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OLD AUTUMN

The glow-worms, fairy stars come down to ground,
Gleam the shadowy woods through summer’s round;
Then fall’s leaves flutter through the quiet air,
The autumn being the sunset of the year.

The rustling of the trees comes to my ear,
In this,the most mellow time of year.
The harvest brings fulfillment, yearning too,
For autumn is both a smile and a tear.

Each year in October Jack-in-the-Green
Has a chilled rendezvous with Old Autumn,
Who colors the leaves that Jack made verdant
A season ago. They meet out in the woods,
Although never in the same place, for seasons
Come and go and meet each other as they may.

This year Old Autumn was a little late,
So Jack-in-the-Green sat down on a stump.
Jack pondered his disappearing green youth,
For someday he would have to take Autumn’s place
And perform all of his withering tasks.

A few days later Old Autumn came by;
He gave unto Jack a cheery greeting
And a warm embrace that marked summer’s end.

He gazed fondly at Jack, his younger self,
And saw the vitality that was once his,
And said, “Once I was young; once I was you!”

“I know,” said Jack, “Do you remember how
I refused to believe you, saying ‘no’?”

“Yes,” remembered Old Autumn, “very well,
Like the time I met the Old Man, Winter
On a snowy December day long ago.
He told me that he was my older self—
But I didn’t believe him! Told him off!

“True, I was already feeling my age
But after seeing the old white-haired geezer
I felt young again! Yes, he knew me well.”

“Right,” said Jack, “so I made a little poem:
“When younger, I knew not my elder same,
But when older I told my younger same
That youth must be young; he knew not my name!
It was my younger self who was to blame!”

Swallows twittered in the skies as sprightly
Jack-in-the-Green picked a ripening gourd
And gave it to Old Autumn, who encouraged,
“You won’t have to meet the Old Man until
You take my place, for only I can see him—
After I take down the last of the oak leaves.

“For now, the Old Man sends but his errand boy,
Jack Frost, your twin brother. Hi ho, here he comes!
Aye, young Jack, this is the rarest of days,
For the three of us can be together
But once a year on this bright day / cool night.”

“The Old Man is so lonely, is he not?”
Asked Jack-in-the-Green, “for he sees only you.”

“Yes. Old Man Winter lives cold and alone;
He never sees the fair maidens of spring
Who reinvent the natural world each year.”

There is a chill in the air as Jack Frost arrives
And sings out a greeting: “Hello my brother!
Hello Old Autumn! It’s going to be cold—
Our first frost, but don’t worry too much—
It won’t harm the pumpkins any at all.”

Old Autumn sighed and quick replied: “Good.
Now the rest of the leaves will crack and fall
All the more due to the ice in their veins;
Yes, they’ll fall like the illusions of youth,
‘Lying carelessly on the granary floor’ and
‘On a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies’, as Keats wrote.”

Composing himself, Old Autumn continued:
“And for those of you who think that ‘warm days
Will never cease’, let us ever remember
Dear Johnny Keats, who died so young, at 25;
However, he lived and saw more than some
Of us might hope to do in a lifetime.”

A shiver ran through Jack-in-the-Green,
Hence he said: “It’s cold; I must go now, for
Summer passed away in his sleep last night;
Autumn, sweet and plump, carries his offspring.
The year dies in the night; ghostly winter looms;
Lo; the flower is already in the seed.”

“Well done, young Jack-in-the-Green; quick, go,
For soon enough comes your autumn of care
Sobering into age, thence into
The pale white winter of death,
Though not yet your warm indolent summer
Of contentment lazing into middle-age,
But surely past is our crisp,
Flowering youth-spring of joy!

“Such then, comes the end of summer’s dreams,
The blanching of the grassy banks of streams,
But all fragrances my elves remember
Through their long sleep in the winter embers.

“The blossoms fall, showers of fragrant beauty,
As leaves fade, while the bulbs store up energy.
Nature’s floral dreams grant this destiny,
For these leavings enrich earth’s potpourri.

“Flowers lay their heads to sleep in soft beds,
Blanketed by webs of gossamer threads;
My elfin creatures cast their spectral glow,
As winter stars—floral twins—start to grow.

“Later, when surely all the world is dead,
An elf will stand atop Old Winter’s grave
And say, ‘’tis not dead’, and by magic bred
Make Snowdrops flower in the tomb’s heat wave.”

Once I, the author, ventured outside at
Four on a dark frosty October morning.
It was so quiet that I could sense the
Cosmos as it played rhythm to my beating heart.

I saw a preview of the winter stars:
Orion, you are so high in the sky—
There for only the astronomer’s eye,
As all those meteors go flying by.
Then I heard a rustling sound in the leaves

Around me—a skunk perhaps—but no,
It was the sound of many falling leaves.
I knew that it must be him, Old Autumn.

He was out there somewhere. Then I sensed him
Going by, for some of the leaves on the
Tree right in front of me broke loose and
Floated away, hitting some other leaves
On the way down, making that rustling sound.

Soon it started up on the next tree, and
Then the next—and so I could very well
Follow the path of Old Autumn making
His rounds in the misty October morn.

Chrysanthemums drank the mellow day,
Falling petals carried the light away.

The weed-flowers grew, marking autumn’s track,
The blossoms that almost brought the spring back,
But winter’s white death wrap was drawn over,
Smothering the earth’s last warm sweet odour.

The autumn fog enswirled, the mist upcurled;
Into nothingness the wisp slow unfurled.
November flew by, a colorless dearth,
And December, amid death, a festive birth.

Youth and Beauty made agèd Winter mourn
For Summer’s grain—the waving wheat and corn,
For Old Autumn, withered, wan, had passed on,
Leaving the earth a widow, weather worn.

Long since have the winds scattered the leaves
Of the trees to make of them a
Burial shroud for the flowers that died
Grieving at summer’s passing. All is death.

The fall is now nearly lost to memory.
Winter is summer’s ungrateful heir,
Squandering his riches and abusing his gifts.
It’s not Old Man Winter’s fault, but his duty.

Summer lies underground now, forgotten,
Silent and crusty, covered by winter’s
Stern mantle. Only April’s tears can make
His grave green again, in the spring-tide.

As seasons pass, the world comes to our door:
Spring sings through the wingèd troubadour;
Summer calls with the rose, ’midst the wood-lore;
Autumn crows, plump and sweet, through frosty hoar.

Joy and exuberance are spring’s largesse.
Sunlight, warmth, and growth are summer’s bequest.
Autumn brings wealth with the mellow harvest.
Winter’s fruit is peace—its bounty is rest.

Past us is the flower of spring’s soft breath;
Though not ended our summer of promise;
Soon enough will come the autumn of care;
Beheld, at last, the dull white shroud of death!

March, April! spring! We’ll reign as we May there,
Between June and her sister, September,
Then prolong the fall, till November come
December, when we can sweet Remember.

In the whisperings of the after-years
The winds of time slowly dry the tears;
Nor would I take back a single drop, for
From those tears the flowers grew without fears.

In spring we rise from the garden at birth.
Summer blooms long with the roses’ fresh mirth.
Autumn creeps in—we wither on the vine.
Last comes winter, when we return to earth.
————
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
Like wither’d leaves, to quicken a new birth;

And, by the incantation of this verse,
  Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
 Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
 The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Percy Bysshe Shelley
English poet (1792 – 1822)

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