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Autumn's parting prayer


Goodbye autumn. Now, the seasons they have changed. In your parting, there rises a prayer: 

‘May you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold
May you never make your bed out in the cold.’

The words belong to the late great songwriter John Martyn. And obviously, autumn, you are not a person, but one of four siblings. In your colours of the day, however, in the soft light of early morning and dusk, you have the human touch. Between summer’s hot breath and winter’s cold words you are the sigh, the pause to allow us to slowly breathe in and out, to drink in with our eyes the beauty you bring.

You are the hand to hold. In quiet times, in the still air, we can contemplate and we can see in you what we are in part. And it is this in us, this train of thought, these carriages of pure emotion, that can allow us to enfold the season into our lives. It is said that landscape is a defining factor in how a people have developed and how their behaviour is formed and modified. So too it is for the season. So thank you, autumn.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a few poems to you, and us. This one has your name:

The leaves fall, fall as from far,
Like distant gardens withered in the heavens;
They fall with slow and lingering descent.
And in the nights the heavy Earth, too, falls
From out the stars into the Solitude.
Thus all doth fall. This hand of mine must fall
And lo! the other one: — it is the law.
But there is One who holds this falling
Infinitely softly in His hands.

In the poem’s transcendence, Rilke has merged all natures of life, the personal, the universal, the acutely aware and that which cannot be aware because of its nature.

Turn, turn, turn. To everything there is a season.

The chill of winter is now upon us; the leaves of the deciduous trees have fallen to become mulch for the soil, the acorns have long fallen, to perhaps find a soft place to grow tall. The colours now have faded, the reds and yellows cracked upon the leaf. Soon the limbs will be bare, awaiting the buds of spring.

And then the bed of earth will slowly warm and green will become the colour of the day. This then is the prayer of arrival. For each arrival must have had ahead of it a departure.




Warwick McFadyen is an award-winning journalist. He has won two Walkley Awards and four Quill Awards. He has published several books of poetry. The latest is 21+4 Poems. His prose and poems have also appeared in Quadrant, Overland and Dissent.

Main image: Egon Schiele, Autumn Tree in Stirred Air (Winter Tree), 1912

Topic tags: Warwick McFadyen, Autumn, Winter, Seasons



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Existing comments

Love the image of one of four siblings and autumn as the sigh, the pause and then the prayer of arrival. I sense a kindred feeling with the words of wonderful Irish poet and writer, John O' Donohue. Lovely, Warwick.

Ann Rennie | 06 June 2024  

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