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Personal Choice 90

Song at the Beginning of Autumn

Now watch this autumn that arrives

In smells, all looks like summer still;

Colours are quite unchanged, the air

On green and white serenely thrives.

Heavy the trees with growth and full

The fields. Flowers flourish everywhere.

Proust who collected time within

A child’s cake would understand

The ambiguity of this —

Summer still raging while a thin

Column of smoke stirs from the land

Proving that autumn gropes for us.

But every season is a kind

Of rich nostalgia. We give names —

Autumn and summer, winter, spring —

As though to unfasten from the mind

Our moods and give them outward forms.

We want the certain, solid thing.

But I am carried back against

My will into a childhood where

Autumn is bonfires, marbles, smoke;

I lean against my window fenced

From evocations in the air.

When I said autumn, autumn broke.

Elizabeth Jennings

Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001), a British poet. Jennings was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, where until the age of six she lived ‘a rich imaginative life’, vividly recreated in some of her later poems. A cradle Catholic, she turned increasingly to religious themes in her verse during her teenage years. ‘My Roman Catholic religion and my poems are the most important things in my life’, she wrote.

Educated at St Anne’s College, Oxford, Jennings subsequently found work as a librarian and published her first collection, Poems, in 1953. She writes sensitively and introspectively about love, religion, childhood, and Italy. In the early 1960s the tone of Jennings’s work darkens, after a nervous breakdown and time spent in a psychiatric hospital. Among the upheavals and unhappiness’s of Jennings’s life, there was always order. Jennings was a prolific writer, who produced nearly 30 books of poems, prose poems, and dramatic monologues. She was awarded a CBE in 1992.

I entered the last line of this poem in a competition to name the best last line in English poetry and it rated very highly. And the only time I have ever called talk back radio was some years ago when the radio presenter asked listeners to telephone him with the very first thing they thought of when someone said ‘autumn’. I rang and read this poem. It did not go well and the announcer told me he did not know what I was talking about.


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