Last Thursday was the autumn equinox. A fulcrum, the day when the balance of light poises for a moment then shifts to shorter days and longer nights. A turning point. A personal turning point for me too after the last few months.
I was hoping for a bright start, for the rising sun to illuminate the sandstone gable of the church with the pinkish light of dawn, but instead the day began cloudy and grey. Despite the day “fairing up” for a few hours, sunset was equally murky.
There were autumn poems on BBC Radio 4. What distinguishes this time of year for me is not “the brown creeping up on us” (Tom Stoppard) – that will come in a few weeks’ time – but a sense of everything on the move. The swallows that nested in the church loft disappeared earlier in the week. Large parties of rooks, crows and herring gulls have assembled to forage on the stubble fields. I catch the distant sound of migrating geese. Flocks of small birds are silhouetted against the light. There are a few house martins still around but they will be gone soon. Buzzards are vocal over the wood – establishing territory. Fluffy seeds of dry thistles and willowherb drift in the air.
I’ve been reading Peter Davidson’s book The Last of the Light, a “meditation on twilight”, including “the melancholy of smoky English autumn evenings”. A word he often uses, and which seems appropriate to these days following the equinox, is “belatedness”. He writes about the paintings, photographs, music and literature which exemplify this belatedness. His quotations from poetry are quite extensive and include Virgil, Andrew Marvell, AE Houseman, Louis MacNeice and contemporary poets such as Sean O’Brien (the “evening-afternoon” of autumn twilight), Simon Armitage, Geoffrey Hill, Helen Tookey.
Walking over the slopes of High Pike today the bracken was dying back and the seeding grasses had turned a light beige colour. Scuds of rain drifted over the summit. A rainbow arced over to the east. Nearly all the flowers had turned to seed except for some yellow hawkbit flowers in a field bank and a patch of herb Robert growing in the lichen-encrusted stone wall beside the track. Then I saw a solitary patch of harebells remaining:
That first syllable of breath
trembling in the azure wind.
© Mary Robinson 2016