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Attic of Gallimaufry

Autumn

"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 along the River Itchen, on September's seasonal slopes, John Keats breathed the tempering air into his final ode.

It was his last poem, his personal autumn, before the winter of his demise. Let's step with him through the slanted rays of September, to the storing in of stanza two, and hints of winter's stealth in the last.

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-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd 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'er-brimm'd 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-reap'd 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.

The poem links to Ian Reynolds' discussion of its composition.

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

Keats' lyrical imagery reflects the farming techniques of the early nineteenth century. Mowing and threshing machines were yet unkown. Grasses were cut with a hook or scythe, and grain arrived in the granary after the sheaves dropped 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.

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

Seasons have social drama too, and in America part of Autumn is the game of summer, baseball. Twelve decades after Keats strolled beside the Itchen, Baseball's Iron Horse completed his long, dazzling summer.

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

The opening shots of World War II echoed beyond the Itchen, as the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds played the 1939 World Series. 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 et al. That made the autumn of 1939 a springtime in Cincinnati until the Yankees swept the series. It was an autumn in other directions too.

Lou Gehrig's famous leave-taking 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 dugout. No Yankee ever wore his famous number four again.

We see Gehrig in a final picture after the final game (see above), disappearing into a crowd unattentive to the great Gehrig's last exit. Autumn becomes winter while its pageantry distracts.

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 to his friend Charles Brown that he could, "not be deceived by that colour," on his handkerchief. His brother had just died of the disease, and Keats knew its signals. His advancing mortality surely sits among the stanzas of his famous stroll.

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, 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 trans-mortal imaginings.

"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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