Monday, May 6, 2013

a startlement persisting

I don't like the word "miracle." It smacks of superstitious non sequitur. But on rare occasions, the word functions okay, as a mumbled stand-in for the not explainable.

John Keats's poem "To Autumn" is still so good that it unnerves a reader. No other poem comes close to challenging its organic perfection.

Where in the world did it come from? It's as if the aesthetic powers of imagination and the aesthetic resources of language emerged this one time to the most exquisite degree. But the poem's being-there is surely not explainable in the usual terms of talent, craft, and inspiration. It's a bewitchment of time and saying. It's a gift from the gods of metaphor, transferred to us through a young poet.

In the final analysis, it leaves analysis flummoxed.

                    To Autumn

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.

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