Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
I thought I’d start this with two of my favourite poems from my University days: Wild Swans at Coole by W. B. Yeats which I have always found to be just as autumnal as Keats’ famous ode. For me, somehow, poetry feels very seasonal, more so than prose. Their condensed form, their crystallised momentariness all combine to capture that time whereas prose and novels tend to rush over it.
1. Wild Swans at Coole, William Butler Yeats
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,Wild Swans at Coole, William Butler Yeats
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
2. To Autumn, John Keats
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?To Autumn, John Keats
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.
Turning to prose and novels, another highly lyrical piece of autumnal writing comes from Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 which was so hauntingly beautiful! A hymn – dare one say an ode? – to the English landscape and seasons. And as it mentions Bonfire Night, this quotation sums up some of that gorgeous language
On Bonfire Night there was a heavy fog, thick with woodsmoke, the fireworks seen briefly like camera flashes overhead. In the beech wood the foxes prepared their dens. The vixens dug down into old earths and reclaimed them, lining them out with grasses and leaves. In the eaves of the church the bats settled plumply into hibernation. By the river the willows shook off their last leaves. At night the freight trains came more often, a single white light leading and the wagons shadowing heavily behind. The widower asked Clive for advice over pruning his fruit trees and Clive was surprised to see the state that things were in. The plums had silver leaf and needed taking out altogether. The fruit bushes badly wanted cutting back. The timbers he’d used for the raised beds were splitting, and there was no sign of any new hens. It had been a good year for courgettes, he told Clive.
I mean, with this title, with this gorgeous cover, how could I not include it on an autumnal list? And also the evocation of time and place is so beautifully wonderfully captured in such vibrant and vivid prose that it is wonderful!
And the smells, which for so long in this slow summer were faint and damp, became nutlike and sugary. They promised winter ales and porridges. The awns and whiskers of the barley’s ears were brittle and dry enough to chit-chat-chit every time they were disturbed, nattering with ten thousand voices at every effort of the wind or every scarper of a rabbit, mouse or bird. They said, “We’ve had enough. Our heads are baked and heavy now. We’re dry. Bring out your blades and do your worst.”
5. Autumn, Ali Smith
Again, the name was a bit of a heads-up! But I adore Ali Smith and her transformative metamorphic language. Her Seasons Tetralogy began with Autumn, and it is gorgeously written, hilarious and tragic by turns. In this extract, Daniel Gluck is apparently exploring the otherworld …
There’s a little copse of trees. He slips into the copse. Perfect, the ground in the shade, carpeted with leaves, the fallen leaves under his (handsome, young) feet are dry and firm, and on the lower branches of the trees too a wealth of leaves still bright green, and look, the hair on his body is dark black again all up his arms, and from his chest down to the groin where it’s thick, ah, not just the hair, everything is thickening, look.
This is heaven all right.
Above all, he doesn’t want to offend.
He can make a bed here. He can stay here while he gets his bearings. Bare-ings. (Puns, the poor man’s currency; poor old John Keats, well, poor all right, though you couldn’t exactly call him old. Autumn poet, winter Italy, days away from dying he found himself punning like there was no tomorrow. Poor chap. There really was no tomorrow.) He can heap these leaves up over himself to keep him warm at night, if there’s such a thing as night when you’re dead, and if that girl, those girls, come any closer he’ll heap a yard of them over his whole self so as not to dishonour.
For some reason, autumn feels to me to be the ideal time for fantasy: perhaps with the drawing in of the darker nights and the long evenings, there is just a little more time to drop yourself into a fantastical world! I have picked two fantastic fantasy novels – out of so many fantastic fantasy novels out there – for no more reason than that the colour schemes on the covers feel a tad autumnal!
Priory of the Orange Tree was a breath of fresh air in the over-full fantasy market: very much female-centric – including a lovely female-female relationship and some kick-ass mages and warriors – and a step away from the Tolkienesque, Western Middle Ages familiarity.
And from there, let’s delve in to my daughter’s library.
8. The Fox and the Star, Coralie Bickford Smith
We adore this book: the story of a fox whose only friend is a star who, one night, does not appear. The fox’s withdrawal into his den in fear, his decision to seek the star out, his growth as a character is gorgeously nuanced and touches – oh so delicately – on issues of mental health, resilience and self reliance. And is so beautifully illustrated.
9. Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball, Laura Ellen Anderson
Our current Hallowe’en read featuring vampires, yetis and Grimaldi, Death’s grandson who “dealt with the deaths of small creatures like squished toads”.
10. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
IT was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.
No further explanation needed really, is there? The most memorable and most quoted line in the whole novel!
So there you have it, ten autumns and autumnal books. Enjoy! What have I missed out? Let me know!