Monday, October 15, 2018

Stillmeadow - September

I realized that I have gone through most of The Book of Stillmeadow without noting Gladys' poems at the beginning of each month. Here is September's.

Song for September
Not that I ever had her for my own,
Quick in the house I heard her running feet,
Watched the door swing, garnered a sentence blown
Back to my stillness, "Friends I have to meet."
Nor that I knew her, never her secret thought
Came home to me, nor how she dreamed. I knew
Each growing year the size of clothes I bought,
And that her favorite sweater set was blue.

Now sober reason counsels me again,
This was not yours that goes beyond your sight.
Knowing this well, I must perceive with pain,
The bough is empty when the bird takes flight.

Bravely my mind assures me nothing's lost,
But oh my heart admits the killing frost.

Whew! That is deep and so poignant. I think that each monthly poem was generally more wistful, or upset than the prose entry. That's the thing about poetry, isn't it? It can often come right from the heart onto the page. There can be a depth that prose doesn't often touch.

Though my kids are now in their 30s, I still remember those periods of melancholy as they grew up. I had a friend who said of Margaret that she thought she would end up in Los Angeles. What pain that little sentence gave me. You just don't know where they will go. I am thankful every single day that my kids are so close, and that they love the home and the state where they grew up. Lucky, lucky.

This is one of the remarkable things about reading Gladys Taber, all these years after she wrote. She was born in 1899. Her daughter Connie was born in 1927. They are both dead now, but the feeling expressed in this little poem still strikes a chord in a parent's heart, as do all Gladys' essays. This has to be a sign of genius - that your words continue to resonate throughout the years.

So many of us seem to love the month of September.
September wind blows away the fatigue of summer heat, and the listlessness of August weather.
Fatigue and listlessness. Those are great words to describe this past summer. And September was a welcome relief, until we had a reprise of that weather for a few days. The difference was that I knew it wouldn't go on for ages, and the nights were cooler.

Even in my childhood I remember those few hot days that came back in September. I'd be walking home in my wool kilt (anyone remember them? and kilt pins?), simply boiling but I just had to wear my new school clothes no matter the weather!

It is certainly a month of changeable weather. Gladys says,
The September rains are something I just live through. The rain falls straight and dark and heavy and the leaves on every tree and bush are beaten down by the weight. The early-turned leaves are lost now. The rain seems sad, meaning the end of summer days. 
But she goes on,
I don't see how this month can be so exciting and at the same time so sad. It is like the second-act curtain in the play of summer. And every day you feel like begging the play to go on a little longer, before the floodlights go out, and summer is gone.
But there is excitement too. The dramatic first flame of maple, the burning gold of the goldenrod, the coming of the first wild blue asters and the richness of ripening pumpkins. Even the air seems to have color in it; one breathes the color, and the heart beats with it.
I am always frightfully sentimental now. Whether the second-act feeling is responsible, or the color goes to my head, I don't know. But I really go all out with sentiment. 
One of her "sentiments" is so lovely.
I wish we could put up this late summer sunlight in jars. If we could only pack it, clamp the bail down on the glass, set the pressure cooker for, say, ten pounds, and process jars and jars of bright, fresh, mellow sun. I can see how it would look with the jars ranged in the fruit cellar beside the chicken and piccalilli and tomato catsup. And on a dark January day we would bring up a quart or so of sunshine and open it and smell again the warm dreamy air of a late-summer day.
Isn't that just wonderful? It reminds me of my favorite Greg Brown song.

I actually put the lyrics on the blog eleven years ago when I'd been blogging just a couple months.

The Book of Stillmeadow was published in 1948, but the essays have copyrights dating from 1937. Gladys was writing about getting wood together for the winter, when suddenly she says,
We acquired some wood this month at a fearful cost. A small private hurricane descended on us, and in ten minutes took down all the old apple trees in the backyard. Wind and rain made a roaring darkness around the house. A window crashed in and water poured clear across the room, and presently the electric cables to the house were reft away and the place plunged into darkness. ... When day came I looked out on the back yard and felt sure my heart was broken. All the lovely old apple trees, so sweet with bloom in the spring, were sprawled on the grass. Only two were left at the edge of the lawn.
It was an eerie feeling to read this, as I had just seen in the September installment of the Friends of Gladys Taber (which you may read about here) that this past May a tornado went through Southbury, Connecticut. Luckily, the house was spared but a lot of old trees came down, including pines that Gladys had planted in 1938 to replace those 13 apple trees!

After telling Tom about these two things, he began reading Thirty-Eight The Hurricane That Transformed New England by Stephen Long. He thought it was a terrific book. I plan to read it myself sooner than later.

Gladys ends her September essay beautifully with a paraphrase of Keats' words.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too
It has been a little odd for me writing this in the middle of October, but September flew by. Soon, I hope to write about October, the last month in this book.


  1. Gorgeous post, Nan. My grand-daughter left for uni last month so it hits home rather. But like you I'm so lucky that both my daughters live close to enough to see on a very regular basis.

    I think you're able to watch our BBC programmes somehow aren't you? Autumn Watch this year has left UK shores and is coming from Squam Lake, NH. Not sure whether you're anywhere near that lake but it's so thrilling to see NH in the fall and all your wildlife.

    1. Yes! It is a joint venture between PBS and BBC! It isn't on here yet. I am only a bit over an hour away. Michael is even closer. SO exciting. If they had come here now, they wouldn't have any foliage to speak of, but it is south where they are so they should be alright. I only can watch English programs if Britbox or Acorn show them. B. did show Springwatch. I was so impressed at the detail, the complexity, and the knowledge. Just now am watching Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison driving around Britain. Only three episodes, but it is so lovely.

  2. Wow. I feel a bit stunned by all the connections to this book. I love the poem, but it does have a chill effect at the end.....But I am also lucky. All my kids and grandkids live in little Bath Township. Alice volunteers in the same elementary school library where I volunteered. I waqs just about to mention Greg Brown's song when i saw that you already had! I heard it when it first came out. From where? Prairie Home Companion? I lost an apple tree this spring. I really miss it....Reading about the hurricane, I remembered that it was often mentioned in Louise Dickinson Rich's We Took to the Woods. I think this time of year makes us feel strongly the effects of time and the human desire to cling to it all, to cling to life. Thank you for mentioning that book of Stephen Long. I'll look for it, though heaven knows when I will get around to reading it!

    1. Such a thoughtful (full of thought) comment. Thank you so very much. I love every word. Tom found the hurricane book very readable.

  3. Most of us can relate to Gladys Taber's emotional-ness in September, I suppose. I know I can! And since October here still feels very much like September (or even August, it gets summerly warm during the day), writing about September in October does not at all feel out of place.
    OK and I had icecreams in town on Saturday afternoon, it was so warm! It certainly saves on the heating bill, but altogether, such a warm October is not "natural" and the lack of water (it has not rained in ages) is rather worrying.

    1. It does seem to be an odd climate year. I think England is getting rain after a hot summer, so am surprised you aren't.

  4. Lots to think about and ponder here, Nan. I've always loved September, but it's my birthday month and that might have played into it. Plus I always loved the first days of school. Our fall, as you know, is much different that yours. However, here's a tidbit for you - on Monday it was 90 or 91 and yesterday it was 42. Right now, Tuesday morning, it's pouring rain, there's flooding in the Hill Country and it's 45. Whew! Now that's a Norther - Texas style.

  5. I've always wanted to know more about her daughter. I think Gladys was very protective of her privacy, privacy more of spirit. She wrote a lot about it from a mother's perspective, I think, but was careful not to speak too much for Connie. I always had the impression that she gave her daughter the freedom to be herself in her own time, once childhood was past.

    Did Connie ever write about her mother, do you know?

    1. I don't think she did. Are you a member of You would love it.

  6. This is such a nice meandering post, very appropriate for the energy and wistfulness of fall. We are having some cool misty mornings here in Florida, which is a big change from the 90s-every-day summer weather. But I still love the idea of putting up some summer or early autumn to keep it until one really needs it in gloomy wintertime. Feeling like we've had a nice cozy chat now. So nice!

    1. Meandering is a good word. I think Gladys is a champion meanderer! It feels like she writes as she thinks. I love what you wrote. Thanks!

  7. Thank you so much for these words you share. Since I am new to you, I wanted you to know how important they are for all of us.

  8. Thank you for visiting the Sissinghurst post I hope it brings the place a little nearer. I have been looking for the Stillmeadow books but haven't found any in the UK yet. I am lucky to have one son and his children nearby but my other is in New York and I do miss him. Paradoxically he felt further away as I flew over the Atlantic to visit him recently. We are so lucky to be able to talk easily in the phone without worrying about the cost.

    1. I understand exactly what you mean about feeling he was further away as you crossed the ocean. When we text or Facetime or something, the person "could" be a half hour away. I have a book on S. that an English friend sent me. I need to sit down and spend time with it.

  9. My mother's high school best friend's family owns an island off the Connecticut coast. Her father was away at school in 1938 when the hurricane hit. Everyone left the islands when the initial call went through and then the all-clear was given, so folks returned to the Sound, which left them utterly vulnerable when the hurricane switched direction and cut them off from the mainland. His parents were killed and his sister was found alive, but floating on a mattress. Having been to the island, this horrifies me, because that house -- a three-story Victorian -- is WAY above the normal water line and it boggles the mind how high the waves would have to be (and in a cove in the Long Island Sound, so it's not like the waves are especially big to begin with) to have that catastrophic result.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this. What a sad, terrible thing. The horror of it. I feel so bad for that family.


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