There is no other season that gets inside my head, and my heart, the way Autumn does. I like Summer fine, and Spring can be interesting, but Autumn is when the world outside gets hold of me and makes my mood march to its drum.
When I was a kid, it seemed like every schoolchild in the country was forced to learn Keats’ ode To Autumn off by heart. It was one of the standards of poetry 101. No idea if that’s still true.
“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-eaves run;…”
Very nice poem, but not a close match to what Autumn means for me.
(Complete aside: the other apparently ubiquitous poem of school English classes was the frankly awesome Cargoes by John Masefield, which has the bestest opening of any poem ever:
“Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine, …”)
When I start to hear the geese honking far overhead, and I feel the air turn thinner and fresher (it happens almost overnight, round these parts, you just wake up one day and you feel Autumn suddenly all about you), and the first touch of colour seeps into the leaves, an entirely predictable and reliable mood descends upon me. It’s nostalgia, and mellow melancholia, and the sense of time passing. And pleasure, too, for even though Autumn means Winter’s coming – and I don’t particularly look forward to that season these days – I love Autumn for itself.
It’s the seaon that feels by far the most gently full of personality and import to me. Summer and Winter are rather static things, states of being, or destinations, rather than movements. Spring tends to be a bit diffuse, a bit stop-and-start. But Autumn is its own thing, clear-cut and characterful; and to me it’s all about change and the movement of the Earth and of Nature, in a way that no other season is. It’s also, of course, often the most beautiful time of year, with the most subtly clear and clarifying light.
But that doesn’t entirely explain the powerful sense of nostalgia and (not unpleasant) melancholy that it invariably brings with it. I don’t know if I can entirely explain that. Part of it’s probably just because my sense of Autumn as the pre-eminent marker of cycling and passing time naturally makes it a season of reflection for me.
But a bigger part of it is, I suspect, an oddity of my memory. Which is this: as best I can remember, more or less my entire youth was lived in the Autumn. When I think back, my instinct is that my entire growing-up in Edinburgh, all through my teens to the early twenties, was done against the background of lengthening nights, drifts of brown leaves, scudding clouds, heavy coats. I feel like it was always Autumn, in Edinburgh and in my youth.
Which is patent nonsense, but there you are. It’s the season I most powerfully associate with my formative years, to the virtual exclusion of all other seasons. When I left Edinburgh, and lived further south for many years, the association and the season lost their grip on me to some extent. But since I came back, and put fresh roots down here, I am, once again, a sucker for Autumn. It’s become, once again, the one time of year that gets inside me, and carries me along with it, and speaks to me of the past, and of time, and not only of change but also of the deep cycles that are immutable.