It’s almost the end of Autumn, the time of year that John Keats famously described as the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. I was introduced to Keats as a teenager around 70 years ago, and fell in love with him at once. I am still absorbing his amazing poems, chewing them over with the work of many other English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and American poets. Though many of these poets are dead and much of their work lies in disregarded heaps, I still feed on these half-forgotten poems, just as trees growing in a wood absorb the nutrients of decaying leaves.
My Autumn poem is not only fed by this mulch of poetry but also by layers of scientific education and an interest in ecology https://www.britishecologicalsociety.org . As a result, particles of science have wormed their way into this poem. Some people feel that the tang of scientific facts can spoil a poem, others that science can be a savoury addition to poetry. You can decide if you like the taste of my poem or not.
The leaves begin to be unsettled,
the trees prepare to sever all connections,
there can be no sentimental attachments,
it’s all a question of profit and loss.
The machinery is dismantled,
any useful resources removed, each leaf filled
with chemical waste, the gates locked.
A vehicle for disposal arrives sooner or later
(the wind has its own chaotic schedules).
Golden leaves stacked with toxins
float down like fragments of fallen angels,
sink to the ground bearing their proud
blemishes, caterpillar chewn out gaps, lacy insect
underminings, spangle galls, mildew spots.
The dead leaves are laid out to be carried
on the tide of winter’s turbulence,
to be curled and crisped,
softened and squelched,
prepared for the fungi that destroy
and connect them. Wood lice,
grey, sea-forsaken crustaceans, chew the rot.
Leafy skeletons pass through the subterranean
pink circles of worms. Utterly cast out,
the leaves are ready to receive a benediction;
a thrush pours out a haunting song and then
bestows a crap that’s full of rowan pips.
As though enchanted by the mould and dung
wispy roots strike out, green wings unfold.
The photographs on this page were taken on November 25th at the Cwmtalwg Local Nature Reserve, Severn Avenue, Barry, Facebook @cwmtalwgwoodsgroup.