I am back home, and it is definitely, suddenly Autumn. The air smells of smoke and leaves and damp and musk and cool. The plants in the garden are straggling, sprawling, beginning their slow return to the soil that they sprung from, so full of life and vigour back in the too-hot-too-early day of April, a gentle decline, a beautiful aging. The landscape lies quiet and peaceful, shaded in hues of brown and rust; the fields ploughed back to earth, the hedgerows glowing with secret pockets of soft jewelled colour - deep red apples, golden blushed pears, dark berries, purple plums dusted with bloom and oozing the last of their sticky, honeyed juice. The start of a long, slow exhale.
When I went to the market this morning to stock up on veggies, my tastes had suddenly changed. I didn't want strawberries, or melon, or any of the fruits of summer; I bought beautiful Victoria plums instead, and I will gather blackberries later to eat them with. I bought dark savoy cabbage, black and shiny aubergine, squash. I will bake them with chilli and garlic and tomatoes from the farm shop. I am craving autumnal, smoky flavours; food to relax with, food that brings peace and comfort and serenity, like being wrapped in a cashmere blanket by candlelight.
I had forgotten how much I love this poem until the first lines of it sprang into my head as I drove to the gym this morning; there were just the tiniest vestiges of mist on the fields, and the sky was the softest dove grey. It was the first poem I ever had to memorise in school. This year, the seasons have been topsy-turvy, upside down, chaotic. But this morning nature seems to have reasserted the proper order of things; it is peaceful, quiet and right.
So. To Autumn, by Keats.
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.
(Photograph by Corbis - yes, I just grabbed it from the Net; if anyone has a problem I'll take it right down. I can get my own later with said berries anyway).