Joy sits singing in the trees

In contrast to Rossetti’s melancholy vision of Autumn, Blake’s is buzzing with life, humming with the song of fruits and flowers. Autumn is not about sleep but rest and revelry; not about death but fulfilment and fertility, blossoming and blessing. It brings what Summer promised. This is “To Autumn” (1793).

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

Man was made for joy and woe

Thinking more about goodness, I probably need to qualify my earlier thoughts. A careful distinction needs to be drawn between true comedy, which involves restoration of good and a happy ending after sorrow, and narratives which are merely saccharine, in which no restoration is needed. Unmitigated goodness in fiction feels false.  Unshaded sunshine has no contours.  Even in children's books, there is something eery about stories with no shadow, no threat to happiness, nothing to be overcome; Pollyanna, that avatar of the bright side, exercised her trademark optimism in the face of unusual misfortune and distress.  I'm thus brought back to Hopkins' glory in dappled things, and (to change the metaphor) to William Blake's famous song of “Innocence”:

It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

A character in All's well that ends well has the line: “The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” According to Blake, not only truth but safe passage rests in this knowledge. Not only a better reflection of the way life is, but the secret of a way to live. In this sense, comedy is more instructive than tragedy, less spectacle than physic. The silver-lined cloud has become a tawdry image of wishful thinking, but the silken twine that runs under every grief is a lifeline, a saving grace. The title of Shakespeare's comedy might seem a toothless truism in the face of real sorrow, but it is in fact a great truth. All's well that ends well. The happy ending works backwards, not to erase suffering, but (to change the metaphor back) to illuminate it. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, all's well.

Ten thousand things are growing in the radiance

Today is the first day of Spring (at least in the southern hemisphere - what's the deal with the northern hemisphere??), and it deserves some literary eclat. There are some well-loved lines about Spring, though fewer than for Autumn, as I noted here.  In Canberra, the cherry trees are blossoming in earnest and a lot of the big bare trees are covered in tiny buds. So here are Blake and Wordsworth, to represent the orthodox tradition. 

William Blake "To Spring", 1793

O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Through the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills tell one another, and the listening
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turn’d
Up to thy bright pavilions: issue forth
And let thy holy feet visit our clime!

Come o’er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumèd garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our lovesick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languish’d head,
Whose modest tresses are bound up for thee.

William Wordsworth "Lines Written in early spring", 1798  

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

I also like these lines (loosely translated) from a Han dynasty Fu - somehow more outdoorsy than Blake or Wordsworth ever sound:

Sunflowers in the field are purest green,
The morning dew awaits the sun to dry it.
The warm spring spreads round its favours,
Ten thousand things are growing in the radiance.