Autumnal Spells

Andrea Janes, whose story “A Fitting Tribute” appears in Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales, writes of autumn and the poetry of Dylan Thomas in the article below. We invite you to tell us about your favorite “Autumnal Spell” in the comments. Is it, too, a poem or something else?

Autumn comes slowly in New York City. It is creeping and yellow, with little of the brilliance and ruddy vibrancy you find in colder climates. It is hard to tell precisely when it begins, especially as we are still contending with 70-degree days well into October. Some people still insist fall begins after Labor Day; others, more literal-minded, stick with the equinox. For most, it isn’t fall until it feels like fall.

But for me it isn’t fall until I start hearing voices.

I know it’s autumn when certain lyrics start whispering through my mind. Their annual return begins with the first good, cold, gust of wind; when the first dry brown leaves scuttle behind me like ghosts; when the slanted, blinding sunlight suddenly catches my eyes — that’s when the poem bursts upon me and I know fall is here.

Especially when the October wind…

I remember the first time I read these words. I was fifteen years old and sitting in the park with a paperback copy of the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas I’d found at my school library. I wasn’t sure which poem to start with so, given that it was a warm, tawny, October afternoon, I figured I’d start with something that seemed apt:

Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair
Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
And cast a shadow crab upon the land…

My hair may have stood on end. I remember it standing on end. And I remember that the leaves seemed to shiver in the breeze and the world was suddenly full of fiery shadows crab-walking to the horizon, the park full of the “wordy shapes of women, walking like the trees” and “rows of star-gestured children.”

Though the words were abstract, I knew exactly what this poem meant. And I knew that whatever it was I had been looking for, I had found it.

One of the many remarkable things about “Especially When the October Wind” is how it perfectly captures autumn’s transition from early, golden, mellow warmth to sere, static-electric winter. Of course the poem is less about the season than it is about the writer, shut in a “tower of words,” whose heart “sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words” until she is empty, but it is also ultimately about the passage of time.

The poem begins on a gentle note as the poet speaks of — or to — his poems, or the object of his poems:

Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
Some let me make you of the water’s speeches.

You’re right there with him in that yellow forest with the sunlight dappling the brook. But menace hangs in the air and the specter of nightfall, of the coming cold, threatens:

Some let me make you of the meadow’s signs;
The signal grass that tells me all I know
Breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
Some let me tell you of the raven’s sins.

Especially when the October wind
(Some let me make you of autumnal spells,
The spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
With fists of turnips punishes the land…

You can almost feel the ground growing cold and freezing hard under you as the season transitions from its harvest-moon beginnings to its bleak, gusty finish. (Also, being punished by a turnip-fist sounds painful.)

This specter of menace throws its cold shadow over everything by the poem’s end:

Some let me make you of the heartless words.
The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.

And you hear the seagulls keen and wheel in an ashen sky and everything is quite dreary.

For me, this is the true beauty of the season: autumn isn’t about pumpkin spice lattes or farmer’s markets or hip urbanites driving out into the country to pick apples. Autumn is driving, punishing, and ominous. This poem reminds us that we’d better write fast: time is running out.

With their obscure warnings, sense of urgency, and splendid anxieties, these verses lured me into the craft of writing. And when I hear them thrumming in my mind, it means another autumn has come.

By the sea’s side hear the dark-vowelled birds

Specter Spectacular from World Weaver PressAndrea Janes lives in Brooklyn, New York. From her front window she can see Upper New York Bay, a Victorian cemetery, and a high-voltage ConEd substation. She loves ghost stories, all things nautical, and tremendously big breakfasts. Her website, Spinster Aunt, is currently running a 31 Days of Halloween blog-a-thon.

Her story “A Fitting Tribute” appears in Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Talesit possesses a classic gothic feel but twists the traditional gothic narrative by delivering the story via a delightfully unsympathetic-yet-fascinating narrator.
Haunted October Blog Tour, World Weaver Press
We invite you to tell us about your favorite “Autumnal Spell” in the comments. Is it, too, a poem or something else?

About World Weaver Press Guest Blogger

World Weaver Press invites many guest bloggers to join us in our discussion of fantasy and science fiction. Opinions expressed by guest bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of World Weaver Press, its staff, or authors.

Posted on October 19, 2012, in from the authors of WWP, Haunted October, World Weaver Press and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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