Robert Browning had also remarked on the silent appeal of autumn: “Autumn wins you best by this, its mute Appeal to sympathy for its decay.” Autumn is like ‘silence listening to silence’ because he bears testimony to his own presence and acknowledges the same.
This is because nothing would communicate with him to affirm his presence. Neither the lonely bird though it was lonely itself; nor the lowly hedge, and not the solitary thorn. The poet, therefore, signifies that neither did the animate world (bird) nor the vegetative world (thorn/hedge) communicate with autumn. He is typified as an ‘unruly ‘character with his disheveled appearance:
“Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,”
His locks are qualified by the adjective ‘languid’, when it refers to the persona of autumn. The word ’languid’ is, therefore, a ‘transferred epithet.’ However, there is aestheticism even in his unkempt appearance.
The word ‘gossamer’ may refer to the material of his dressing: a gauze-like fabric. On the other hand, it may also allude to the spider cobwebs entangled above his head as ‘gossamer’ also stands for ‘spider silk’.
The notion of the accumulated cobwebs again points to the indolent temperament or static nature of autumn. Autumn is visualized as wearing a coronet of golden corn with tangled gossamer outlining the same.
In such a context, one grows nostalgic for the songs of summer. As the sun is the protagonist of summer, he is now at rest with the onset of autumn. He is depicted as hibernating and opening the dusky eyelids. His awakening marks the unification of shade and silence. Morning is personified as a person who sings its arrival with an odorous mouth.
Its purity lies in its virginity of being unpolluted by sophistication (through the act of brushing,) The merry birds are also missed. Their wings are said to ‘pant’ in their likeness to the motion of the act of panting. It may also imply that the wings are overcome with fatigue owing to the tiring flight. They make their way lest the owl preys on their lustrous eyes at noon. Their eyes are not dazzled owing to the lesser intensity of the autumn noon.
“Where are the songs of Summer?–With the sun”
The blooms and blossoming of summer are conspicuously absent. They seem to be blushing in the last sunny hours. The days in autumn are characterized by shorter daylight hours. Therefore, it appears as though the night is suddenly ushered in. “When the mild Eve by sudden Night is prest.” The word ‘eve’ means ‘the period of decreasing daylight from late afternoon until nightfall.’
Proserpina is an ancient Roman goddess who, according to myth, is said to be responsible for the cycle of seasons. Venus makes Pluto fall in love through her son Cupid. She makes Cupid hit Pluto with one of his arrows.
Pluto beholds Proserpina, who was at the time in Sicily playing with nymphs and collecting flowers, and immediately falls in love with her. She is abducted by Pluto in order to be married to him and live in the underworld. Her mother Ceres desperately sets out in search of her. Jupiter makes Proserpina eat pomegranate seeds so that she can return to the world of the living every alternate six months. Her shuttling between the two worlds is said to be the reason for the seasons. Ceres welcomes her when it is spring, and the world withers as she returns to her husband .The melancholy of autumn is therefore equated with the despair of Proserpina.
Proserpina was abducted against her wishes hence the adjective ‘tearful’ .The phrase ‘gloomy breast’ may refer to the woes of both Proserpina and her mother Ceres. The glow of summer is equated with pride here. The green prime stands for the desired maturity. The leaves seemed to twinkle:
“The many, many leaves all twinkling?–Three
On the moss’d elm; three on the naked lime
Trembling,–and one upon the old oak-tree!”
Dryads, in Greek mythology, were tree nymphs whose mortality depended on the trees that they inhabited. The dryads often disappeared into trees. They are visualized as seeking refuge in the trees. ‘Cypress’ is a conifer of northern temperate regions. The Dryads find security either in these trees or in the eternity of the holly.”Green’ symbolizes fertility and the condition of being evergreen. Therefore, the mortal dryads endeavor to seek immortality in the seeming eternity of the green holly.
The squirrel seems to gloat on the hoardings that he has accomplished. The ants have their storehouses stored to the brim with ripe grain for the approaching winter. The honey bees have reserve honey in their cells.
The swallow has also planned for the future. Though the beings are self-sufficient, autumn dwells on a melancholy note and sighs tearful spells. The gloom of autumn is termed ‘sunless shadow.’ Autumn is stereotyped again and again as ‘solitary’ through the repetition of the word and its synonyms.
The poet Thomas Hood commemorates the dead animate and vegetative world that decays .The last leaves of autumn function as a rosary in such a perspective, venerating the same. The “wither’d” world now appears as remote as a picture from the drowned past as a memory that lingers in the inscrutable depths of the unconscious. Here ‘gray’ refers to the depths of the gray cells (brain) as well as the color of the decayed leaves. One could not fathom the intensity of decay. The poet implies this through the following lines:
“Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last
Into that distance, gray upon the gray.”
One wonders at the inversion of gender towards the end of the poem. If autumn was personified as a man at the beginning of the poem, in the end it is portrayed as a languorous woman. The poet perhaps intends at foregrounding the masculine and feminine traits of autumn. One who goes and sits with her is ‘overshaded’ (over shadowed) by her powerful impact. She wears a coronet of faded flowers that forms her identity. She does hold a face of care although it is characterized by the quality of incipient decay.
There are enough withered leaves around to make her a ‘bower.’ ’Bower’ refers to a woman’s private chamber in the medieval castle.’ Bower also means ‘A shaded, leafy recess; an arbor.’ Her gloom is also her refuge. There is enough of sadness in her to invite emotions.
The rose has always been the symbol for the brevity of life especially in poems with the ‘carpe diem’ motif. Only the woman with the living bloom of conscious cheeks adorns light the most. For the woman of autumn, there is enough of sorrow, bitterness (of the decomposed fruits), sarcasm (‘chilly droppings’), fear and shadowy despair. These mixed emotions form the prison for her soul. It also frames her soul and endows it with an identity of its own.
- “Autumn on the Wissahicon,” by Hallowell, W.R., Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division under Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011645617/resource/
- DayPoems.net. Autumn by Thomas Hood.