Monday, August 22, 2016

Fall, leaves, fall - Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

At first glance, this poem from Emily Brontë may seem bleak or joyless, but I do not think that is the case.  I felt compelled to post this poem today, as it was the first day when it felt like summer would soon fade away and bring with it the gorgeous New England fall weather so many, myself included, cherish.  Thinking about the inherent beauties of fall and winter, this poem starts to feel much less bleak and takes on a bit of a wry twist.

The Brontë sisters are not exactly known for being cheerful.  They were not those I would call "summer" people.  The heat and brightness can be oppressive at times, and I know I certainly prefer colder weather to hotter.  I don't think there's any genuine malice wished towards summer in this poem.  Read it with a half-cocked smile and it takes on a far more playful tone.  Fall, leaves, give us longer nights, falling leaves, blossoming wreaths of snow instead of roses.  What day better to sit by the fire with a book than a dreary one?  Looked at in this way, the poem seems to me to anticipate those sorts of winter days when one wants nothing more than to cozy up to a nice book under a warm blanket, watching snow lazily fall.

First though, the leaves must fall.  I've had enough of hot summer days, so I know I'm looking forward to the falling of the leaves and turning of the seasons.


  1. Hi Chris - I'm glad to be getting Poem a Day emails once more and I'm enjoying your insightful comments. Your take on this is interesting,and I agree with it but I have to say that a Yorkshire summer is very rarely hot and bright long enough for anyone to feel oppressed by it or wish a change, and the winters in a stone parsonage with no heating beyond a fire would be fiercely cold. I think Emily's view would have been truly a shock to her readers who'd cherish the few brief weeks of warm (not usually hot) summer days and dread the onset of winter, and we have to keep that perspective in view as we read it.

    1. Wonderful to hear from you, Tig!

      You're right, I should consider the location when considering my comments. Trying to imagine a New England winter without any modern amenities is almost impossible for me, so I imagine a Yorkshire winter would be equally or even more uninviting.

      Would you think then that the gloom is affected for style?

    2. I don't think it's affected, as much as she feels so engaged in nature that she wants it to mirror her emotions, and that she is saying her mood does not welcome the pleasure of summer and needs to be reflected by the fierce cold of winter, which does in its own way hold pleasure for her, because it is honest. Sorry, a bit garbled - it's late here.

  2. I grew up in the sun — in Southern California to be exact — so brightness and warmth seem like birthmarks to me. It’s also true our kind evolved in the tropics, our exodus out of Africa just 85,000 years old after millions of years in the homeland. Maybe it’s why Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines are familiar haunts of mine – places that feel like home.

    The cold and snow of winter make a nice change and diversion, especially now in our overheating world. Even so, the season feels like a foreign land to me.

    As for the Brontës (writers whom I love), the wind and cold and rain of the West Yorkshire moors were part of the story of their gloom and doom.