“In the soft light of an autumnal day, When Summer gathers up her robes of glory, And like a dream of beauty glides away.”
(Sarah Whitman, A Still Day in Autumn)
Already it is September. The sun edges south. Days shorten. Nights deepen. Summer is already a fading memory. The waning flowers are living their last days. A medieval poet said it well: “Now fade rose and lily-flower that for a while bore its sweet savor in summer, that sweet time.”
You see the changes in the way the shadows fall. Day by day, the shadows grow longer. And there is a slightly different tincture to the light—a softening. The grass looks a bit exhausted. The first dead leaves of a new autumn scrape on the sidewalks. People walk faster, and there is usually a sharper appetite.
Before the month is over, there will be the flight of geese going south for the winter. At first we hear the distant gabble. Then we see them penciled against the morning sky. They fly in their lovely wedge and always have a leader who pilots the flock. Their sound is oddly triumphant and exciting, but it is also the sound of another summer gone and the certainty of November and December.
The birds are busy. They begin to gather in restless flocks, migration on their minds. They often cloister on wires, rallying for the long trip. But mainly they are incessantly in motion, hoping, flying, alighting. You hear the change in the birds calls. There are fewer songs of ecstasy. Now they are filled with the excitement of migration time. They put on their pre-migration fat, often in grapevines and berry bushes. They will act this way for a time, and then be on their way. They may cover hundreds of miles in a day. Most of the swallows have already gone; some of the robins have left. There are those winter birds that decline to join the seasonal escape.
By the middle of the month the katydids and the crickets, which made the darkness hum and quiver, have pretty much run their course. There’s quiet to the darkness now.
September brings back the routines and chores we have laid down during the summer. There are the old routines to take up again. There are the rituals of the new school year. Classes begin; teachers and others return to work. There are the school bus and train schedules, homework and soccer practice. Some fill the woodshed with firewood. We sink back into the old routines. For some, the changes are energizing and exhilarating, a time of reinvigoration and rediscovered energy. Parents are often relieved to have children in school again.
Now the furnace sighs and there is the sound of leaf blowers. The beaches are empty. There are the barren porches where leaves are gathering.
Even in September the year turns toward color in the woodlands. Maples turn first. Color tiptoes through its treetops, rouging a few leaves that turn yellow and red. The dogwoods turn early. The elm trees particularly look tired and begin to shed old leaves early. Then little by little the other trees follow.
September brings some of the loveliest days of the year. The sun has lost its summer fire, and days tend to be crisp and clear. There’s the sparkling freshness of a September morning. Thomas Hood wrote that in an early September morning it can be like “silence listening to silence.” There is the deep blue sky of September, and wonderful afternoons. with mild breezes and comfortable temperatures. There is that relaxation from summer heat. There are the soft September twilights, and sunsets are often brilliant and triumphant.
“Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too”.
(John Keats, To Autumn)
But September knows the limitations of life. In September, one can almost hear the sound of passing time. September tells us that nothing stays, all changes. Beauty passes, however rare it be. Nothing lasts in this world. But beauty lingers in those autumn shadows.
“And time passes, passing like a leaf…time passing, fading like a flower. Time passing like a river flowing. Time passing.” The words are those of Thomas Wolfe, in September we have a sense of those words.
September is insistently a time of remembering. Each September finds me with a sweet, faint melancholy. There is a haunting sorrow for the dead, for all those who were gone and would not come again. I sigh for lost years. Van Gogh understood there’s a certain melancholy that belongs to autumn. And, of course, September warns us that winter days lie ahead.