“I was drinking in the surroundings: air so crisp you could snap it with your fingers and greens in every lush shade imaginable offset by autumnal flashes of red and yellow.” – Wendy Delsol, Stork
“There is something incredibly nostalgic and significant about the annual cascade of autumn leaves.” – Joe L. Wheeler
“My sorrow, when she is here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; she loves the bare, the withered tree: she walks the sodden pasture lane.” – Robert Frost
“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.” [The Autumnal] – John Donne (The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose)
By far, my two most preferred ways of experiencing beauty are through literature and the season of autumn. Words have the power of painting beautiful pictures in our heads, and when I was perusing quotations about autumn, I was hard-pressed to limit my selection. Over the centuries, so many poets and authors have shared their love for the season that an hour after I had begun my search, my mind was still engaged in exquisite images of my favourite time of the year. During the fall whenever I am walking in the woods, the panorama of changing colours, and the scents of ripening berries can bring me to a standstill, and I wonder if “Autumn is the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
Autumn, the season that marks the transition from summer to winter, has as one of its defining features in temperate climates the colouring and shedding of leaves from deciduous trees. Before the 16th century, harvest was the term primarily used to refer to the season. However, as people gradually moved from working the land in rural settings to living in urban centres, the word ‘harvest’ lost its reference to the time of the year, and came to only denote the actual activity of reaping. Eventually, the season became called autumn, as well as fall, and although both expressions originated in Britain, the latter word, over a period of time has become near obsolete in the United Kingdom, but is still the more common term in North America.
I attribute my lifelong fascination with autumn, and with colour to an ever-recurring image in my mind. For as long as I can recollect, one of my favourite activities was to stroll through my grandfather’s golden wheat fields with my left hand firmly grasped in his right. Even as a young child, I could sense his feelings of accomplishment and pride, and I believe it was then that I began to associate autumn with glory. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines the noun Glory as “high renown or honour won by notable achievements, resplendent majesty or magnificence, great beauty.” and the verb “take great pleasure in, revel, rejoice.” For someone who started her love of words by five years of age, this definition resonates with sheer enchantment.
Much too soon though the brilliantly coloured leaves start to fall or are blown off by autumnal winds, and the deciduous trees become barren with their nakedness heralding the coming of winter. During my annual fall drives into the country even as I rejoice in the glory of nature, I often experience a profound melancholic sense. Unfortunately, this complex emotion has historically been connected too closely or equated with desolation and depression, whereas I perceive that melancholy can have more refined qualities of reflection and contemplation of memories of a person, place, or event we love and long for, so that our reminiscing adds a touch of pleasure. And, I have always discovered that the solitude and serenity of nature, where I frequently retreat from pressing concerns and challenges, can form a distinctive backdrop for melancholy.
Each year as I contemplate upon the glory of autumn, I am aware that another of its lesser emphasized definitions is, “past the prime of life.” We all know that fall foreshadows winter, as surely as the twilight of our years portents our physical decline. I ponder if whenever we achieve our objectives in life and experience the splendour, and even awe of our accomplishments, do we not eventually reach a state of melancholy, that intricate emotion with a delicate balance of both pleasurable and displeasurable characteristics – a feature of longing, a sentiment of pensive sadness, a sensation of being uplifted, or even a subtle sense of excitement? Perhaps, melancholy is that complex feeling in which reflection may bring peace of mind and soothe a despairing soul.
May you experience the glory, and the melancholy of autumn.