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Attic of Gallimaufry

Autumn

Dee Harkey in front of book store

Seven Rivers Warriors

Dee Harkey as a young man, maybe

Dee Harkey about 1900

Pecos River Flume at Carlsbad

Frank Kindel riding across the flume, no hands.

Pecos River at Puerto de Luna

Charles Eddy

"Autumn", read by Professor John Richetti of the University of Pennsylvania.

John Richetti reads other poems

Who is John Richetti?

Walking the River Itchen.

John Keats' Biography

Lou Gehrig Biography.

Medieval Farming hadn't changed much by 1819.



Two centuries ago on the seasonal slopes of late September, John Keats walked the River Itchen near Winchester, England. The tempering air invested his final ode.

The poem links to a discussion by Ian Reynolds of its composition.

We chose John Richetti's reading of Keats' "Ode to Autumn" from the many on public offer, because it is not horrible. Reading the poem moves most to some standard, even stale, comments. We've linked to the reflections of a countryman, a mechanical engineer with something more to say.

You'll find Keats' lyrical imagery reflecting the farming techniques of the early nineteenth century. Mowing and threshing machines were over the horizon in Keats' time. Grasses were cut with a hook or scythe, and grain arrived in the granary after removal by dropping sheaves through the winnowing wind of a flapping canvas.

Keats immortalizes the granary, the winnowing wind, the hook, the stubble and even a few swaths left for the gleaners after the harvest. His autumn idles into winter as cider dregs drip off the press.

The seasons embrace a mysterious duality, each a beginning and ending. Keats reminds us autumn is a complete drama, from ripening to storing away. It begins with the fading of summer and ends with the cadence of retreat. Each drama has its music, finite measures on an endless staff.

Seasons have their social drama, and in America part of Autumn is the game of summer, baseball. Its third act precedes the intermission and re-flowering of spring.

Lou Gehrig, number 4, leaves us after the 1939 World Series. Image links to WSJ article. You'll need a subscription to read.

In 1939 the World Series was played between the New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds were back in the Autumn Show for the first time since 1919 when they'd notoriously won the "Say-it-ain't-so-Joe" series, after gamblers bribed Shoeless Joe Jackson and his teammates. That made the autumn of 1939 a springtime in Cincinnati until the Yankees swept the series. But it was an autumn of a deeper level.

Lou Gehrig's famous leave-taking of baseball came in July of that year. As Wally Pip, the man he'd replaced at first base 2,130 consecutive games before, watched in the stands, Lou told the world he was the "luckiest man on the face of the earth." During the series Gehrig watched from the Yankees' dugout. It was his last time in a Yankee uniform.

Gehrig appears in a poignant picture after the final game (see above), striding off the field through a crowd captivated by the Yankees' victory, and unobservant of the great Gehrig's last game appearance. That's how autumn turns to winter, while we're distracted by something else.

This picture of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth at the 1939 World Series, links to a recounting of Gehrig's last year in baseball.

John Keats was dying of tuberculosis when he wrote "Ode to Autumn." He acknowledged as much to his friend Charles Brown, saying he could, "not be deceived by that colour," of the blood he'd coughed up. He'd recently nursed his brother, who'd died of the disease, and he was intimate with the symptoms. His looming mortality must sit among the stanzas now immortalizing his famous river walk.

Lou Gehrig had already given his famous goodbye at Yankee Stadium when he exited upstage in the above picture. After he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or, now, Lou Gehrig's disease), he was still telling his wife he might have another ten years, but he told friends he was dying.

On writing "Ode to Autumn," and on dissolving into the crowd after the 1939 World Series, John Keats and Lou Gehrig had less than two years to live.

A link to Gehrig's Hall of Fame entry.

We shouldn't strain for similarities between these two men, different in so many ways. Still, we might feel the gathering swallows and soft-dying day of Keats in Gehrig's career, full of rhythms, rhyming, structure and heedless devotion. We might, after all, see these two striding together, away through the crowd, somewhere beyond our limited mortality.

"Then in a wailful choir the small gnats morn/

 

"The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft

"And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."


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