Maple yellow, maple red, I see
the killing splendor of your canopy
outside my window as I lie abed
gathering this morning’s go-ahead,
whispering this small apostrophe—

how gracefully you ride time’s tyranny
and know exactly how to be a tree,
rubrics never read, sermons unsaid,
maple yellow, maple red.

Soon you will die, to some degree,
turn prickly gray as colors flee;
but you’ll grow back the brights you shed.
This time next year, I may be dead
while you, most likely once again, may be
maple yellow, maple red.

53 responses »

  1. Lovely images – lovely. Have we reached the point where statements like yours of the third-last line need to be made…?
    I should prefer to believe that it was merely a handy rhyme, Cynthia …
    “As seasons pass, those colours fled,
    I’m confident that once again you’ll be
    map yellow, maple red.”
    There now ! – isn’t that more cheerful ? ARE poets cheerful ? – surely …
    I apologise for being so impudent: I just can’t bear for you to say that.

    • There…there…I was only fooling. [raised eyebrows]. Poets do that. But cheerful? No, I don’t think poets are cheerful. The cheerful ones are the poetasters. The rest are sad, cryptic, funny, nuts…but rarely cheerful…..more like descendants of soothsayers, and that sooth in the line you refer to is one of their favorite sooths to say things about. (It’s also something I honestly do say to myself, now that I’ve reached a certain age). I totally enjoy your impudence, M-R, and thank you!

      • I believe I have been thinking about dying since I was about … oh, 50 or so. Is this unnatural ?
        I don’t mean all the time; I mean only that the thought floats in and out of my bonce …

        • I don’t think that’s unnatural at all…what’s more natural, inevitable and universal? That “mid-life crisis” we hear about is probably a sudden realization that time may be running out. Of course I cannot judge what’s normal or natural on this subject; my dad was an undertaker (when he wasn’t performing as a magician) and we lived upstairs from the funeral parlor in a huge old house. As a child, at night in my attic bedroom I could hear the weeping and keening of mourners and smell the memorial flowers…..there was probably never a time when death wasn’t a part of my thoughts… The death of my partner of 43 years, in 2010, by sudden brain aneurysm, ….was such a great sorrow, a kind of death-in-life that has left me matter-of-fact, now, about my own.

          • Ah. That explains a good deal. You are far more recently bereaved than I; and yet you function so well … Something to do with intellectual muscularity.

  2. Fabulous poem, Cynthia–my fave part is, “gathering this morning’s go-ahead”. What a perfectly beautiful and accurate expression of that feeling we know too well as we face another day’s challenge. Eloquent, elegant–makes me think of Truman Capote’s style.

    • Oh yes, that gathering takes longer on some days than on others. I’m tickled you like that line, Ms. P. …a happy accident caused by my wish to keep to the rhyme scheme of the rondeau. Love when that works. And I appreciate the nice things you said about the other lines too!

  3. Cynthia, my writing tutor says that at this time of year he always writes a poem about autumn, knowing full well autumn poems have been written over and over again for many years but it is his attempt to try and say it difderently yet again. Well, you have certainly scored with this one because it’s just gorgeous. And listening to it enhances its depth of meaning beautifully.

    • There are those who think our human living these elementary, simple things has already been expressed in the past, and that now we need something more exotic, expressed in obscure forms…more current, up-to-date (whatever that means). I say–as I did in an earlier poem about the sun–…the oldest things never get old. Of course, you know that…you’re still marveling, as I am, about things like Theodore and bees! Thanks, as always, Christine.

  4. Cynthia, in β€˜Maple Yellow, Maple Red’ you have created a poem that not only reads well and fills the mind with gorgeous autumn imagery, but also captures something profound. I believe the average lifespan of a red maple is around 130 years, not great in tree terms but considerably longer than ours. In reminding us of our mortality, your tree inspires us to savour every precious moment, to take naΓ―ve pleasure in the fact of our own existence at this precise moment in the history of the universe, to humble ourselves in joy.

    Yes, a wonderful poem – thank you,


    • That’s an interesting fact, about the lifespan of the red maple. I always tend to think of trees as being very long-lived, like the giant sequoias on the west coast, USA. Of course, here in the state of Maine, great forests provide most of the industry, so trees are cut before they have a chance to die a natural death….so yes, I never gave much thought to the proper lifespan of the maples. Thank you! And for your kind words, too, about the poem. It’s very gratifying when someone “gets it.”

  5. One thing that I’ve learned in my short time here is that I greatly enjoy having your voice saying the words as I follow the read. You have a way of bringing forth a fitting rhythm … and especially in this case, when it’s one of nature’s rhythms. Well done!

    • Being a dance afficianado, you know about rhythm, and I’m pleased with what you say here, Frank. When I decided that my blog would be just poetry, I had no inkling how much of the traditional verse forms in English had been scrapped by working poets, and yet how satisfying they still are to those who hear them. It’s as if you were to scrap the waltz, tango, and cha-cha
      as “outmoded” and insist that only the latest variations on the boogaloo were valid forms of the dance. Of course we know it’s the skill and heart of the dancer that counts most, not the latest fad. This poem is a traditional rondeau…and that’s where the sound and beat of its dance comes from.

  6. Your words are vivid imagery of blazing reds and yellows of autumns yesterday and tomorrow, the assurance that life still goes on as we witness this natural cycle of awe and splendor. Simple and elegant Cynthia –

  7. As usual your work is full or resonant imagery – it is a poem worth reading and re-reading, hearing and re-hearing.The third last line also bothered me with its sad allusion; I rather like MR’s happier suggestion. On the other hand I can see that you are playing with the semblance of death which winter brings to the tree and the finality of our deaths or are you? I agree with the discussion above about the essence of good poetry – it often does indulge in sad thoughts as though the troubled mind produces more beautiful work – and we can cite many examples, perhaps starting with Sylvia Plath. You should be very happy that your work is garnering allusions to Truman Capote and Sylvia Plath – what’s next?

    • Good question, Jane. I really have no idea what’s next! Except that my book of poems will be out next month (I’m seriously toying with the idea of including a CD)and I already have a slew of poems for the next one. My mind isn’t troubled about mortality but it is, of course, more on my mind with each passing year now. “The future” gets tinier and tinier…

  8. Cynthia, with the exception of the third to the last line, you almost had me missing summer a bit less… As for the line in question, we never know and must live as if each moment were the last so dance on my friend!

  9. Such an interesting and different way to talk of autumn Cynthia – so good! I’ve seen so many really different ones this year, it’s difficult to be completely original with these autumn poems, but you have certainly achieved that here. Although, I really do hope you are still here next year!! πŸ™‚

    The recycling process of the seasons is an intriguing subject to me, and much of life is the same, we go rotate in cycles. I hope that we are too, in one way or another (recyclable) maybe we don’t completely come to an end when the end comes? But which ever way it is, it’s what it is, and not much we can do about how things are. It would be nice to have a surprise, and find it’s not an end.

    Just wondering if you might like to see this one, it’s a blog I started following very recently. She has largely written about a poet called Will Harvey, but if you scroll down to the end of the post you will see her own autumn poem. I thought it was beautiful, and again quite different to any I’ve read. I thought maybe it might be the style of poetry you may like?

    • I have to chuckle, thinking about how it seems an unwritten rule that we who write poems must have an autumn poem every year. Of course there are poems for the other seasons, too, but autumn seems to push the seasonal urge the most. Glad you liked this one, and like you, I think it would be wonderful if demise gave way to a surprise…(oh lordy, that rhymes!). Thank you for the link to Allison Brackenbury’s poem; I went there, read it, and enjoyed! πŸ™‚

      • Yes, I know what you mean it is amusing that we are so drawn to have autumn poems on our blogs, so many do. In fact you can chuckle some more soon, because I have one coming up! πŸ˜‰ I really wasn’t going to write one this year….but, it just came out…again!! I love your rhyme Cynthia!! πŸ˜€ I struggle to find good rhymes these days, but it’s amazing how they come out so well when you are not looking for them at all!

        • Have you ever used a rhyming dictionary? I have a tiny pocket one that’s very old–looks like it’s been through a couple of world wars–but it’s still inspirational…that and a thesaurus I use all the time.. (being a language nut). You’re also right about how they come out well, sometimes, when you’re not looking for them. End rhymes (at the ends of lines) can easily become sing-songy…that’s when it’s good to let internal rhymes, alliteration and assonance make the music. I also find traditional forms helpful, sometimes, for instance I followed the form of a rondeau in this poem….and now I’m looking forward to YOUR poem! πŸ™‚

          • Oh yes, I have used several rhyming dictionaries, and also some online ones too. I like the online web dictionaries they make it so much faster to find what I’m looking for. I think my problem is, I’ve been away from rhyming my poetry for so long now, I don’t really like what I come up with when I try a rhyme – it often feels contrived, and I really don’t like that. I think I’d be fine if it was a humorous poem, but I haven’t done one of those for ages either. I’m just all out of practice!

            I like the sound of your old dictionary! There is something reassuring about a book you’ve had a long time – like an old reliable friend!! πŸ™‚

  10. I insist on you being alive this time next year, Cynthia, and not just through your poetry. However that may be, it is late autumn here too, and the maple colors are fading. This may seem a bit strange, but this reminds me of the tone of Keat’s sonnet “When I have fears that I may cease to be.” Keats was young when he wrote it, of course, but already fearing the early death that would come. The sad part is that he died not knowing that he had become an immortal poet just the way he dreamed he would. You are not young, of course, so your intimation does not have the same timbre to its song, but there is still that longing, thinking of riding gracefully ” time’s tyranny” (a good, strong, clean line). The conceit here is, as usual strong, a usual strength to your work. The final stanza with its metaphorical hint at a spring of resurrection and its complex, sardonic note, “This time next year, I may be dead,” while the tree’s go on with their business of the seasons is triumphant.

    • You’ve sent me back to read Keats again, though I do have so many of his lines by heart. Keats was worried at a young age that there wouldn’t be time to say all that he had to say– to be all that he could be–such a universal, utterly human concern….to die “too soon”. But when is “the right time” to die? Is there ever any right time, in our own minds? Keats played with one answer in Ode To A Nightingale….” To cease upon the midnight with no pain/while thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad..” His faith in the immortality of imagination and poetry was astounding, something we who are similarly tethered share to some degree I guess. Thanks, Thomas!

  11. Something to be said about the solid predictability of trees. Gives a sense of rootedness in one’s life. Of the “objects” I most vividly remember about the house I grew up in, trees are pretty much near the top. Mango, papaya, lemon, even a tree-like cactus plant more than ten feet high.

    • I agree,’s as if the trees we live among are like a theatrical stage setting where the little drama of one’s life takes place, now and in memory…Mango, papaya, lemon, seem wonderfully exotic to me, as I sit here among oak, pine, maple, hickory….

  12. What a beautiful poem. I think that autumn is one of the four most perfect seasons to think about death but also the one that has the most ravishing color complements into which to plunge. I love the way the metre changes as if to jolt one out of the simple splendor of beauty and into real thought. I think about the poetry of Keats as I read this.

    • Thomas Davis (above) also recalls Keats. The “as if to jolt ” moment , though totally natural to me, seems one of those love/hate things that happen in poetry. I’m really happy you like this one, Natalie!

  13. Another beautiful poem Cynthia. Rich and redolent with autumn in all it’s meanings and connotations! Simple and simply beautiful! A reality as mature as fine red wine – all the better for the ageing! πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  14. Cynthia, how I love this! It flows with almost a tenderness, and an acceptance of nature taking its course – which it will. (I have the same thoughts – about trees, life, death, cycles…. but have never been able to write about them as eloquently as you.) Did I mention that I love this one?

    • Thank you so much, Betty..not just for compliments, but for a poet’s understanding of the process, as well as the work itself. You know, yourself, that such readings are a gift—hoped for, and truly relished when they come along.

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