I have a Virginia creeper in my back yard. It’s a beautiful disguise for the concrete wall just a few feet from my house. ‘New-builds’ aren’t too generous with outdoor space are they? The leaves are turning the most amazingly vibrant crimson. Over the next few weeks they will burst into flame before melodramatically falling to their death like so many over-enthusiastic actors. Which is what ‘Fall’ is all about.
‘Fall’ is one of the few expressions where American trumps English. Despite the fact that it comes from the Old English word feallan, meaning “to fall or to die”, here in the UK we hardly ever use it, preferring the term ‘autumn’ (the origins of which nobody seems to agree on). It’s an interesting season lying between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice. Its beauty is multifaceted; lively colour and reminders of death. Skeletons of trees revealed as the darkest season of the year approaches.
One of the most poignant reflections on this is Clive James’ recent poem Japanese Maple (copied below). James has terminal leukemia and wrote about his anticipation of the beauty autumn would bring to a tree his daughter gave him. For him, this will be, he expects, one final time to witnesses the ‘flood of colours’, and this sight, if he survives to see it, will ‘end the game’ for him.
Autumn splendour is like that. It reminds us of what our culture is dead-set to disguise. Death comes, beauty falls, the bare bones of our existence are always eventually revealed.
Faith suggests an almost greater lesson from the Fall’s memento mori. Advent is the season of waiting in the dark while believing in the coming light. Could it be that our lives, like the Maple and the Virgina Creeper, pass through a Fall only to rise again?
Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
© Clive James, 2014
Hear Clive James reading his poem here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-29680507