The passage of time feels most palpable during the autumn. “A darkness gathers though it does not fall,” Wallace Stevens writes in the poem “Auroras of Autumn.” Stevens defines autumn by both memory of hazy summer and anticipation of a long winter. There is something about falling leaves and temperatures that reminds us of broader human loss, and there is something about loss that draws us to our calendars, wondering what could have changed and how.
Autumn is also the period when, as Simon and Garfunkel put it, “a love once new has now grown old.” While spring bears the enchantment of new love and summer unveils its gradual downfall, in autumn we are left to cope with the aftermath of heartbreak. That is where they sing, “September, I’ll remember.”
Autumn is filled with the remnants of summer. As John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman’s rendition of “Autumn Serenade” goes,
Love was ours
Until October wandered by
Let the years come and go
I still feel the glow
That time cannot fade
The serenade’s summer feeling lingers like a ghost. The vivid colors of autumn occupy a transitory state between light and darkness. Orange leaves gradually overtake the green ones. Mornings become crisper as days become shorter, and harvest is the collection of a summer’s work before winter depletes our crops and our spirits. In many ways, autumn is defined by what it has left behind.
But autumn’s quietness does not merely invite its subjects to ponder what once was. For Nico, the fleeting nature of the season is more illuminating than taxing. Her song “Fairest of the Seasons” takes place in the wake of summer, where she sings with all her signature plaintiveness,
Now that it’s real
Now that the dreams have given all they have to lend
While summer offers an escape from the darkness that surrounds it, autumn eases us into something more real. Dreams play their part, but there comes a point where brightness is blinding. In autumn, there is room to think. By the end of the song Nico parts ways with her summer love, singing, “I’ll be leaving in the fairest of the seasons.”
Nick Drake makes a similar decision in his song “Time Has Told Me.” He sings,
So I’ll leave the ways that are making me be
What I really don’t want to be
Leave the ways that are making me love
What I don’t want to love
So during autumn, we don’t only leave behind a world superior in joy and beauty, but one that may not have been sustainable to begin with, one obscured in a summery haze. What would we do with an eternal summer anyway? As the Talking Heads puts it, “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”
That isn’t to say that the warmth of summer love has no place in autumn’s cool clarity. As green leaves turn to brown and experience fades to memory, there must be something to do with the memories that remain. In a protest against life’s temporality, artists grant past love a second, immortal life when they create songs, poems, and paintings. And after memory finds its refuge in art, the artist can move onto wintery experience.