On welcoming autumn

May absence make this heart grow fonder?

“The changes of heaven and earth are the seeds of poetry,” wrote the great haiku master Matsuo Bashō.

I’m sure he’s right, but it is not always easy to welcome those changes. I find autumn difficult. Yes, it is Keats’ season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness,” but its portents of winter to come are like a cold stare from an unwelcome visitor. And it is a season that coincides all too accurately with aging, when memories loom larger than promises.

Tennyson catches something of the wistfulness:

In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

This autumn season I have found helpful the words of David Hinton, a scholar of ancient Chinese poetry. In Hunger Mountain, he speaks of the seasonal cycle as mirroring the cyclic nature of Taoist thought. That cosmology centres on two elements: Absence and Presence. Presence is the empirical universe—the “ten thousand things” we see and inhabit. Absence is the generative void from which all Presence emerges.

In the seasons, writes Hinton, we see “the pregnant emptiness of Absence in winter, Presence’s burgeoning forth in spring, the fullness of its flourishing in summer, and its dying back into Absence in autumn.”

I find it easier to embrace the dying back when I contemplate the essential nature of absence—a concept which is equally strong in Māori cosmology. Te kore, the void, is the necessary precursor of all that comes into existence. There is no presence without an antecedent absence.

Thus, like Hinton, I find that “To hear autumn rain falling on Hunger Mountain is to long for autumn rain falling on Hunger Mountain.” Seeing the whole quickens my spirit to the part—even if that part consists of shorter days, cooler winds, leafless trees and the tincture of loss.

In The Divine Comedy, Dante writes of a vision in which he glimpsed the entire spiritual ecology of the universe—the interconnectedness of everything.

Within its deep infinity I saw gathered in one volume, bound by love, the scattered leaves of the universe; substance and accident, and their relations, fused after such fashion that all which I tell is one simple flame. The universal form of this complex whole I think that I saw, because as I say this I feel my joy increasing.

As do I.

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