The Autumn and the Fall of Leaves


It is not true that the close of a life which ends in a natural fashion-
--life which is permitted to put on the display of death and to go out in glory-
--inclines the mind to rest. It is not true of a day ending nor the passing of
the year, nor of the fall of leaves. Whatever permanent, uneasy question is
native to men, comes forward most insistent and most loud at such times. There
are still places where one can feel and describe the spirit of the falling of
leaves.

At Fall, the sky which is of so delicate and faint a blue as to contain
something of gentle mockery, and certain more of tenderness, presides at the
fall of leaves. There is no air, no breath at all. The leaves are so light
that they sidle on their going downward, hesitating in that which is not void to
them, and touching at last so intangible to the earth with which they are to
merge, that the gesture is much gentler than a greeting, and even more discreet
than a discreet touch. They make a little sound, less than the least of sounds.
No bird at night in the marshes rustles so slightly, no men, though men are the
most refined of living beings, put so passing a stress upon their sacred
whispers or their prayers. The leaves are hardly heard, but they are heard just
so much that men also, who are destined at the end to grow glorious and to die,
look up and hear them falling.

There is an infinite amount of qualities of describing the leaves. The
color is not a mere glory: it is intricate. If you take up one leaf, then you
can see the sharp edge boundaries which are stained with a deep yellow-gold and
are not defined. Nor do shape and definition ever begin to exhaust the list.
For there are softness and hardness too. Beside boundaries you have hues and
tints, shades also, varying thicknesses of stuff, and endless choice of surface,
and that list also is infinite, and the divisions of each item in it are
everywhere the depth and the meaning of so much creation are beyond our powers.
All this happens to be true of but one dead leaf; and yet every dead leaf will
differ from its fellow.

It is no wonder, then, that at this peculiar time, this week (or moment)
of the year, the desires which if they do not prove at least demand---perhaps
remember--- our destiny, come strongest. They are proper to the time of autumn,
and all men feel them. The air is at once new and old; the morning (if one
rises early enough to welcome its leisurely advance) contains something in it of
profound remembrance. The evenings hardly yet suggest (as they soon will)
friends and security, and the fires of home. The thoughts awakened in us by
their bands of light fading along the downs are thoughts which go with
loneliness and prepare us for the isolation of the soul. It is on this account
that tradition has set, at the entering of autumn, for a watch at the gate of
the season and at its close of day and the night of on which the dead return.