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Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.

Nor the woman in the ambulance

Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly –

 

A gift, a love gift

Utterly unasked for

By a sky

 

Palely and flamily

Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes

Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

 

O my god, what am I

That these late mouths should cry open

In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.

 

~ Sylvia Plath, born on this day in 1932

 

“Oriental Poppies” by Laura Muntz Lyall (1860-1930)

Autumn

The rusty leaves crunch and crackle,

Blue haze hangs from the dimmed sky,

The fields are matted with sun-tanned stalks –

Wind rushes by.

 

The last red berries hang from the thorn-tree,

The last red leaves fall to the ground.

Bleakness, through the trees and bushes,

Comes without sound.

 

                      ~ Joan Mitchell

 

“Winter Leaves” by Keith Proven, 2006

October

O hushed October morning mild,

Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;

Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,

Should waste them all.

The crows above the forest call;

Tomorrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,

Begin the hours of this day slow,

Make the day seem to us less brief.

Hearts not averse to being beguiled,

Beguile us in the way you know;

Release one leaf at break of day;

At noon release another leaf;

One from our trees, one far away;

Retard the sun with gentle mist;

Enchant the land with amethyst.

Slow, slow!

For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,

Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,

Whose clustered fruit must else be lost –

For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

 

                  ~ Robert Frost

 

“Autumn Colours at St. Hubertus Estate Winery” by Hirsch Hubert

As swallows turning backward

When half-way o’er the sea,

At one word’s trumpet summons

They came again to me –

The hopes I had forgotten

Came back again to me.

 

I know not which to credit,

O lady of my heart!

Your eyes that bade me linger,

Your words that bade us part –

I know not which to credit,

My reason or my heart.

 

But be my hopes rewarded,

Or be they but in vain,

I have dreamed a golden vision,

I have gathered in the grain –

I have dreamed a golden vision,

I have not lived in vain.

 

   ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

 

In British England, “St. Martin’s Summer” was the term used to refer to the period of sunny, warm weather in autumn.  The celebration of St. Martin’s Day is a rural tradition with ancient origins and is observed on either September 29 or November 11.

 

“Summer of Saint Martin” by John Everett Millais, 1877

Doubled Mirrors

It is the dark of the moon.

Late at night, the end of summer,

The autumn constellations

Glow in the arid heaven.

The air smells of cattle, hay,

And dust.  In the old orchard

The pears are ripe.  The trees

Have sprouted from old rootstocks

And the fruit is inedible.

As I pass them I hear something

Rustling and grunting and turn

My light into the branches.

Two raccoons with acrid pear

Juice and saliva drooling

From their mouths stare back at me,

Their eyes deep sponges of light.

They know me and do not run

Away.  Coming up the road

Through the black oak shadows, I

See ahead of me, glinting

Everywhere from the dusty

Gravel, tiny points of cold

Blue light, like the sparkle of

Iron snow.  I suspect what it is,

And kneel to see.  Under each

Pebble and oak leaf is a

Spider, her eyes shining at

Me with my reflected light

Across immeasurable distance.

 

    ~ Kenneth Rexroth

 

This eerie poem reminds me of my short fiction “Windmill Ridge,” which also evokes the transition from summer to fall and a sense of being watched.  To read an excerpt, visit the page above.

 

Dave Hitchborne

As I prepare to confront both my second language exam this fall and the rigors of qualifying exam study over the next eighteen months, it seems apropos that I should once again post this passage by Mary Shelley, born on this day in 1797.

 

I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my undertaking.  It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart.  I am going to unexplored regions to ‘the land of mist and snow’ […].  You will smile at my allusion; but I will disclose a secret.  I have often attributed my attachment to, my passionate enthusiasm for, the dangerous mysteries of ocean, to that production of the most imaginative of modern poets.  There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.

 

Das glaube ich.

As part of most English doctoral programs, translation proficiency in two or three additional world languages is required.  With my French exam passed over the summer, I’ve been focused recently on translating ancient Latin passages with varying degrees of success.  Given my upcoming travel plans, love of Gothic and fantastic tales, and daily struggles with Cicero and his ilk, is it any wonder I’m suddenly considering the language of Kafka and Hoffmann? 

 

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.  If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?  So that it can make us happy, as you put it?  Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves.  What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like suicide.  A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. 

~ Franz Kafka

 

“Lesendes Mädchen” by Franz Eybl, 1850

How to Write

What I know about writing I know from having read the work of the great writers.  If you really want to learn how to write, do that.  Read Shakespeare, and all the others whose work has withstood time and circumstance and changing fashions and the assaults of the ignorant and the bigoted; read those writers and don’t spend a lot of time analyzing them.  Digest them, swallow them all, one after another, and try to sound like them for a time.  Learn to be as faithful to the art and craft as they all were, and follow their example.  That is, wide reading and hard work.  One doesn’t write out of some intellectual plan or strategy; one writes from a kind of beautiful necessity born of the reading of thousands of good stories, poems, plays….  One is deeply involved in literature, and thinks more of writing than of being a writer.  It is not a stance.

 

~ Richard Bausch

 

Georg Reimer, 1850-1866

Night

It’s all right

Unless you’re either lonely or under attack.

That strange effortful

Repositioning of yourself.  Laundry, shopping,

Hours, the telephone – unless misinformed –

Only ever ringing for you, if it ever does.

The night – yours to decide,

Among drink, or books, or lying there.

On your back, or curled up.

 

An embarrassment of poverty.

 

                                  ~ Michael Hofmann

 

“Reading Woman” by Poul Friis Nybo, 1929

What is the change in summer

of which one expects nothing?

Nature is not reborn,

nor does she perish except

in the streaks of a rare elm

that has outlived itself.

The weather conceals nothing:

the months are temperate,

even in the hardest rains

one may walk without a coat.

The gardens flourish, and bear

without a gardener’s help.

 

Sitting in windows at night

black cats and their masters

look out on summer; the moon

feeds their yellow visions,

the opened windows cool them.

One learns to smoke a pipe

and is pleased for solitude.

One wants nothing to happen

forever, and thinks of those

who perhaps are ready to die,

except that it is summer

and they are putting it off.

 

~ Robley Wilson

 

“Young Woman Holding a Black Cat” by Gwen John, circa 1920
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