Friday, September 25, 2009

Poetry Friday: Northrup Frye, My Dad, Edo Painting and Ripe Moons

Autumn Grasses in Moonlight (Shibata Zeshin, late Edo period)

Today was my dad's birthday - he would have been 85 if he had lived past his 61st birthday. Since his death twenty-four years ago, September has changed for me. It used to feel like new beginnings - my mom and dad were both teachers, so the new year started for them when it started for me, at the end of summer when the "new year" took my brother, my sister and me off to new teachers and old friends. That feeling carried on for me when my own kids went to school and my husband became a teacher. From September to June - that was the real year. The summer was pretend - it seemed to happen in a completely different world, unstructured and regulated only by sunrise and sunset. But now, with my kids grown, and my grandson not in school yet, and with my teaching residencies coming in January and July, September feels melancholy - something seems to be drawing to a close. This is the season Northrup Frye associated with tragedy (winter = satire, spring = comedy, summer=romance/full-blown belief ) and it's odd to realize that now September means the year is coming to an end. Out my window, I can see the leaves of the crabapple turning yellow and falling. Even so - who can resist autumn? We love it because of (not despite) its sadness. When I went looking for a poem today, I found one by Margaret Gibson about autumn - just the right mix for the mood I'm in. Gibson is an American poet who teaches at the University of Connecticut. This poem is from her book Autumn Grasses. The title poem refers to a two-panel paper screen (seen above) by Japanese artist Shibata Zeshin, painted with ink, lacquer and silver leaf.

Autumn Grasses

In fields of bush clover and hay-scent grass
the autumn moon takes refuge
The cricket's song is gold

Zeshin's loneliness taught him this

Who is coming?
What will come to pass, and pass?

Neither bruise nor sweetness nor cool air
knows the way

And the moon?
Who among us does not wander, and flare
and bow to the ground?

Who does not savor, and stand open
if only in secret

taking heart in the ripening of the moon?

- Margaret Gibson

The Poetry Round-Up today is over at Susan Taylor Brown's blog. Head over there to see what other people have posted.


  1. Julie,

    September is my favorite month. I love the weather in New England at this time of year.

    Having been a teacher for more than three decades, I know the feeling that a year seems to begin in September--with the smell of new pink erasers and freshly sharpened pencils.

    I lost my beloved maternal grandfather in late September of 1984. For many years after his death, I felt a sadness as summer turned to autumn. It was his death that inspired me to write a collection of poems about him and my grandmother--and the happy times I had spent picking vegetables in their garden, celebrating holidays with family at their house, playing with my two cousins who lived on the other side of their duplex. Working on the poems brought back many of my fondest memories of my childhood--and of my Babci and Dzidzi. Putting those memories into poetry was good therapy for me.

    Thanks for your poetry and art post this Friday.

  2. "What will come to pass, and pass."


  3. It's been a long time since I've heard or read a Margaret Gibson poem. I needed that!

  4. Beautiful poem, Julie--thanks for introducing me.

    You're absolutely right about loving autumn because of its sadness. Its gorgeous golden melancholy draws me in, even though I also love it and find it invigorating. It's still the start of my year, since my kids are still in school, and it's my favorite time of year. But in the quiet moments, I can drown in its sadness.

  5. Such a beautiful poem. Fall is my favorite season -- I don't mind embracing the melancholy.:)

  6. What a beauty of a poem, Julie. I can just hear your voice reading it.

    From Mary, who is reveling in both the melancholy and beauty of the fall.

  7. Thanks for the wonderful feeling of connection that your comments generated in me - and Elaine, I love the story of your Babci and Dzidzi!