Perhaps it’s the English major in me, but I’ve been having these strange, semi-subliminal (is that oxymoronic?) moments ever since autumn set in and pastoral beauty began reigning supreme in all its multi-colored glory. I have literally had to stop at particular moments to take in my surroundings and wonder at the beauty of nature. I’m beginning to think there is something wrong with me.
I am not a sap. I do not cry during romantic comedies, and I don’t really care for rainbows. Puppies are just ok. Well, all right, that last one is an out-an-out lie, but you get my point. I have never before in my life cared to stand and gasp at a landscape or a pretty view, and yet, just a few days ago I found myself utterly giddy over the fall foliage curtaining Bethel Mountain Road as my friend and I drove back from a visit to a friend in Worchester, Mass.
Perhaps the sheer delight in the contrast between Worchester and my lovely, nearly strip-mall-free Vermont spurred on my exclamations of “Look at that! Would you look at that?” over and over as we wound our way through the mountain pass. Something about the wide, sweeping views of tree-colored hills, already turned, mingled with the narrow, tree-lined passageways burrowed its way into my callous, cynical self and said, hey. Check it out. You’ll never see anything like this again.
Somehow, the narrow stretches always seemed to be accompanied by trees with golden leaves. Gorgeous. You see? I’m at it again. But these were truly my favorite parts of the trip — coasting down the curvy roads, dipping down, cruising back up and repeat. The leaf-littered roads shooting off the main highway reminded me of poetry. Though it was literally the perfect illustration of a Frost poem (I think you know which one) that was not necessarily what first came to mind. Instead, I thought of Shelley, Blake and of Keats.
There was one especially transcendent poem that I had first read in the fall of my sophomore year that began to replay in my head as I pretended to listen to my car trip buddy jabber. When I first read the poem out of my bulky but beloved Norton Anthology (I really do think that carrying it around gave my left wrist its carpal tunnel), I was sitting next to the window, the cold radiating off the glass and through the granite of the window seat, causing me to retract my arms further into my sweatshirt (the Velociraptor look was always extremely flattering for me). We had been assigned another Keats poem, but after finishing it, I flipped through the rest of Keats’ poems.
One particular poem caught me in the back of the throat and tugged. It was full of anxiety, something I can usually relate to quite well, believe it or not, and the words themselves seemed as though they would cry, it was that intense — again, I was an English major.
And just as it was easy to guess which Frost poem I was referring to, you may also think that the Keats’ poem that I’m hinting at is “To Autumn.” That, however, would be far too appropriate. And while I like the message — appreciate what you have, to put it in general terms — all the oozing hours and “cyder” turns my stomach a tad. No, the poem that struck me so and snuck back into my head that day as we sped through southern Vermont was, oddly enough, “When I have fears that I may cease to exist.”
Yes, my mind does retrace lines like “then on the shore/Of the wide world I stand alone, and think/Till love and fame to nothingness do sink,” when I see a post-card perfect Vermont landscape out my window, complete with a horse-drawn carriage that just happens to be passing by.
I take issue with this for two reasons.
One, fleeting moments like these belong in Disney movies, not real life and two, each time I witness something like this, I am reminded that I will not always live in picture-perfect Vermont — that my time here, like the horse that disappears past the gap in the bushes and out of sight, is fleeting. And that thought often inspires a Keatsian swell of emotion that is a blend of subliminal exaltation in that moment of perfection-overload and also an intense, gut-wrenching anxiety that I will never, never witness something so awesome ever again. And I mean “awesome” in the awestruck way, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle way.
And just like that, I think of some mundane thing that draws me back to reality and I shake my head at my own pretentious musings, much like I’m doing right this moment. But when you, yourself, see that redder-than-red apple hanging atop an otherwise humble tree at Happy Valley Orchard, or when you watch an incredible, apocalyptic, post-rainstorm sunset over the Adirondacks, you have to admit — it’s pretty darn cool.
On that note, I’d like to close by saying I will now kick myself for not going to see the screening of “Bright Star” at Middlebury College last weekend (the film based on Keats’ life), because clearly I’m obsessed with him and also to invite you to read the complete text of the poems mentions above, courtesy of englishhistory.net:
WHEN I HAVE FEARS… (1818)
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
TO AUTUMN (1819)
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,
Drows'd 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 cyder-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 red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.