My recent fascination has been with autumn—leaves changing from green to red, yellow, orange. Russets. A color palette of trees and shrubs planted along streets and in yards among the evergreen of pines and junipers.
A week ago, we walked through neighborhoods to the Deschutes River, taking pictures and marveling at the exuberant foliage. I might have posted these pictures sooner but, waiting, I noticed how quickly the leaves fell. After a few freezing nights and breezy days and a couple mornings with roofs coated thinly with snow, the flamboyant autumn leaves are mostly gone—fallen into a ragged carpet that soon will fade, or disappear beneath a snowfall.
On our walk, we were delighted by the blue sky and lack of smoky smell since enough rain had fallen to clear the smoke from the Pole Creek forest fire. Besides color, what attracted my eye was shape and movement—tall tawny grasses swaying; a maple leaf blackening first along the largest veins; the puffy texture of bloomed-out rabbitbrush; large green crabapples dangling like organic ornaments. The red hues of oak and the “burning bushes” were particularly mesmerizing.
Reading autumn-themed poems, I am reminded of the obvious, that autumn is a marker of time, a space between summer and winter, and richly metaphoric in terms of loss and mortality.
I was intrigued by the meditativeness of Amy Lowell’s poem “The Broken Fountain.” Everything is very still beneath the poet’s meticulous observation. Time passes in the “wake of a swimming beetle” and “the purple and red of trailing fuchsias / Dripping out of marble urns.” (How fast do fuchsias grow?) Even the shadows and reflections are dissected within a scene that barely changes, that blends the disparate times of a beetle, fuchsias, shadows and reflections, and the statue of a Goddess. Lowell chooses autumn as the decisive moment, a time that lingers with less starkness than a winter scene: “But when Autumn comes / The beech leaves cover her with a golden counterpane.”
The Broken Fountain elicits our own examination of time passing, the years vanishing, ourselves aging and a stone Goddess that neither needs or asks for anything.
THE BROKEN FOUNTAIN by Amy Lowell
OBLONG, its jutted ends rounding into circles,
The old sunken basin lies with its flat, marble lip
An inch below the terrace tiles.
Over the stagnant water
The blue-green of coned yews;
The purple and red of trailing fuchsias
Dripping out of marble urns;
Bright squares of sky
Ribbed by the wake of a swimming beetle.
Through the blue-bronze water
Wavers the pale uncertainty of a shadow.
An arm flashes through the reflections,
A breast is outlined with leaves.
Outstretched in the quiet water
The statue of a Goddess slumbers.
But when Autumn comes
The beech leaves cover her with a golden counter-pane.
Sources and notes:
The Broken Fountain is in “Pictures of the Floating World” by Amy Lowell (1919).
It was a totally different story walking to the river on May Day 2012: Photographic Ode To Flowering Trees May Day 2012.
For more on autumn poems, read The Poetry Of Autumn by Annie Finch on The Poetry Foundation Web Site.