Autumn into Winter

Gaw looks for a bit of poetic consolation at what he finds to be a depressing time of year.

There are two sorts of people: those who welcome the clocks going back as it heralds the opportunity to wear nice woolly jumpers, sit by fires in pubs, and look out the window whilst feeling cosy; then there are others who fall into a mild depression as they say goodbye for months on end to the warmth of the sun, lots of daylight and the chance to wear shorts.

I’m in the mildly depressed camp. I think it gets worse as you get older; my grandmother thought so. I suspect the approach of seasonal gloom increasingly begins to symbolise our looming and inevitable descent into a more profound darkness (see? I told you).

Anyhow, some consolation is needed. Firstly, from a poet who was an accomplished miserabilist but who couldn’t help finding aspects of nature – birds in particular – rather heartening: RS Thomas.

A Day in Autumn

It will not always be like this,
The air windless, a few last
Leaves adding their decoration
To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs
Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening

In the lawn’s mirror. Having looked up
From the day’s chores, pause a minute,
Let the mind take its photograph
Of the bright scene, something to wear
Against the heart in the long cold.


People tend to forget that Laurie Lee was chiefly a poet: his autobiographical works have overshadowed everything else he wrote. As a writer, he was keenly aware of the seasons, an awareness that helped him arrive at my favourite title of any literary work: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. A magical phrase, which encapsulates all the promise and freedom of summer. Of youth, too.

I grew up in the Cotswolds and the particularity of the descriptions in the poem below transport me back. Nevertheless, I feel its colour-drenched imagery is reminiscent of a post-Impressionist painting.

Field of Autumn

Slow moves the acid breath of noon
over the copper-coated hill,
slow from the wild crab’s bearded breast
the palsied apples fall.

Like coloured smoke the day hangs fire,
taking the village without sound;
the vulture-headed sun lies low
chained to the violet ground.

The horse upon the rocky height
rolls all the valley in his eye,
but dares not raise his foot or move
his shoulder from the fly.

The sheep, snail-backed against the wall,
lifts her blind face but does not know
the cry her blackened tongue gives forth
is the first bleat of snow.

Each bird and stone, each roof and well,
feels the gold foot of autumn pass;
each spider binds with glittering snare
the splintered bones of grass.

Slow moves the hour that sucks our life,
slow drops the late wasp from the pear,
the rose tree’s thread of scent draws thin –
and snaps upon the air.


Finally, another one concerned with trees, this by William Carlos Williams. It’s always the trees that get us thinking. Why is that?

Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

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22 thoughts on “Autumn into Winter

  1. Worm
    November 1, 2011 at 09:24

    loved all three poems Gaw, thanks for sharing!

    why DO trees get us thinking? hmmm perhaps in part because their solid silence means we can project anything we like onto them and never have our projection proved otherwise. And they dont need us, we need them.

    November 1, 2011 at 09:40

    Trees turn up so often because they are the most visible barometer of seasonal change for the general populace. Other seasonal stuff like which birds are flying about (leaving, returning etc), or which autumn fruit is ripening, is only really apparent to farmers, Bill Oddie, people who listened properly at school – and Laurie Lee, of course, who chose to sit around on farms noticing subtle things as his profession.

      November 1, 2011 at 13:30

      …And Nige of course.

    James Hamilton
    November 1, 2011 at 10:48

    “..those who welcome the clocks going back as it heralds the opportunity to wear nice woolly jumpers, sit by fires in pubs, and look out the window whilst feeling cosy..” There most certainly are, and I’ve already chalked up my first pub fire of the year. I don’t wear shorts…

    There are at least waymarkers to get one through this time of year. First, the quickening as the schools return – those who never quite got the school term rhythms out of their blood, even after all those years. The leaves colour, then fall, and then Hallowe’en, the clocks changing, and Guy Fawkes, in quick succession. The march past the Cenotaph, and then, before you know it, secret shopping trips, the rustle of special paper and hiding things in cupboards: mulling wine, and the way that, after three hours in the oven, the perfume of a winter stew creeps into the study to stir your hunger. The promise of parties. Thick bread and soup after a Sunday morning walk along the shore. That particular silence, heard lying awake in the small hours, that tells you snow’s fallen without your having to tiptoe to the window to look. And in the morning, that practiced stamp of the wellingtons that keeps your footing: in the white park, the sheer mad joy of dogs of all sizes. And candles, carols, then the linking of hands, the friends with whisky at the door. And practicing writing the new year, finishing up the half-empty bottles, and then the Six Nations,

    and then the snowdrops, and then the spring.

    • Worm
      November 1, 2011 at 11:18

      …and then 4 months of driving rain aka ‘summer’

        James Hamilton
        November 1, 2011 at 11:37


        • Worm
          November 1, 2011 at 12:27

          lovely comment though James!

    November 1, 2011 at 11:17

    You almost reconciled me to winter there, James…
    It’s the butterflies I miss – but I console myself that at least in winter there will be no grown men wearing shorts (and worse – summer brings out the very worst in the British male).

      James Hamilton
      November 1, 2011 at 11:43

      (I felt like saying something myself about the typical British male garb in the summer. There are worse things a chap could do than hang his paunch over socks and sandals, true, but really, the government should airdrop 30 million copies of the Boden catalogue over our cities every April. We used to take such pride in our appearance. What changed?)

  5. Gaw
    November 1, 2011 at 11:55

    Beautiful, James. As I’ve noted after reading JL’s contributions to these Dabbler Verse posts, they’re worth doing solely for the comments.

    I’m an inveterate shorts wearer. I’d wear them occasionally all year round if I could. I don’t care what I look like in them but I wouldn’t enjoy the summer nearly as much without balmy zephyrs caressing my calves.

    • Worm
      November 1, 2011 at 13:16

      I find the shorts to mostly be ok, its normally the footwear that is horrendous. Deck shoes and chino shorts is fine, but anything that dispays male foot/toes (or socks!) is horrid, especially those ‘off road’ sandal things with buckles on them

      • Gaw
        November 1, 2011 at 13:35

        I find it rather exhausting to spend time disapproving of people. Not that there’s anything wrong with it of course.

        • Worm
          November 1, 2011 at 13:51

          its not their shoes I worry about so much, it’s being confronted with veiny feet and yellow toe nails…

    November 1, 2011 at 13:28

    I’m with James and am one of Gaw’s first sorts of people. Though actually I like all the seasons. Well what i like is the fact that we have such distinct, characterful seasons.

    Like all the poems, though I was momentarily wrongfooted by this from the Thomas: “braiding the cuffs/Of the boughs with gold.”

    I wanted to pronounce it “the cuffs of the buffs.” Such is English spelling.

    November 1, 2011 at 16:17

    Am still in something of a trance after reading Laurie Lee’s beautiful poem, Gaw. Plus, It’s curiously springlike today – maybe that’s why I feel a little lightheaded? Personally, I love crisp, cold autumn mornings. I’m not so keen on it getting dark early, but when the moon is low in the sky it does look magical. Every new day is something to be treasured.

    Why the tree? The tree of life/the Yggdrassil?

    • Gaw
      November 1, 2011 at 16:42

      Glad you liked it Susan! This autumn has been wonderful. I was in the Cotswolds last week and I’ve never seen the woods look so beautiful – golden leaves, golden sunshine.

      Interesting tree that.

    jonathan law
    November 1, 2011 at 17:32

    I love September and try to love Christmas but everything in between is a horror, really. “Mild depression” hardly does it justice — as soon as the hour goes back I find myself sinking into a toxic gloom that wants to leech the life and energy out of everything. It probably does get worse as you get older, but if so you also learn to recognize the danger signs and take ameliorative action: sensible boring stuff like early nights, lots of exercise, and holding back (a bit) on the booze.

    It’s sobering to consider what a North European winter must have been like for most people even 100-150 years ago — the long months of misery in the years before gas heating, electric light, and year-round fresh food. Go back much further and I suppose the simple priority would have been one of survival. All those folk songs that begin with an obligatory verse or two about the joys of spring: I dare say they meant it.

    Excellent choice of poems yet again. I never rated L. Lee as a poet but that piece stands up pretty well beside RS and WCW. My favourite autumn poem might be this one by Rilke (Stephen Mitchell’s translation). It starts off promising Keatsian ripeness but then hits you with something else.

    Autumn Day

    Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
    Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
    and on the meadows let the wind go free.

    Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
    grant them a few more warm transparent days,
    urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
    the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

    Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
    Whoever is alone will stay alone,
    Will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
    and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
    restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

      James Hamilton
      November 1, 2011 at 19:27

      “It’s sobering to consider what a North European winter must have been like for most people even 100-150 years ago — the long months of misery in the years before gas heating, electric light, and year-round fresh food.”

      Yes, and it’s still true today (and must have been for millenia) in amongst native communities in the far north of Scandinavia and Canada. Really comes across in this marvellous piece by Stephen Pax Leonard.

      The creeping seasonal depression that so many get at this time of year’s a bad business, and I’m heartily glad it isn’t me. How did the ancient carol go? winter is y-cumen in/lhoude singe goddamn etc.

    • Gaw
      November 2, 2011 at 08:04

      I like that one very much, JL – thanks.

    November 1, 2011 at 19:40

    It’s for comment sections like these that I love the dabbler so!

    November 1, 2011 at 20:45

    I think trees are reassuring, especially big old ones moving slowly in the wind like the sea. Their scale makes me feel insignificant and therefore carefree. Small things moving quickly are worrying. So I’m glad the dogging is over.

    • Gaw
      November 2, 2011 at 08:02

      Amazing how much you can do on a blog with trees.

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