Don't you hear the goldenrod whispering goodbye?

On this last day of Autumn, two poems by Mary Oliver. I love her tender, friendly observation of the woods and waters near her home, and her gentle, companionable way of bringing the lovely world to our notice. The first one is called "Song for Autumn." I found a couple of different versions but took this one from Poetry magazine, which I take to be authoritative. Also because in the other versions the pond 'vanishes', but how much more lyrical that it should 'stiffen' with the coming cold. 

Don't you imagine the leaves dream now
     how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
     nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
     the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the birds that will come - six, a dozen - to sleep
     inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
     the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
     stiffens and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
     its long blue shadows. The wind wags
its many tails. And in the evening
     the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way. 

The second is "Fall Song." It is less fanciful, more conventional as an autumn poem, having a  melancholy undertow and a sense of longing, but it is by no means derivative. It has strikingly original images, like the 'black subterranean castle of unobservable mysteries'. For a poet whose strength is observation, the 'unobservable mysteries' are in part what pull her towards the more melancholy view, yet her final vision is bright with illumination, as true as anything in verse.

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Now we are they who weep

Our Master lies asleep and is at rest:
     His Heart has ceased to bleed, His Eye to weep:
The sun ashamed has dropt down in the west:
     Our Master lies asleep.


     Now we are they who weep, and trembling keep
Vigil, with wrung heart in a sighing breast,
     While slow time creeps, and slow the shadows creep.

Renew Thy youth, as eagle from the nest;
     O Master, who hast sown, arise to reap: – 
No cock-crow yet, no flush on eastern crest: 
     Our Master lies asleep.

(Christina Rossetti)

This bread I break

This bread I break was once the oat,
This wine upon a foreign tree
Plunged in its fruit;
Man in the day or wind at night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape’s joy.

Once in this wine the summer blood
Knocked in the flesh that decked the vine,
Once in this bread
The oat was merry in the wind;
Man broke the sun, pulled the wind down.

This flesh you break, this blood you let
Make desolation in the vein,
Were oat and grape
Born of the sensual root and sap;
My wine you drink, my bread you snap.

(Dylan Thomas)

Past pronouns

Another trip to the library and I find myself asking again why so many children's books, especially animal books, have male protagonists and even all-male casts. Not just older books, which might claim some cultural immunity from equality, but new books too. Books that should know better. Why? Why, when the bear or the duck (or at least his friends and offsiders) might so easily be female - when changing the gender wouldn't change the plot one bit - are they so often male? Sometimes I change the pronouns as I'm reading, just to mix it up, but soon Olivia will be alive to this editing - she already pulls me up if I vary even one word ("Not 'the' parrot, 'that' parrot!"). And I think, why didn't the author make these edits? Why wasn't it obvious in the writing that someone - in fact an entire gender - was missing? My best guess is that it's unthinking: an unreflective default to an unaccountable bias towards the male as universal. But that doesn't explain its persistence in our time, some fifty years after the male default was found (at long last) to be deficient. Especially now, but even then, why didn't it occur to anyone that books without girls were an imperfect reflection of the world; a world of eerie erasure and ghostly absence, in which boys roam free and alone inherit the earth?

That women are people, and that roughly half the time people are women, seems the most stubborn and yet the most stubbornly controverted fact in human history. That my two-year-old daughter encounters this controversy in books that contain barely thirty words fills me with despair. I should add that as far as I can tell she doesn't notice or care. Her enjoyment is not dimmed by the fact that the poky little puppy, the saggy baggy elephant, and the tawny scrawny lion are all males. But that's what troubles me: she's imbibing this imbalance unconsciously, learning with every story and each hero that it's boys who take up the world's subjective space. I don't want her to grow up taking in a view that leaves her out. So that's why, where I can, I make the little panda she not he, and make Mr Kangaroo a Ms.