A Harvest of Beans and Poetry

Same thing happens every year: Come the end of summer, I jump straight to the conclusion called winter. But, as with Mark Twain, assumptions of the year's demise turn out to be "an exaggeration."

On the allotments, sweet peas flower on and on; courgettes (zucchinis) still sport chrome-yellow trumpet blooms and convert them hastily into fruit; runner beans produce long slender pods as if there's no tomorrow.

"Oh no!" cries one's nongardening fellow-traveler at home, "No! Not more beans!"

I know what she means. The freezer's full to the lid with vegetables. We have started giving beans away to the deserving and the not-so-deserving. The dreadful cool and wet of August have been transformed into days of beaming sun, and the plants (not terribly intelligent at the best of times) clearly believe summer has come at last - or maybe next spring.

Yes, this is the enchanted season when television newscasters and weather persons intone one of the three fragments of poetry they know. "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," they suddenly remark, apropos of nothing in particular. It's just something they do. Part of their job. In the fall.

THEY are probably less familiar with Katherine White's witty lead to a story she wrote for The New Yorker in 1958 about the way gardeners pore over seed catalogs at year's end. She began: "For gardeners, this is the season of lists and callow hopefulness...." I came across her piece just the other day, and this morning my first mail-order seed catalog for next spring arrived. Preparations for spring begin earlier every year, like preparations for Christmas.

Tulip bulbs have been in the garden centers for months, and there is absolutely no need to plant them, whatever the salespeople say, until January for perfectly successful growing and flowering. Garden centers are just out to exploit our callow hopefulness, I suppose, before the Christmas overspend kicks in and we feel we really shouldn't (should we?) treat ourselves to dispensable luxuries like tulip bulbs.

Come to think of it, it says a lot about John Keats that his work has survived those annually repetitive newscasters and weathermen, not to mention New Yorker parodies. But anything more than the first line of his "To Autumn" (sound bites being what they are) is not generally quoted. This preserves the poem, perhaps, from what overfamiliarity breeds.

We mere practitioners of the written word (who go blundering on like clockwork toys though continually told that no one either does, or can, read anymore) are still allowed a little more space than the tele-folk, so I can indulge a few more favorite words from Keats.

How about all the words of the famous ode's first stanza?

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

What more can one say, except it is beautiful and true, true and beautiful? I think I might inscribe it (in purple-black elderberry juice from the bush in the corner) under the eaves of my shed. All of it.

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