Our autumn library
A selection of poems that we think are perfect to read in autumn
Oh why is heaven built so far,
Oh why is earth set so remote?
I cannot reach the nearest star
That hangs afloat.
I would not care to reach the moon,
One round monotonous of change;
Yet even she repeats her tune
Beyond my range.
I never watch the scatter'd fire
Of stars, or sun's far-trailing train,
But all my heart is one desire,
And all in vain:
For I am bound with fleshly bands,
Joy, beauty, lie beyond my scope;
I strain my heart, I stretch my hands,
And catch at hope.
Christina Rossetti (1894-1894)
Come in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.
Come, as thou cam'st a thousand times,
A messenger from radiant climes,
And smile on thy new world, and be
As kind to others as to me!
Or, as thou never cam'st in sooth,
Come now, and let me dream it truth,
And part my hair, and kiss my brow,
And say, My love why sufferest thou?
Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)
October 20th 1876
A clear crispy day, dry and breezy air full of oxygen. Out of the sane silent beauteous miracles that envelope and fuse me—trees, water, grass, sunlight and early frost—the one I am looking at most today is the sky. It has that delicate transparent blue, peculiar to autumn, and the only clouds are little or larger white ones, giving their still and spiritual motion to the great concave. All through the earlier day (say from 7 to 11) it keeps a pure yet vivid blue. But as noon approaches the color gets lighter, quite gray for two to three hours—then still paler for a spell till sundown— which last I watch dazzling through the interstices of a knoll of big trees—darts of fire and a gorgeous show, light yellow, liver-color and red, with a vast silver glaze askant on the water — the transparent shadows, shafts, sparkle and vivid colours beyond all the paintings ever made.
Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)
Wind and the robin’s note today
Have heard of autumn and betray
The green long reign of summer.
The rust is falling in the leaves,
September stands besides the sheaves,
The new, the happy comer.
Not sad my season of the red
And russet orchards gaily spread
From Cholesbury to Cooming,
Nor sad when twilit valley trees
Are ships becalmed on misty seas,
And beetles go abooming.
Now soon shall come the morning crowds
Of starlings, soon the coloured clouds
From oak and ash and willow,
And soon the thorn and briar shall be
Rich in their crimson livery,
In scarlet and in yellow.
Spring laughed and thrilled a million veins,
And summer shone above her rains
To fill September’s faring;
September talks as kings who know
The world’s way and superbly go
In robes of wisdom’s wearing.
John Drinkwater (1882–1937)
from The Beechnut Gatherer
All over the earth like a mantle,
Golden, and green, and grey,
Crimson, and scarlet, and yellow,
The Autumn foliage lay.
The sun of the Indian Summer
Laughed at the bare old trees,
As they shook their leafless branches
In the soft autumnal breeze.
I walked where the leaves the softest,
The brightest, and goldenest lay;
And I thought of a forest hill-side
And an Indian Summer day,
An eager, little child-face,
O’er the fallen leaves that bent,
As she gathered her cup of beechnuts
With innocent content.
I thought of the small brown fingers,
Gleaning them one by one;
With the partridge drumming near her
In the forest bare and dun,
And the jet-black squirrel winking
His saucy jealous eye
At those tiny, pilfering fingers,
From his sly nook up on high.
Pamelia Sarah Vining Yule (1825–97)
How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays,
And their uncessant labours see
Crown’d from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow verged shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all flow’rs and all trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.
Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men;
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.
No white nor red was ever seen
So am’rous as this lovely green.
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress’ name;
Little, alas, they know or heed
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees! wheres’e’er your barks I wound,
No name shall but your own be found.
When we have run our passion’s heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat.
The gods, that mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race:
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow;
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.
What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.
Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.
Here at the fountain’s sliding foot,
Or at some fruit tree’s mossy root,
Casting the body’s vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide;
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets, and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepar’d for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.
Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walk’d without a mate;
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But ’twas beyond a mortal’s share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises ’twere in one
To live in paradise alone.
How well the skillful gard’ner drew
Of flow’rs and herbs this dial new,
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And as it works, th’ industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs!
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
The Homecoming of the Sheep
The sheep are coming home in Greece,
Hark the bells on every hill!
Flock by flock, and fleece by fleece,
Wandering wide a little piece
Thro’ the evening red and still,
Stopping where the pathways cease,
Cropping with a hurried will.
Thro’ the cotton-bushes low
Merry boys with shouldered crooks
Close them in a single row,
Shout among them as they go
With one bell-ring o’er the brooks.
Such delight you never know
Reading it from gilded books.
Before the early stars are bright
Cormorants and sea-gulls call,
And the moon comes large and white
Filling with a lovely light
The ferny curtained waterfall.
Then sleep wraps every bell up tight
And the climbing moon grows small.
Francis Ledwidge (1887–1917)
The little dancers
Lonely, save for a few faint stars, the sky
Dreams; and lonely, below, the little street
Into its gloom retires, secluded and shy.
Scarcely the dumb roar enters this soft retreat;
And all is dark, save where come flooding rays
From a tavern-window: there, the brisk measure
Of an organ that down in an alley merrily plays,
Two children, all alone and no one by,
Holding their tattered frocks, thro’ an airy maze
Of motion lightly threaded with nimble feet
Dance sedately; face to face they gaze,
Their eyes shining, grave with perfect pleasure.
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
The Poetry of Earth
'The poetry of earth is never dead' - Keats
There is always room for beauty: memory
A myriad lovely blossoms may enclose,
But, whatsoe’er hath been, there still must be
Room for another rose.
Though skylark, throstle, whitethroat, whip-poor-will,
And nightingale earth’s echoing chantries throng,
When comes another singer, there will be
Room for another song.
Florence Earle Coates (1850–1927)
The solitary reaper
BEHOLD her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.
Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending;--
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)
This Year I Have Seen Autumn with New Eyes
This year I have seen autumn with new eyes,
Glimpsed hitherto undreamt of mysteries
In the slow ripening of the town-bred trees;
Horse-chestnut lifting wide hands to the skies;
And silver beech turned gold now winter’s near;
And elm, whose leaves like little suns appear
Scattering light – all, all have made me wise
And writ me lectures in earth’s loveliness,
Whether they laugh through the grey morning mist,
Or by the loving sun at noon are kissed
Or seek at night the high-swung lamp’s caress.
Does autumn such a novel splendour wear
Simply because my love has yellow hair?
Lesbia Harford (1891–1927)
The primrose has her gentle root
A hundred miles beyond the sod,
Deep buried in the Absolute,
Safe in the inmost will of God.
The One Thing that is everything,
Is very close to grass and trees;
Hers is the song the satyrs sing,
the wild fern clings about her knees.
And Psyche’s lamp, and Buddha’s dream,
Those words that shall not fade or pass,
Are but the lilt of a lost stream
That flows under the world’s grass.
Eva Selina Gore-Booth (1870-1926)