In a word....

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 . . .”

Poor John Keats. He wrote that poem To Autumn on Sunday, September 19th, 1819, when he was 24. He would be dead within 18 months and never did see the autumn of his life.

He wrote the poem after a walk near Winchester, in Hampshire, that day.

In a letter to a friend two days later he described the scene and the impression it had made upon him.

“How beautiful the season is now – How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it [. . .] I never lik’d stubble fields so much as now [. . .] Somehow a stubble plain looks warm – in the same way that some pictures look warm – this struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.”

We are in the middle of autumn now, described by the Met Office as September, October and November in Ireland. Another, more local poet, us prompted. Patrick Kavanagh too died before his time, at 63 in 1967.

The word October always brings to mind his poem Memory of My Father.

“Every old man I see

In October-coloured weather

Seems to say to me

`I was once your father’.”

The word autumn is believed to have originated with the14th century Old French words autumpne and automne. They in turn are believed derived from the Latin autumnus, itself thought by some authorities to be derived from a still older Latin word auctus, meaning increase.

The Italian autunno, Spanish otoño and Portuguese outono have the same Latin autumnus parentage, as in so much else.

Up to the 16th century autumn was known as Harvest, for obvious reasons, in this part of the world, but that then gave way to autumn.

Of course it was once known as Fall on this side of the Atlantic too, from the Old English noun felle meaning snare, trap. In the US autumn is still known as the Fall, thought to be short for the prodigious leaf fall that is such a feature of the season along East Coast States. Autumn rarely looks as glorious as in New England. inaword@irishtimes.com

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