The Wheel has tilted, and it is Autumn, my favourite time of year. In my garden, looking ragged yet rather lovely, is Michaelmas Daisy, best appreciated on frosty mornings beneath the scarlet rowan berries, papery seed heads of alium and lingering roses.
October reminds me of Mr Wright. He was the head teacher at Western School, my first primary school, and much loved by children, staff and parents alike. This was in the days of the West Riding County Council and long before the National Curriculum. The freedom of those Far Off Times gave him the leeway to regale the whole school in Assembly with tales of his early days as a young teacher. We sat cross legged on the parquet floor in the school hall, all 350 of us, shivering with delicious horror, as he told us about the Old Days: the red wiggly things in the drinking water before the school had mains water; the little girl whose finger got jammed in the heavy door to the Infants playground, and hung down attached by only a scrap of skin; the delights of bread and dripping – especially the crunchy bits – on a cold winters’ afternoon. At this point, Mrs Pratt would look pointedly at her watch, annoyed, because he was eating into her maths lesson. Crafty members of the ‘top’ class knew how to manipulate Mr Wright with the cunning request: “Please sir, will you do ‘Ode to Autumn’?” He didn’t need asking twice. He had this poem by heart, and I still remember his broad Yorkshire accent reciting Keats’ wonderful verse, oblivious of the irritated Mrs Pratt. Mr Wright: we will not see your like again.
So in his memory, here is Ode to Autumn by John Keats.
Ode to Autumn
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.