Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bonfire Night

While the Brits may not go crazy for Halloween the way we do here in the States, they have something that we don't -- Bonfire Night every year on the 5th of November, otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Night. (See my post last year on Guy Fawkes Day.)

The tradition originated back in 1605, during the reign of James I of England (VI of Scotland) when the traitor (or hero) Guy Fawkes participated in an unsuccessful rebellion against Church and State. The occasion no longer carries a revolutionary connotation -- though fans of the renegade movie V for Vendetta will recognize it as a subtext in the film.

Over the years the historical commemoration has been modified into a night of fireworks and bonfires, though in England as in America, the tradition of an autumn bonfire right in your own backyard, or even a larger communal bonfire, is becoming more and more prohibited in the name of safety and environmental friendliness.

Bonfire illustrations by J. H. Wingfield
from the Ladybird Book
Helping At Home by M. E. Gagg

My brother Dave writes from Kansas: "I am fortunate to live in Kansas and in the County because we are still so 'backward' as to allow burning of leaves. Soon, I will be heaping up my own funeral pyre to autumn and invoking the solemn vespers of the season."

Autumn Vespers
You can't burn just - fallen leaves anymore,
something about the frail environment.
Oh yes, you can rake them into neat piles
(Just so many to each pile),
shake them down into plastic, shroud-black bags
(Just so many to each bag),
and line the bags in front of your house
(Just so many bags to each leaf - gatherer)
for execution in the morning.

But you can't lean on an old, wooden rake
at dusk, as companion to the evening star,
to watch flames, like small orange flowers,
burn through long lines of dead, rebellious leaves
and reverently contemplate blue smoke
spreading like incense from a swung censer
and rising, like prayer, to an autumnal god
who had contrived the red apple, purple plum
bursting joy of tree, bush, vine, and kitchen bowl,
and you can't, like a ministering priest,
bend to the faint pulse of the failing day
convinced that you alone are confidant
to the last sigh of the dying earth.

poem by Frank Ryan
found in the Fall 2007 edition of my
favorite poetry magazine, Plainsongs,
published out of Hastings College, Nebraska

A Recent Bonfire in Missouri
photographed by Jay Beets

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