Admit it; You Hate Change, too. A reflection on Sara Teasdale’s “September Midnight”

18 09 2013

300px-Harvest_moon

September Midnight

Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
Ceaseless, insistent.

The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
Tired with summer.

Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
Snow-hushed and heavy.

Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
Lest they forget them.

Sara Teasdale

 

Summer is all but officially over for the year.  College is in full swing, schools are back in session, football is back on television, and I have made the switch of wardrobe.  Away go the sleeveless and the shorts, and in with the jeans and the sweaters.

On this night of the big, brilliant harvest moon, I am thinking about Sara Teasdale’s poem.

There are people who like good-byes and people who avoid them.  Maybe because I was a military child and so profoundly used to good-byes and their significance, I am the type who needs those moments to bid farewell, not necessarily to people, but definitely to places and times.

I like to take that extra moment to go into an empty house before I move, going from room to room and breathing it into my memory before leaving.

Why not take a picture, you ask?  Good question.  I don’t know the answer.  I have pictures of my old bedrooms and houses, but I don’t look at them.

I vividly remember sitting crossed- legged  in my small bedroom closet as a seventh grader the day we left our house in Maryland to move to New York.  I just wanted to remember it.

Why did I care about the closet?  I didn’t sit in there before.  I had no special attachment to it; nonetheless, there I sat for while trying to sear into my memory the slats of the folding door.

Maybe it is because leaving a place or a time is much like leaving yourself behind.

Life is constantly changing, and for a young person, that’s very unnerving.  Heck, it is unnerving to think of as an adult.

Change is unavoidable, but it is even more difficult when you have very limited control over your life.  That part of childhood is definitely not one that I would ever want to return to.

“September Midnight” is about the fast approaching change of seasons.  In her poem, summer is over; there are no more birds chirping, the growing season is over, and all that remains are the insects’ passionless chirps.

There is no scent to the fields and the moon is worn, broken, and tired.

So, really, what is she going to miss exactly?

These aren’t exactly beautiful images that she creates with diction such as weeds, worn, broken, tired, passionless, scentless, and shadowy.

She is afraid of the change more than the actual loss of the season, which reminds me of that little girl who didn’t want to leave that bedroom closet many years ago and move.  It wasn’t a great place to be, but it was better than the change.

So we pause; we try to drink in the surroundings to taste them again when we want to.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, either.  That way, when the world gets too heavy, we can bring to our mind’s eye the images of what we know so well and find some comfort, even if that is just fallow fields and insect chirps.

Helen_Allingham_-_Harvest_Moon

It only becomes a problem when you spend all of your time pining away for the past and thereby missing out on the new phase of life.

When I left my teaching job, I spent many moments looking at my empty classroom.  Being a teacher was the way I defined myself, and leaving that behind to start another phase in life was a bigger challenge than leaving any house.  When my girls are in the middle of big fits, it is nice to be able to bring to mind the peaceful classroom I once had and imagine what it would be like to return one day. . . but not too soon.

We might want to make the symbolic leap that she is reflecting not on a literal change of seasons, but on a figurative change in the seasons of life.  Perhaps this is commentary on the hesitation we feel when entering the autumn of our lives.

Because we are afraid of death, we focus on the dark, heavy, and cold parts of growing older, but with that attitude, we will easily miss out on all the beauty that is found in the winter, both literally and figuratively.

Happy autumn, and I hope the change of seasons finds you well.

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Heartbreak and the Holidays: “The Feel of Not to Feel It” and Keats

28 11 2012

In Drear-Nighted December

John Keats

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne’er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne’er remember
Apollo’s summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would ’twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

Ah, December— it’s the end of the year, (and if you want to believe the Mayans— maybe the end of the world? Gasp!) so naturally it invites a certain melancholic reflection, a yearning for days gone by. Honestly, I think it’s a really good thing that December is full of celebratory anticipation and glistening lights, because at least in my part of the world, it might get overwhelmingly gloomy at times.

This would be especially true in those years when the first snows don’t fall until late December. The first snows are pretty magical for many of us, especially on the heels of an extraordinarily mild winter last year. Even those of us who grow snow-weary by January, February, or March, tend to enjoy the first snows that cover everything in crisp shimmering white, hiding all the muddy leaves and abandoned toys in the back yard.

But, especially without the snow, things are often drear-nighted, so I can feel what Keats is saying here. Things do get pretty gray, cold, and bare. What a perfect metaphor for how you feel when you are heartbroken. Gray, cold, and bare.

Frozen.

Dark.

And really, is there a worse month to be heartbroken than December? First, there is the natural world that seems to be dead all around you, and then there are the terribly long nights. On top of all that, there is the pressure to have a most joyous and wonderful season of togetherness with the ones you love. Everyone talks about it, and there are images of love everywhere.

So, what if your love isn’t there anymore?

It’s a tough time for many people, especially those who know “the feel of not to feel it.”

This poem looks at how poignant romantic heartbreak is. It is one of my favorite poems reflecting on heartbreak and that hopeless anguish that feels so suffocating. It captures that despair, doesn’t apologize, and doesn’t offer hope. Keats knows that when you are heartbroken, you don’t want to hear people trying to cheer you up.

Heartbreak sucks, and you can feel as lousy as you want without feeling guilty about it. Go ahead and wallow in it for a while. It’s okay.

Keats says it is okay, and he is like the best poet who ever lived.

Frozen light

Frozen light (Photo credit: Nanaki)

In the first stanza, he looks at a frozen sleety tree with bare branches and thinks about how the tree is just fine. It is not at all upset in its current state even though it once had beautiful leaves, and the reason this is possible is that the tree has no memory of that better time. None the wiser, the tree is content, and it will bloom again in the spring without fear of losing the leaves, and the cycle continues.

;

Next, in the second stanza, the speaker’s attention turns to a frozen brook. In

Frozen Brook

Frozen Brook (Photo credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton)

a similar way, he considers how lucky the brook is that it has no memory of the happy time when it once flowed freely. Even encased in an icy prison, the brook is perfectly happy because of the “sweet forgetting.” The brook has no memory of Apollo in his hot “summer look”, so it is happy even in a less comfortable situation.

In the final stanza, the speaker laments that people don’t have this ability to forget, too. Instead, we all are doomed to writhe in the pain of remembering happy times before our heartbreak, and there is nothing that can be done to ease the pain.

Keats believes “The feel of not to feel it” is so excruciating that is was never “said in rhyme”. That might seem like a contradiction at first. I mean, there are loads of poems about heartbreak, right? In fact, isn’t this a poem about it??

Well, yes,

But what he is saying is that the feeling cannot be truly expressed in words; it can’t be said in rhyme. It can’t be communicated at all, only felt.

But Keats! Isn’t It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

Nope.

Keats does not agree at all. It is painful and he wishes he could just erase it from his memory. I agree that this is how it feels when heartbreak is fresh, but I don’t agree in the long run. I’m not going to delete anyone from my memory.

I think Keats would have liked “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” don’t you? What are your thoughts? Would you push delete on a lost love if you could? Would you be happier if you couldn’t remember?