Maybe it is Mary Shelley or Percy Shelley or Lord Byron, but whomever it is, the words of John Keats just will not leave me alone this week. “Hedge- crickets sing; and now with treble soft, the red-breast whistles from a garden-croft.” When Percy Shelley’s body washed to shore in 1822, his body was only recognizable by the book of poetry by John Keats in his pocket. I wonder, was this poem, “To Autumn” in his pocket?
I have been chatting up this poem all week…to students, to guests, to Jonah (who is staying with me this week) or to anyone else who will listen. And why not? Today is the first day of Autumn. Precisely at 9:54 this evening. I love the Autumn Equinox. Is today my favorite day? Well, until tomorrow, I say.
The summer’s heat is finally behind us, and we welcome this day of extraordinary cool beauty. With dipping temperature’s the frost will soon be on the pumpkin and the leaves will turn the color of the queen’s gems.
Robert Burns once wrote, “The Moorcock springs on whirring wings, among the blooming heather…”
So, what exactly is the equinox? The equinox…both spring and fall…occur when the sun’s direct rays have hit the equator and the hours of daylight and darkness are to be equal, which is 12 hours and 12 hours. This is the day you are to stand an egg up on end and let it balance. (Go ahead and try this out, and let me know if it worked!)
For us in the northern hemisphere, it is the time of harvest and barn dances. Yes, there are still barn dances. I know, as I will be calling an old-fashioned hoe down tonight in an old barn on Lake George! It used to be in the barn dances that the men would shuck the corn and if a red ear turned up, he got to kiss his girl. I doubt there will be much corn shucking tonight, but a good thing to remember!
James Whitcomb Riley once wrote, “The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn..”
I often wonder about ancient times without Google and smart phones. How did they know for sure the sun would come back? Did they occasionally worry that the world would end and go to complete darkness forever? Perhaps that is why festivals were held in ancient times. The Greeks celebrated in Eleusis with names we all remember from mythology classes: Demeter, Hades, and Persephone. The Romans celebrated the festival of the Cerealis. In England, the ritual of Autumn was the Harvest Home. My favorite celebration belongs to the Scots with the harvest maiden taking on the form of the hag or witch depicting the end of summer’s harvest and the beginning of winter.
We celebrate too. Pumpkins adorn our stoops and doorways. Gourds and dried corn stalks flaunt our garden gates. We want fresh cider in our fridge and ripe apples in white bowls on tables. Perhaps we have a bit of ancient celebration in our bones, even if we do not realize it.
Not only do we celebrate Autumn this week, but also the full moon on Monday night is the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is always the full moon closest to the equinox. There is astronomical significance in this moon as the time between the moon rises shorten after this moon. To be exact, the full moon will occur on Monday at 10:52. Perhaps you would like to go out and dance in your own garden?
With Jonah visiting this week, not only are my pockets full of poetry, but so is my breakfast table. I recite the above poetry to him every morning by candlelight as he sits down to a breakfast of fresh eggs and pumpkin bread. He is patient as he hears me prattle on about words and poems and traditions of life. What will he remember from these mornings when today is a long time ago? I am not sure, nor will I be here to find out, but I can plant the harvest seed for him.
As for you, if you see me out and about this weekend, be sure to ask for a poem, I will carry Keats, Riley, and Burns in my own pocket. You can have your pick of poetry.
Just as the equinox slides into town, I will be calling dances in that old barn. And that, my friends, is a good place to be.