Friday, October 14, 2016

Joseph Wood Krutch: Some thoughts on autumn

Joseph Wood Krutch, prior to moving to Tucson, lived in New England,  and some of his finest writings about nature relate to that period. The excerpt below is from The Twelve Seasons.

     "One day the first prematurely senile leaf will quietly detach itself in a faint breeze and flutter silently to the ground. All through the summer an occasional unnoticed, unregretted leaf has fallen from time to time. But not as this one falls. There is something quietly ominous about the way in which it gives up the ghost, without a struggle, almost with an air of relief. Others will follow, faster, and faster. Soon the ground will be covered, though many of the stubborner trees are still clothed. Then one night a wind, a little harder than usual, and carrying perhaps the drops of a cold rain, will come. We shall awake in the morning to see that the show is over. The trees are naked; bare, ruined choirs, stark against the sky."  (See Shakespeare, Sonnet 73)


(What follows is an expression of Krutch's attitude towards those who admire autumn. I must admit I'm one of those whom Krutch considers a bit perverse in my thinking.)

     "To me there always seems to be something perverse about those country dwellers who like the autumn best. Their hearts, I feel, are not in the right place. They must be among those who see Nature merely as a spectacle or a picture, not among those who share her own own moods. Spring is the time for exuberance, autumn for melancholy and regret. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness? Yes, of course, it is that too. But promise, not fulfillment, is what lifts the heart. Autumn is no less fulfillment than it is also the beginning of the inevitable end.

     No doubt the colors of autumn are as gorgeous in their own way as any of spring. Looked at merely as color, looked with the eye of that kind of painter to whom only color and design are important, I suppose they are beautiful and nothing more. But looked at as outward and visible signs, as an expression of what is going on in the world of living things, they produce another effect.

     'No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face'--so wrote John Donne in compliment to an old lady. But Donne was enamored of death. Send not to know for whom the leaf falls, it falls for thee."  (See John Donne, "Meditation 17:  Devotions upon Emergent Occasions")

What Krutch doesn't mention is that the appreciation of the fall colors is also frequently tinged with sadness or melancholy.  In addition, autumn is the harvest season, the culmination of the farmer's efforts for the past six or seven months.   I think autumn is the most complex of the seasons, joy at the colors and the fullness of the harvest and also sadness at the end of the cycle,  or at the inescapable sign of the end of the cycle. 


  1. we're experiencing fall first hand, holed up in this motel, while the power is out at the house and the wind is blasting away and pushing over the trees... two tornados hit the northern coast with predictable destruction... one forgets over the year the authority with which autumn can raise hell with forests and man-made structures; in the quiet times, the colors can be gorgeous, though, with the golden grasses and the red willows...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      Where are you? East Coast?

    2. Mudpuddle,

      Ah, I just read about that, the typhoon that began near Japan and then moved east. I hope the damage wasn't too severe.

    3. back home; no visible damage; some places around here really got hammered, though...

    4. Mudpuddle,

      Glad to hear all is well with you.

  2. This is some great verse.

    I love the way that Krutch uses the specter of senility to describe a fall leaf.

    Though I feel regretful myself over certain aspects of the fall, you raise a a good point as to Krutch missing some of that season's beauty.

    1. Brian Joseph,

      Krutch's prose does often verge on the poetic.

      He's a great antidote for those who simply rhapsodize over the beauty of the colors and ignore the implications.