Tuesday, 11 August 2009


In these northern climes, August carries strong hints of autumn. The days start to grow noticeably shorter, the swifts leave for Africa (they left Ceres last week), the crops ripen and harvest begins.

Frosts, the tangy smells of willow at leaf-fall and of wood smoke, and the evocative sounds of skeins of geese will soon be with us. The early part of autumn, up until the clocks go back in late October, is one of my favourite times of year. We often used to take Jemima D out for the October school half-holiday, enjoying the peace of the waterways after the summer heat and bustle. In early October, you could be alone on the canal, half-hidden in ghostly mists. The boat's wood burning stove kept us warm in the evenings, and all was well with the world.

John Keats - To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

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