Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumnal Equinox

To Autumn (by William Blake)

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stainèd
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may'st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.
`The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust'ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather'd clouds strew flowers round her head.
`The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.'
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o'er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.
Yeah, I'm posting this a day late. What's it to ya?
I'm struck, on reading this over, by the way this poem positions Autumn's "lusty" song as central, only to absent him in the last line.
The structure of the poem is anticipation of Autumn and his song (stanza 1), the song of Autumn (stanzas 2 and 3), and the departure of Autumn (stanza 3). [None of Blake's other season poems have this structure] The song of Autumn -- the centerpiece -- can't be contained by the form of the poem: the song spills over the constraints of form (organically, we might say) from one stanza to the next, though it breaks neatly on the period of a syntatical sentence.
That is to say, a reader may think that the song is over when it continues abruptly in the next stanza.
Autumn departs in the final line, leaving his surplus: the harvest, the beautiful sights, sounds, and smells of autumn, and his poetry.
Autumn is an ever-present absence, the tokens of something fleeting, something evermore about to be, and its omnipresence spills out into our experience in ways that no human form can fully capture, not even the "fresh pipe" of a skilled poet (though no doubt such a "pipe" will have no end of activity in celebrating the "lusty" song Autumn leaves in his wake). Unlike the other season poems, there are no other humans: the speaker makes no mention of "we" or "our" as he does in the first two season poems. There are only the "daughters of the year." All is fading now, including the speaker, who will be left alone with Winter in "To Winter." But what remains is a "golden load."
It's difficult to read this poem and not think of James Joyce reading it, giggling at the phrase "golden load": his HCE in Finnegans Wake also departs and leaves in his wake a "golden load" for the rest of us. And quite aside from any scatalogical jokes we may want to make, this "load" is also the cosmic egg, the nourishing breakfast left for us, all the horses, by the fall of a cosmic humpty dumpty, "iggs for the brekkers come to mourn-him, sunny side up with care."
There is almost certainly a Fall from the Garden of Eden reference in here as well. We start with the blood of grapes (foreshadowing the necessity of communion), Autumn references "modest Eve" (summoning the thought of both evening and the character from Genesis), and then he departs (the fall from the Garden?).
If what he has left behind is a "golden load," it might well be that Blake is -- like Joyce -- referencing the felix culpa, the "fortunate fall," the Christian view that the fall was a good thing, for it necessitated the greater good of redemption. Or, to paraphrase St. Paul, sin boldly, for it will elicit even greater mercy from God. Or, to put it into Thelemic terms, our "fall" into individual consciousness necessitates the greater good (and the greater enjoyment and fulfillment) of our union with Nuit through our union with the Khabs, the True Self, the True Inclinations.

There’s a lot that could be said here about the radical political implications of Blake’s subversion of poetic form (this was written at the beginning of his career as a poet, long before he *really* began exploding poetic form, as he would in the 1790s and especially the 1800s: the child is the father of the man, as always). There’s also a lot to say about the sexuality of this poem in its eighteenth-century context. And there’s also, aside from the Garden of Eden stuff, an echo of Milton’s Lycidas in the third stanza.

A lot going on, as always with Blake.
Happy Fall.
(Get it? Happy Fall?)


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