'What I do is me: for that I came.' G M Hopkins

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Seedtime and harvest

The garden is soggy with wet leaves. It’s official; it’s autumn. I have been exploring Keats’ Ode to Autumn with Year 12. The pupils think he wrote the poem just to torture them, so I assured them that he was not compiling the syllabus for GCSE English Lit but simply screaming out in praise to the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. I asked them to learn the first stanza because, whether you’re a banker or a builder, everyone should know these lines of soft consonants and long vowels.

A few weeks ago the man and I took a walk up the field beside the house to watch the huge yellow Holland harvester gobble up swathes of barley, remove the stalks from its teeth and spit the precious, golden seeds into a tall trailer. I climbed up the ladder and sifted the gentle grains through my fingers. I wanted to touch the natural process of seedtime and harvest that goes on around us, largely unheeded.

I love the rhythms of the land. Already those rejected stalks have been curled into bales which rolled slowly down the hill and were carted off. This week the field was ploughed up – long rivulets of warm soil dotted with greedy birds. The earth waiting and resting like the goddess in Keats’ poem ‘sitting careless on a granary floor’ or sound asleep on a half-reaped furrow ‘drowsed with the fume of poppies’. She is the personification of the season, conspiring with the ‘maturing sun’ and waiting patiently by the cider press ‘watching the last oozings hours by hours’.

A friend of mine went to New England in the fall. She and her husband were eager to witness the spectacular display of vibrant reds, ochres and oranges on the undressing trees. However, the seasons were reticent to change and they missed the show. They met an American woman and expressed their disappointment to her. A few weeks later, on a cold Irish morning when my friend’s husband was ill and the future looked bleak, she received a box in the post. It was from their brief acquaintance in the States and it was filled to the brim with colourful autumn leaves!

Autumn is in no hurry. She knows that although she has been stripped bare – of sheaves and leaves, life will return if she can only watch and wait. It’s the resting in the glow of fruit-bearing satisfaction, a hiatus before the time for seeds to bury themselves in the cold ground, invisible but germinating nonetheless. There is a hint of winter in the final lines of the poem when the ‘gathering swallows twitter in the skies’. However, as the sun sets over the ‘stubble-plains’ and the birds prepare to fly south, autumn sings her own songs.

It’s hard to keep singing when the summer’s over and winter looms. In this world of rush, it’s important to take time to do autumn – to give thanks and store up a harvest of praise which will see us through the dearth of winter. As the wise man said there is, ‘A time to plant and a time to uproot.’ And in between there is a time to wait.

I don’t enjoy waiting. I always join the queue that seems to be moving quicker to avoid the misery of standing still. I want to get to the front quickly to find the answers I need and move on. Ghandi said, ‘There is more to life than increasing its speed.’ Stillness is essential as a seedbed of creativity and growth. Sometimes life’s experiences need time to incubate before they can birth something new.

In my nostalgic longing for warmer days and my fear of winter chills, I don’t want to miss out on autumn’s silence.

‘Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with his goodness, lost in his love.’