“…gathering swallows twitter in the sky.”
—John Keats, “To Autumn”


Come autumn, gathering swallows twitter in the sky;
their song portends oncoming bitter from the sky.

Chickadees hop amid the rose hips ‘til
in pursuit of blue they flitter toward the sky.

Lingering gladioli lean along the fence
aiming one last blossom-spitter at the sky.

Indian summer, you old scoundrel, heartbreak
mocker of the stars, you are a counterfeiter of the sky.

Earlier darkness doesn’t faze the ever-blinking
radio red eye of the transmitter in the sky.

Electronics do not know this is the melancholy
season, though they sense a jitter in the sky.

It is the season when things die, return to haunt
in guises ravelled by cloud-knitters in the sky.

When I am old…am I already old?…then I
will head, shed all this earthly litter, for the sky.

O hold me tight tonight, you cold, you bright
immutable, you ever-fickle glitter in the sky.

64 responses »

  1. You’ve mastered the form! you ever-unfickle blossom-spitter! You’ve captured the grittier aspects of autumn – the other side of the page from the softer mists and mellow fruitfulness…

  2. So much autumnal beauty in your words, Cynthia. And I’ll agree: that Indian Summer is a bit of a cad–a dissembler, to be sure, pretending that the glory days of summer have returned.

    I was not aware that twitter was around at the time John Keats was writing. Sometimes, when staring at the great vault in the sky, my sense of chronology goes somewhat askew.

    • You noticed!!! I was wondering if someone would pick up on the “twitter”. It inspired the entire set of rhymes for this poem. ( But somehow I don’t think Keats would be one of those tweeting twits, even were he alive today.) Thank you for my biggest, happiest laugh of the week!

      • I used to like the word twitter, but it has now been despoiled by some ersatz meaning. Still, you and John have taken the word back, and I am grateful.

        I can understand how the John Keats quote inspired you. And you were able to see beyond the crassness of social media and find beauty in some older world, some older words. Indian Summer may be sulking after that rebuke (oh, that cad), but Autumn is surely smiling–and, indirectly, by providing a colorful canvas for little birdies to loll and sing in, tweeting.

      • I’m not so sure that Keats wouldn’t have tweeted. I follow a couple of people who do “micro poetry” on Twitter and it’s incredible what can be done in 140 characters. You gotta go where the readers are and that’s where the young fry hang out. If it hooks them in, and makes them love poetry, I took this book out of the library a while back and it actually got perused by the young adults AND the 15 year old in the house.

        • Of course we can never know what the dead would do now, if they were alive. I base my supposition about Keats on my reading of his work….the personage who comes through to me is that of a true poet (by my lights, of course) and not a chit-chatter, concerned with social exhibitionism or what other people, superficially, think.

          I’m familiar with yolo, and micropoetry. To me it’s occasionally an idea for a poem, but not a poem .It’s very small; in fact so small that I can hardly see it at all….oh look: I’m not looking at it anymore! Please don’t make me have to look at it anymore, until someone writes it!

          Of course I’m being facetious. My great love and concern with poetry is lifelong and has evolved over time. As a teenager I might have liked micropoetry and the plethora of so-called haiku and maudlin coleslaw that passes for that genre nowadays, but I doubt it. I was too “out of the loop” for that. To me it’s not poetry. It totally turns me off. For different reasons, current academic poetry turns me off, too. Funny, but I have no interest in hooking people to poetry, or making them love it; that makes it sound like just another difficulty that will do you good, or… micropoetry (like marijuana) as a gateway drug! And one thing poetry is not, is a drug, for it runs toward, not away, from actuality.

          So here I am, all turned off to the trends, inching my way a bit at a time toward….poetry? It’s a vocation, a curse, a given that insists on staying. As with pornography, I cannot (will not) define it…but I know it when I see and hear it. It’s not generally on twitter.

          • Hoo boy! I think I hit a nerve here. This is why people love commenting on your posts, Cynthia. You are so passionately forthright. By “hooking” people on poetry I meant opening the door to interest, not so much dragging them kicking and screaming and making them eat it like spinach because it’s good for them. We shall agree not to define poetry, then, and leave it at that.

  3. As the seasons fail and age, so we too fail and age …………….. Ah well!! This is the first time I have heard a seasonal poem read with these references to our electronic age included. It pounced me from timeless to modern and made such a difference in perception! You may be the littleoldladywho but you are modern and hip to boot!! 🙂

    • These comments today are such fun….from being called a blossom-spitter, to a wish to steal the cloud-knitters, to a silly image of John Keats tweeting….and now you’re calling me hip (ouch, don’t say “hips”!) to boot. So I need to boot myself up like a computer, or boot myself out the door and go fishing in a pair of hip boots…..wonderful, Pauline. Thank you for bringing your springtime spirit to my autumn!

  4. This one is rich with hidden meaning and demands many enjoyable readings. Keats’ Ode to Autumn is one of my favorites and so, incidentally, is the Indian Summer. Often it is the only true summer that we got in the UK. Here, in Austin, Texas, autumn is a welcome season as it heralds our best six months of the year. Already 100 degree days are gone and the outdoors (and twittering birds) call us to enjoy our gardens and the outdoors. Many plants, dormant during the hot summer days are now reemerging. Life is good.

    • One of the things I really like about blogging is the appreciation I’ve gained of the differences of climate all over the world and as close by as the distance from Maine to Texas. And it’s funny to be writing about autumn when friends are posting lovely pictures of their gardens coming to life with spring flowers in the southern hemisphere. I can imagine you are looking forward to really nice weather now, and the chance to enjoy the outdoors, just as we’re getting ready to hunker down for serious indoor time. But I like this oncoming period of going inner, and quieter also….good for poetry and contemplation, if not for gardening! Either way, I agree, Jane…life is good.

    • Well, it’s that ghazal form, again, and I always hope the required repetition isn’t going to kill it, but that’s the fun of the challenge. I’m glad you think this one works, M-R, thanks. Thinking of you and hoping for good things. ❤

  5. Hold me tight tonight conjures up images of being hugged by the stars, hardly what you meant, but nonetheless…I also like the lines on electronics–we don’t think of their effect, or the inertia of them. It stays the same if one doesn’t connect.

    • I like the hugging with stars. Funny about the electronics…when I lived on a peninsula in Massachusetts, there was a huge radio tower with a red light not far from my house and it seemed imperturbable by any weather or season as it shone day and night. In trying to follow the rhyming stricture of the ghazal, once I settled on Keats’ “twitter” and thought of jitter I got pleasantly involved in a labyrinth of reading about the electronic “jitter” which is an electromagnetic interference or deviation in a communications link that can cause things like a sudden flicker in a display monitor of a computer or an odd click in an audio signal. It seems we humans aren’t the only ones who can get the jitters!

      • I did like the way you got all the ‘itters’ in-even when indian summer the heartbreak counterfeiter. For me, indian summer is more an old friend rushing back for a last minute visit; you know it can’t last! It’s fascinating what can happen when you look up a word, isn’t it? I think sometimes electronics have more jitters than we humans do! Glad you liked being hugged by the stars.

        • Since I learned, from your own blog, how apprehensive you were about the summer’s ending, and that you seem to much prefer the toastier weather, I could easily guess that Indian Summer would be more friend than foe to you. So I thank you for being such an amiable reader—able so kindly to “suspend your disbelief” when you encounter autumn lovers like me! 🙂

          • Ah, I have come to view it more as a time of rest, but I do like the summer warmth. We are all different and sometimes poetry tells us how that is as well as how we might be the same. There’s a poem discovered a few years ago attributed to Larkin (and very like him, so it may be his):
            We met at the end of the party
            When all the drinks were dead
            And all the glasses dirty:
            ‘Have this that’s left’, you said.
            We walked through the last of summer,
            When shadows reached long and blue
            Across days that were growing shorter:
            You said: ‘There’s autumn too’.
            Always for you what’s finished
            Is nothing, and what survives
            Cancels the failed, the famished,
            As if we had fresh lives
            From that night on, and just living
            Could make me unaware
            Of June, and the guests arriving,
            And I not there.
            Well. What an insight that was into the person looking at the past and angry about the diminishing future. And into how annoyed they are with those of us who don’t see it that way. Poetry is enlightening, but I guess one does have to come at it openly. Your poems are always a pleasure!

  6. Bravo, Cynthia! I see you’ve grown comfortable with the ghazal form. I find the repetition lends a cohesion where otherwise the reader may find consternation in the juxtaposition of nature and electronics. But you knit a seamless tapestry of imagery with this poem. You word-knitter you!

  7. Gladioli are among my favourite flowers but they have become associated with funerals which is a shame. Your image of them leaning on a fence puts me in mind of a daydreamer stopping to gaze at the blue sky – tall, lean, beautiful patiently waiting for what’s next but reminding us of gladiola glory days.

    • I agree…they remind me of funereal floral baskets. Maybe they use them so much because they’re tall and sturdy and make a nice background for an arrangement that’s mostly going to be seen only from the front. My grandmother used to love them. I like the way the blossoms start to open from the bottom, and to the side, one at a time, and when you get to the last one at the top, it’s pointing up….and spits the last flower at the sky. I think the name has the same root as “gladiator” because they look like I’m picturing two guys in a duel, each brandishing a gladiolus stem…..and getting into your flash fiction territory!

      • I planted scented gladioli in a pot on my deck and though they are structurally similar to the regular variety, they look exotic like something you’d find in a tropical climate. They’re all white and the flowers droop a little. When I walk by them they give off the most beautiful fragrance. So I get to enjoy them without feeling like the neighbours are wondering who died at our house.

  8. I’ve been catching up with your recent posts this evening, Cynthia, and I have enjoyed this and a couple of your earlier ghazals, Cynthia. It sounds like a form you can really have fun with, spinning (as in a previous poem) or spitting (as here) out variations on a theme. Some Arabic students I once taught liked to remind me of the Arabic words that made it into English, and one that they mentioned was ‘gazelle’… Is that a homonym of ghazal, I wonder, or, in fact, the very same word? It seems appropriate for these poems, somehow, with the little flourish near the end of every second line…

    • Our word ‘gazelle’ does indeed come (through the French) from the Arabic ‘ghazal’ (only they pronounce it more like guzzle!). This poetic form originated, or so I read, with one who was describing his lover as a graceful gazelle, and for some time was a form for only love poetry. It was adapted to many other subjects over time, from politics to metaphysics.

      I’m particularly fascinated with what happens to my thought process as I try to follow the requirements of the form….it’s written in couplets which are supposed to be able each to stand alone as well as together, “like the beads of a necklace,” as it’s described. You should be able to extract any one of the ‘beads’ or move it to a different place in the sequence without doing any damage. The sense of organic unity that we look for in our English poems is irrelevant to the ghazal. The thing that holds the couplets together is the constant repetition of a final word or phrase, which must be immediately preceded by a rhyming word throughout the poem.

      Obviously one has to decide on the repeated word(s) and the rhyme even before getting very far into the poem—which makes it interesting because the language dictates the thought process and you don’t know what you are going to say until you play with it. The only other formal dicta are that the lines should be all of the same length (accentual or syllabic or both) and the length of the whole poem tends to range anywhere from 5 to 15 couplets. Was it Shelley who said that in the end poetry is really about poetry?

      You’re right, it’s fun! Thanks for coming by to read and comment, Andy.

  9. A beautiful depiction of oncoming Autumn Cynthia. Here in the UK we have a rare prolonging of summer weather, save the morning mist blankets! Walking along the canal with my dog earlier swinging bare arms in sunshine. Feels like a tease before the usual onslaught of rain and gale force wind arrives! 😊

    • Thank you, Karen. I used to think that the weather in Old England was just like our weather in New England, but I’m learning that it’s not quite….we’re cool, brisk breezes but not forceful winds, sunny and dry, and enjoying the onslaught of heartbreakingly beautiful foliage color.. 🙂

  10. This had an interesting effect on me. I don’t (and I checked) move my tongue while listening to your words, and yet the repetitions and the assonances (?) have left my tongue feeling exercised and manipulated… The brain’s activities involved the tongue in verbal gymnastics without even activating it.

    • That is so interesting to hear, Hilary. I keep wondering about the effect of this form, which requires that repetition, immediately preceded by the same rhyme throughout the poem. In the original languages (Farsi, Urdu) it is chanted/sung, and here we have the adaptation in English which still mystifies me as to its effect. I’m learning the effect of the form on composition but it’s also good to hear of its effect on a reader/listener. Thank you!

  11. You make autumn sound so lovely, even electronics sensing something in the skies, I really like that idea!! 🙂 These changes, they creep on so quickly, and before we know it, autumn has passed. I like the repetition of sky too, that works extremely well. 🙂

    • This poem is a “ghazal in English”, a form I am currently experimenting with. It requires that kind of repetition as well as a rhyming word preceding the repeated phrase, all the way through the poem. A certain effect is created by all this….I’m not sure what, but I find it interesting, sometimes kind of hypnotic. When I read that poem about “twittering” birds by the famous John Keats, I couldn’t resist the associations with our current electronic, twittering culture! 🙂

  12. A fitting so-long message to a colorful season that brought a rich energy to all nature’s blessings. I could feel the loosing steam of time through your words, as the imagery painted scenes that will stay in my mind as the cold of winter draws near. Your choice of scenes bring about a quiet hush as all things get ready for the change of seasons ~ I’ve missed your work.

    • Of course you know what autumn is like here, where I am, but I think the new season will be a blessing for you, too, won’t it? I hope so. And I hope your recent bereavement and even your damn cold will fade into the past leaving you a gentler time. Thanks, my friend.

      • You are so right Cynthia, a breather from the hot and dry (if you can believe this) after all the heavy rains in the Spring, we’ve had but a trace (not even 1/2″) since June. Definitely looking forward to the wet rain.

        Thank you for your kind thoughts, we are working on both.

    • How nice to find your comment here, Becky.! Keats sometimes seems like a kindred soul. Of course he never knew Twitter or Facebook, but as I was reading his “To Autumn” his use of the word twitter just jumped out at me! Thank you. I’m pleased you liked the poem. 🙂

  13. How did you discover “ghazals”? This is a form very popular in India, though, I believe, it has origins in the Middle East. And are mostly in Urdu. I did not realise you could have a ghazal in English as well 🙂

    • Ghazals in English, obviously are quite different from those in Urdu. The English ones are not sung, and probably wander far afield of the love poetry, and quasi religious poetry from which they take their name. There was a strong movement, in English language poetry, in the late 20th century to adapt the form….mostly by those who wanted to use it for a more surrealistic tenor. The poet Agha Shahid Ali, (1949-2001) who was born in New Delhi and grew up Muslim, in Kashmir, emigrated to the USA and was a well known university professor and poet here. He wrote poetry in Urdu and English. He took the Ghazal in English movement under his wing, so to speak, and championed the use of this form in a way that returns it to a certain strictness: It is made of couplets, like beads of a necklace; each can stand alone in meaning, yet each contributes to the whole poem. It uses a refrain which is repeated in the second line of each couplet; the refrain is immediately preceded each time with a word that follows a consistent chosen rhyme scheme. The whole poem is usually from five to 15 of these couplets.
      I’ve been working with it because I am fascinated by what happens when language is forced into a form—whether it’s a sonnet, a limerick, a rondeau, or whatever—and find that a structure often allows a great deal more inspiration and creativity than a completely open approach to writing a poem. Ghazal is just my newest favorite one!

      Agha Shahid Ali’s book on this topic: RAVISHING DISUNITIES: Ghazals in English

  14. You really are an inspiration! A master (well, a mistress really, I suppose, if one could dispense with all the associated connotations to that word!), a wordsmith supreme! This beautiful piece has provided the impetus to drive my poetry forward, just as I was contemplating ceasing to write as satisfying the popular hungry is not my aim – producing the purest, expression filled poetry is – as I suspect is yours – and you do it so, so well, it gives me hope that I may learn and give and follow! Thank you Cynthia! Wow – that does sound terribly serious doesn’t it! – heartfelt though! 🙂

    • I’m having fun with this particular form, Rob…though there’s always danger with so much of a refrain repeat, and consistent rhyme. Something you and I share is that desire for music in a poem, the music of language, even as it carries meaning and imagery. People don’t write in strict forms much anymore, and I understand that….they grew stale and contrived. But I still think it’s possible to bring some of it back….to modify a bit and update those ways of rhyme and rhythm. Anyway, it keeps me busy, trying! I’m so glad if this one gave you a nudge! Don’t give up the ship!

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