Comment?

Return to

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 cenuries ago, on a late September day, John Keats walked beside the River Itchen near Winchester, England. The slanting season, and perhaps the tempering air, exhorted the young man to hail Autumn with his final ode.

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

We picked John Richetti's reading of Keats' "Ode to Autumn" from among the many renditions publicly available. It stands out because it is not horrible. Almost everyone who reads the poem is moved to comment on it. Most commentators have about the same thoughts, but above is a link to the reflections of a countryman, and mechanical engineer.

It's worth noting Keats' lyrical imagery is grounded in the farming techniques of the early nineteenth century. Mowing machines and threshing machines were still over the horizon in Keats' time. Grasses were cut with a hook or scythe, and grain was removed by dropping the sheaves through a winnowing wind created by flapping a length of fabric or canvas. The grain was collected on another sheet. The separated grain was stored in a granary.

Keats shows us the granary, the winnowing wind, the hook, the stubble and a few swaths that were left for the gleaners to pick up after the harvest, as autumn drifts into winter, and cider dregs drip off the press.

The mystique of the seasons is their mysterious duality. They are always both beginning and end. We imagine the cycle starts in the spring and ends with winter, but Keats rightly reminds us autumn is a complete drama, from ripening to storing away. Its beginning is the fading of summer and its ending is the larding up for the cadence of retreat. Each drama has its music. The four quarters of the compass are equal in spirit, finite paths on an endless circle.

Societies give each season a social drama, and in America part of that seasonal drama is baseball, the game of summer. Autumn is its third act, before the retreat to intermission and the 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 had taken his famous leave of baseball in July of that year, with, remarkably, Wally Pip, the man he'd replaced at first base 2,130 consecutive games before, watching in the stands. During the series, Gehrig appeared in the Yankees' dugout as a non-combatant. It was his last time in a Yankee uniform, before the winter of Lou Gehrig's Disease, a winter with no spring for Lou.

Gehrig appears in a poignant picture after the final game, striding off the field through a crowd entirely captivated by the Yankees victory, and entirely unobservant of the great Gehrig's last Yankee appearance. That's how autumn turns to winter, while we're distracted with 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 already dying of tuberculosis when he wrote "Ode to Autumn." He acknowledged the fact the following February to his friend Charles Brown, saying he could, "not be deceived by that colour," of the blood he'd coughed up. Had he been deceiving himself? He'd recently nursed his brother, who'd died of the disease. He was intimate with the symptoms and must have felt his sinking health. Was Keats' looming mortality in his thinking during that river walk?

Lou Gehrig had already given his famous "luckiest-man-alive" speech 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. 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.

Should we think about the similarities of these two men? Perhaps it's more honest to consider the similarities of their work. Keats created his masterpiece of spiritual communication. Gehrig composed his transcendent baseball career, full of rhythms, rhyming, structure, and heedless devotion. Both Keats' "Ode to Autumn," and Gehrig's Hall-of-Fame performance, right down to their autumnal exits, speak from 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."


Back to the Attic

Who in the world cares about Autumn?


You could send us an email if you prefer