The Lesson of the Falling Leaves

Ilya Ostroukhov, Golden Autumn (1887)

Spiritual Sunday

Lucille Clifton has written some wonderful poems about letting go, which are impressive given the multiple tragedies she faced, including the untimely death of her husband. One is “the blessing of the boats,” which I’ve written about multiple times (including here). Another is “the lesson of the falling leaves,” which is all the more powerful because it is short and succinct, proceeding through a series of simple declarative sentences.

The poem reminds me of the concluding stanzas of Mary Oliver’s “In Blackwater Woods.” The two women were friends, and I’ve encountered a number of their poems that seem to be in conversation with each other. In this case, I think Clifton’s poem came first but I’m not sure. “Blackwater Woods” concludes,

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

So here’s “the lesson of the falling leaves”:

the leaves believe
such letting go is love
such love is faith
such faith is grace
such grace is god
i agree with the leaves

If you think of the lyric as the leaves fall around you, you will find yourself in agreement.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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