September in Normandy

From What Never Dies (1909), by Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly.

It was the middle of September, the most beautiful season of the year in Normandy. The rich green grass was gone, but the oak trees blushed beneath a blushing sky. The hawthorn no longer bloomed in the pathways where the wind detaches and scatters them from the hedge, filling with white, thick and odorous dust the ruts left by the carts in the days of winter; but the brambles disappeared beneath the weight of the blackberries that weighed them down. The clear gold of the wild cabbage was no longer seen waving in the distance on the plain, contrasting with the purple-violet tint of the flowering clover, like shorn velvet; everywhere was the hue of ploughed land. The straight or leaning apple trees of the orchards have lost their pink and white draperies, but the vermillion masses of fruit, which for us folk of the West are our oranges and grapes, gleamed brilliantly through the branches, and fell at the foot of their trunks as if tossed out from a horn of abundance. The buckwheat, the black bread of the poor, which blooms so white, had not yet been cut; but the work will be done in a few days, and with their sheaves, bound up and piled on the ground at equal distances, they will form a camp of small carmine tents.

When evening comes on (the orange-hued Norman evenings), clouds, superb in form and colour, form above this land of such exuberant aspect, and in the presence of their magic display, the calm purity of the most beautiful sky of spring-time is not regretted. The joyous chant of the harvest girls and mowers, returning to the farms to supper, is no longer heard, only the melancholy barking of a dog, teased by an echo, following the footsteps of some belated sportsman. Such an autumn makes up for the snows that are to follow; and viewing it, an Italian might perhaps understand, no doubt, that one could see Naples and not die.

Quote of the Day

From A Jack Kerouac Romnibus, Letter to Myself, September 5, 1945.

I have my own private god . . . my private god is my art. I don’t believe in the vague general concepts of God and Art — too many fumbles and fools are blind to allow such generalities any meaning. God, the general concept, knows them . . . but they don’t know Him. My art, my god. This is King in my soul. Then there are the princes or demigods of my private religion. October is top prince of them all. October to me is more than a month, it’s an ecstasy. I can reach a fuller understanding with this immense prince than with people.

One Perfect Day

There are times in my life when I wish I could live a more bohemian existence in a large city, where I would have access to museums, cultural events, and Whole Foods. But on a day like today, when I have a view like this outside my back door, I always want to stay right where I am:

God’s World, by Edna St. Vincent Millay

O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,–Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,–let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Petits Poèmes d’Automne by Stuart Merrill

Every autumn I reread one of my favorite volumes of poetry, Stuart Merrill’s Petits Poèmes d’Automne (1895). This short volume has been available in PDF at Gallica for several years now, but it has not been available as an online text. But now, in celebration of the current season, I have transcribed it into text and sent it to Project Gutenberg, where it is available here.

Merrill was an American who spent many years in France and wrote in French. He was influenced by the Symbolist movement and was a friend of Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine (whose stimulus on his work is evident). Merrill’s poetry was praised on both sides of the Atlantic and was widely read in its day, but today he is mostly forgotten. Which is a pity, since he had an unusual gift for French rhythms, and his insights into dream and memory can be fascinating.

The Petits Poèmes give us a world filled with a strange and shadowy beauty, where the hurly burly of the modern simply does not exist. Merrill seems to inhabit some kind of medieval or Catholic universe, but even this world is portrayed as indistinct and blurred. Its once mighty deeds of glory and legend have become meaningless. Nevertheless, this a world filled with strange wonders, where you can find enchantment at every step. Merrill is especially skillful in describing remote and forgotten landscapes, where you seem to float along empty pathways, and where the only light is that of twilight or the silver glow of the moon. His faded gardens are filled only those kind of flowers which bring oblivion or quickly fade away: water lilies, poppies, roses. And the only creature he ever seems to notice is the chimera, that fantastic creature which can carry you out of this world.

All of this is conventionally melancholic, of course, but to my mind hardly depressing. Merrill seemed to have possessed the kind of “white melancholy”, which doesn’t lead into depression, but to an elusive aesthetic appreciation. There is beauty everywhere in these short poems, both in the rich sounds of the verse and in their evocative images. Merrill was a man who possessed a rich interior life, which he brilliantly communicates. This is a perfect volume of verse for an enchanted September twilight, when the trees are softly whispering and the stars are coming alive in the sky.

The Mental Season

Today the sun goes into the constellation Virgo. I always try to notice energy or weather shifts whenever the sun enters a new astrological sign, and I can frequently feel a subtle transformation in the world around me when astral energies change. Virgo is an earth sign with connotations of order, fastidiousness, and mental analysis, which perfectly describes the energies of late August and early September.

I always consider the arrival of Virgo to be the beginning of the fall season, which is my favorite time of year. I have never been a fan of summer heat and always look forward to the cooler temperatures and mellow light which come in the fall. At this time of year, it seems as though the whole world comes alive with preternatural clarity and vividness, which you can experience with a quite delightful intensity.

Autumn is also a period of serenity and contemplation, the perfect moment to take stock of your existence. Several weeks ago I came across the phrase “saison mentale” in reference to autumn, which struck me as a ideal way to describe my favorite season. After some searching I discovered that the phrase comes from poem Signe in Alcools (1920) by Guillaume Apollinaire:

Je suis soumis au Chef du Signe de l’Automne
Partant j’aime les fruits je déteste les fleurs
Je regrette chacun des baisers que je donne
Tel un noyer gaulé dit au vent ses douleurs

Mon Automne éternelle ô ma saison mentale
Les mains des amantes d’antan jonchent ton sol
Une épouse me suit c’est mon ombre fatale
Les colombes ce soir prennent leur dernier vol

which can be ineptly translated as:

I am placed under the leader of the Sign of the Fall
As I leave I love the fruits I hate the flowers
I regret each kiss that I give
Such a stolen walnut spoke his grief to the wind

My eternal Autumn O my mental season
The hands of the lovers of old are strewn over your ground
A spouse follows me it is my fatal shadow
The doves this evening take their last flight

Apollonaire shows us in a few concrete images both the bewitchment of the season and its connotations of thought and eternity. I cannot think of a better way to start my favorite season than taking time to ponder a flawless little poem like this.