Lately I've been straying beyond the canon, reading some authors who loomed large in their own day and are now largely forgotten. Rosamond Lehmann, for one, and Mrs Humphrey Ward, for another (of whom more presently). So here's an Autumn poem by one Thomas Hood, unknown to me until a week ago, but well known in early Victorian England as a poet, humourist and journalist, editor of literary magazines and publisher of verses and tales. It's simply called “Ode—Autumn.” The whole thing is rather long, so I include here only the first, third and fourth stanzas, which in my view are better worth your reading. I like the craft of it (things like alliteration and internal rhyme), and the more mysterious creation of atmosphere: silence, solitude, dampness, dimness, melancholy. I like “silence, listening to silence”, and the honey bees' “luscious cells”. You can see why, perhaps, it hasn't survived the way Keats or Blake have, but I think it deserves to be retrieved, if briefly, from the grey distance, the drowned past.
I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
Stand shadowless, like silence, listening
To silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn;—
Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
Pearling his coronet of golden corn.
Where are the blooms of Summer?—In the west,
Blushing their last to the last sunny hours,
When the mild Eve by sudden Night is prest
Like tearful Prosperpine, snatch’d from her flow’rs
To a most gloomy breast.
Where is the pride of Summer,—the green prime,—
The many, many leaves all twinkling?—Three
On the moss’d elm; three on the naked lime
Trembling,—and one upon the old oak tree!
Where is the Dryad’s immortality?—
Gone into mournful cypress and dark yew,
Or wearing the long gloomy Winter through
In the smooth holly’s green eternity.
The squirrel gloats on his accomplish’d hoard,
The ants have brimm’d their garners with ripe grain,
And honey bees have stor’d
The sweets of Summer in their luscious cells;
The swallows all have wing’d across the main;
But here the Autumn melancholy dwells,
And sighs her tearful spells
Amongst the sunless shadows of the plain,
Upon a mossy stone,
She sits and reckons up the dead and gone
With the last leaves for a love-rosary,
Whilst all the wither’d world looks drearily,
Like a dim picture of the drowned past
In the hush’d mind’s mysterious far away,
Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last
Into that distance, gray upon the gray.