Death Seems Comely at the Fall of the Leaf

Vincent Van Gogh, "Falling Autumn Leaves"

Vincent Van Gogh, “Falling Autumn Leaves”

Wednesday

Autumn came late to Maryland this year, probably because of climate change, but the weather finally changed this past week. Strong, cold winds turned the leaves yellow and orange and then knocked them down almost in the same breath.

Here’s an autumn poem by Daniel Gabriel Rossetti. Like many other poems about the season (for instance, John Keats’s “Ode to Autumn”), Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Autumn Song” finds beauty in the melancholy passage of time. Life seems particularly precious when we verge on the season of death.

Notice how Rossetti looks for joy in absence rather than in presence. The heart “feels a languid grief” and we long simply “not to suffer pain.” We are like like a dried sheaf, “bound up at length for harvesting,” and our consolation is that this process, because it is natural and inevitable, can seem like a “goodly” or a “comely” thing. Like the leaves, we are coming home to rest.

Autumn Song

By Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf 
How the heart feels a languid grief 
Laid on it for a covering, 
And how sleep seems a goodly thing 

In Autumn at the fall of the leaf? 
And how the swift beat of the brain 
Falters because it is in vain, 
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf 
Knowest thou not? and how the chief 
Of joys seems—not to suffer pain? 

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf 
How the soul feels like a dried sheaf 
Bound up at length for harvesting, 
And how death seems a comely thing 
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf? 

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