, come back!

My friend Etta is right. Not everyone, she reminded me, is happy to see the summer go or thrilled at the onset of a chill bleak autumn. Not everyone "favors fall," with winter oh so soon to follow. Maybe you saw her comment:

"I must go on the record as someone who finds Fall gloomy, raining and full of mourning that Summer is gone. And worst of all, I am cold all the time, more even than in Winter. I believe though that it is a function of living further north than when growing up. I used to love Fall because most days were beautiful. Now Fall is just a harbinger of Winter."

Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her sonnet sequence entitled Fatal Interview, conveys this sense of autumnal loss, waste, and sorrow better than any poet I know. She is mournful but resigned. In Sonnet XLVI, she writes that the first frost will come. It may be unwelcome, it may be against our wishes, but it will come:

And that I knew, though not the day and hour.
Too season-wise am I, being country-bred,
To tilt at autumn or defy the frost:
Snuffing the chill even as my fathers did,
I say with them, "What's out tonight is lost."
I only hoped, with the mild hope of all
Who watch the leaf take shape upon the tree,
A fairer summer and a later fall
Than in these parts a man is apt to see.


"A fairer summer, and a later fall" -- is that so much to ask? Sometimes, yes. In Sonnet XXXV, Millay describes the sad results of the inevitable first frost. All you have to do is look out your window and there it is:

Clearly my ruined garden as it stood
Before the frost came on it I recall —
Stiff marigolds, and what a trunk of wood
The zinnia had, that was the first to fall;
These pale and oozy stalks, these hanging leaves
Nerveless and darkened, dripping in the sun,
Cannot gainsay me, though the spirit grieves
And wrings its hands at what the frost has done.


Sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay
American Poet (1892 – 1950)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1923

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