The name – of it – is “Autumn” – / The hue – of it – is Blood –

Again, in the spirit of the “Ayame Society,” formed in England more than a century ago to encourage exchange between poets West and East, I offer the following poem on autumn, by the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Dickinson neither titled nor published her poems while she was alive (with some very few exceptions). And her punctuation is highly eccentric (a point I hope will provide no serious obstacles to readers unfamiliar with her work). In the first comment below, I’ll provide a few remarks about the language of the poem that Hailstoners new to Dickinson may find of use. But for now, simply the poem itself, in the hope that it will inspire responses in haiku for preservation here in the Icebox.

The name – of it – is “Autumn” –
The hue – of it – is Blood –
An Artery – upon the Hill –
A Vein – along the Road –

Great Globules – in the Alleys –
And Oh, the Shower of Stain –
When Winds – upset the Basin –
And spill the Scarlet Rain –

It sprinkles Bonnets – far below –
It gathers ruddy Pools –
Then – eddies like a Rose – away –
Upon Vermilion Wheels –

ca. 1862

Now, get to work & send in some autumnal haiku!

12 responses to “The name – of it – is “Autumn” – / The hue – of it – is Blood –

  1. Here are the remarks I promised in the above entry:

    First of all, readers unfamiliar with Dickinson should not be deterred by her queer punctuation and habits of capitalization. She typically used only short dashes for punctuation in her manuscripts (never any periods, semi-colons, etc.), and scholarly editors now respect her habits when bringing her poems into print. Second, it is likely that no special significance should be attached to her habits of capitalization; in this, she follows certain conventions of 18th century typography, where nouns were often capitalized where now they would not be. In any case, Dickinson’s dashes and capitals are so ubiquitous in her poetry that is seems unproductive to attach particular significance to any one instance of either.

    “Basin” in line seven figuratively refers to the sorts of enameled metal basins physicians used in the 19th century when “bleeding” patients, or in the field hospitals of the American Civil War (the “Nan-Boku Senso,” 1861-65). “Globules” also once had a medical meaning: in the 18th and 19th centuries it meant “a red blood cell” (as the Oxford English Dictionary tells us).

    “Vermilion” is of course a particular hue of the color red, but in mid-19th century America it often carried special connotations: it was the word typically used to describe the red paint certain Native American tribes adorned themselves with before going into battle. Here is the O.E.D., in definition 1.b. for “vermilion”: “Used as a cosmetic or for painting the body. In later use chiefly with reference to the ‘war-paint’ of the American Indians,” with the following examples offered in illustration: “1836 W. IRVING Astoria Happy was he who could render himself hideous with vermilion. 1843 MARRYAT M. When does a Comanche turn his back on receiving the vermilion from his chief? Never!”

    Finally, the possibly “martial” connotations of “vermilion,” when considered with the “bloody” imagery of the poem generally, strike some readers as significant. The poem was written in the autumn of 1862, one of the worst and deadliest seasons of the American Civil War. The battle of Antietam took place on September 17, 1862, and on that single day more than 22,000 men were killed or wounded; an exhibition of photographs of the battle-field was mounted in New York, and it was widely reported in the papers. Some readers find in Dickinson’s poem a transfiguration of these appalling events into something rich and strange and beautiful; but this is simply one possible reading of this arresting and perfect poem.

    Incidentally, popular conceptions of Dickinson as a recluse out of the touch with the world are largely unfounded. True, she almost never left her house after about 1861. But her father once served a term in the U.S. Congress, and had been, at one time, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts; the family was a very prominent one in Amherst. And Emily Dickinson was an avid reader of the newspapers. Nothing got by her.

    Now, for the haiku! Offer up what you have on autumn and its changing foliage!

  2. Something – then – to bridge poetry and haiku – one of my early haiqua – influenced by Nobuyuki’s – wonderful – Penguin Classic Basho translations –

    Grasslands under wild skies
    Accentuate the scarlet
    Rose-hip and rowan-berry,
    First blood of autumn.

    (Shere Downs, Surrey, England, 26.9.73)


    • Tito, that’s good. That’s very, very good: “First blood of autumn.” Thanks. We don’t call autumn (sometimes, anyway) the “killing season” for nothing. Which reminds me of “allelopathy,” for which see:

      The autumn colors we so admire are in many cases a kind of chemical warfare conducted amongst species of trees & other plants.

      Which then reminds me of yet another Western poem, this time by Robert Frost:

      The reason of my perfect ease
      In the society of trees
      Is that their cruel struggles pass
      Too far below my social class
      For me to share them or be made
      For what I am and love afraid.

  3. Thanks for these!
    I never believed I would be served such an education in my search and interest in learning to write haiku.
    Something I’m working on, perhaps overly brief, initially, then inspired to rewrite after receipt of a certain tome of poetry-meaning a hasty post and stand back and rub my chin in disbelief-may be attuned to a scene after a battle, be it on the field, or in one’s own mind. In shades of gray, and written by a modern U.S. confederate removed to a bastion of Yankeedom, a coarse Westerner inspired by the ‘mysterious’ East.

    oak leaves and shadow
    windstrewn shapes tinged by decay
    autumn contemplation

    • Glad you find this exchange useful, Willie! And thanks for the poem. I myself am a Reconstructed Southerner–from South Carolina, “The Hotspur State,” as they used to call it ca. 1850–with nothing but Confederate veterans way back in the family tree (oh, a score of them or so), dislocated now all the way to Kyoto.

      I take the liberty of offering another very Western poem on autumn, or rather on autumn taking into account the larger cycle of which it is part. By Frost, again:

      In Hardwood Groves

      The same leaves over and over again!
      They fall from giving shade above
      To make one texture of faded brown
      And fit the earth like a leather glove.

      Before the leaves can mount again
      To fill the trees with another shade,
      They must go down past things coming up.
      They must go down into the dark decayed.

      They must be pierced by flowers and put
      Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
      However it is in some other world
      I know that this is way in ours.

      As for me, I’ve not got the knack of haiku. Out of frustration with that I once penned, here in Kyoto, a sort of satire of my own incapacities–in the spirit of senryu, perhaps, but not haiku by any means:

      “A Literate Tourist in Kyoto: November 2006”

      That maple tree is getting itself off again.
      Les petit morts in mad vermillion.
      One thousand baby-hands clutch
      At their own roots, their mossy grounds.
      Damn! I dropped the postcard!

  4. If the purpose is to solicit haiku, this posting has not yet had the desired effect. Perhaps ED’s punctuation has baffled people. Time will tell. Meanwhile, a haiqua from 11 Nov. this year…

    On the way to her wake –
    Autumn tints
    All the fairer for
    Their tears of rain.

  5. Thanks, Tito, for that lovely haiqua.

    I agree with your assessment of my little attempt to revive, in some form here, the “Ayame Society.” I’ll think three-score & ten times before trying it again. I had expected Dickinson’s way of writing about Autumn to astonish at least a few folk into haiku. Alas.

    But I should say, at least I got two wonderful haiqua from one “Tito.”

  6. well then, if it’s the “Ayame Society” you desire-a similar thought came to me yesterday:

    violet light
    before mackerel clouds
    rush in
    not a single visit
    to the Japanese Garden

    alas, a true story this autumn!

    The Como Park Conservatory in St. Paul has fine outdoor gardens, as well as a greenhouse conservatory over a hundred years old.

    I’d been there numerous times as a schoolboy (a distinction I still maintain, in one form or another), had the pleasure of helping complete construction of the giraffe house at the adjacent zoo, and I’ve seen the garden in spring, yet I still have to view it in fall, in the rain, preferably, when the colors might really stand out.

  7. Dear Mark, thank you very much for the two beautiful poems about autumn. I enjoyed reading them very much. I was also reminded of Shelley’s ‘pestlience-stricken multitudes” and Keats”s ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitulness’. You call for haiku, but I find it difficult to write haiku inspired by any of these beautiful English and American poems, for they are so beautiful that whatever we write after them will sound like feeble imitations or superfluous additions. However, let me try. It will be just for fun:
    Golden leaves scuttle
    On the charriot of whirlwind
    To a no-man’s land.

    Leaves yellow and red
    Scattered by wild winter blasts,
    Nurturers of life.

    Buddha half-smiling,
    A ginkgo tree drops on him
    A shower of golden leaves.

    On a haiku journey,
    Everyone sits down to write,
    A mellow autumn day.

    You can probably tell which of the English and American poems I had in mind when I wrote thise haiku verses.

    • Yes, indeed I think I can tell, Yuasa-sensei–especially in the case of the first two. ;-) But in any case, all four haiku are lovely, and I thank you very kindly for sharing them here. Excellent! These poems are exactly in the spirit of exchange I’d hope to find. Many thanks again.

      Yours, Mark