Field of Autumn' by Laurie Lee

farctatemountainousUrban and Civil

Nov 29, 2013 (3 years and 11 months ago)

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Field of Autumn'

by Laurie Lee


"Slow moves the acid breath of noon

over the copper
-
coated hill,

slow from the wild crab's bearded breast

the palsied apples fall.


Like coloured smoke the day hangs fire,

taking the village without sound;

the
vulture
-
headed sun lies low

chained to the violet ground.


The horse upon the rocky height

rolls all the valley in his eye,

but dares not raise his foot or move

his shoulder from the fly.


The sheep, snail
-
backed against the wall,

lifts her blind face but
does not know

the cry her blackened tongue gives forth

is the first bleat of snow.


Each bird and stone, each roof and well,

feels the gold foot of autumn pass;

each spider binds with glittering snare

the splintered bones of grass.


Slow moves the hour tha
t sucks our life,

slow drops the late wasp from the pear,

the rose tree's thread of scent draws thin
-

and snaps upon the air. "



Commentary on the Poem “Field of Autumn”



Nothing in our world is permanent. Everything has a lifespan, destined for expira
tion
upon one fateful moment. In the
poem

title
d

“Field of Autumn”, Laurie Lee depicts this inevitability
of an end to an existence through the description of a seasonal change, autumn passing, winter
coming. Not only are animals aware of the shift in we
ather but also are the inanimate objects like
the stone and the well, in which Lee imbues with a consciousness equal to that of the living.



A lyric poem, “Field of Autumn


consists of six stanzas, each composed of four lines. In
each stanza, the second
and the fourth lines rhyme, creating an illusion of constancy in ironic
contrast to the theme of
the
poem that every second brings forth an object closer to its doom. In
another sense, this rhyme scheme echoes the gradual process of decay, painstaking and

dragging.
Only partial degradation takes place at each moment, as symbolized in the back of rhymes between
the first and the third lines in each stanza. The fact that the fourth (also the last) line is the shortest
one in each stanza emphasizes the loss

of substance with the passing of time, in this case
-

the time
taken to read the lines. It seems as if the poem itself has decayed, and left with less than what it
started with.


The first stanza establishes the setting as noontime in the countryside.
The central topic of
the poem is stressed by the first word “slow”, which is used to describe the movement of a breeze
and a falling apple. The diction in the descriptions, such as “acid breath of noon”, “copper
-
coated
hill”, and “bearded breast”, carry v
ivid imagery and evoke sensory responses to the desolate scene.
The decaying process is in progress, symbolized by the “copper
-
coated hill” rusting away under the
“acid breath of noon”. The alliteration in the phrase “bearded breast” stresses the wrinkle
d surface
of the aged apple
tree that

is shedding its fruits at the end of autumn. In this stanza, change is
symbolized by the decaying field and the fallen apple,
both being
signs of an impending desolation.



The second stanza shifts the “camera” from t
he apple tree to a panoramic view of the
village and the sunset in the background. The simile “like coloured smoke the day bangs fire”
depicts not a blaze of destruction but metaphorically describes the colours in the sunset horizon,
and also the silent,
surreptitious departure of the warmth
-

given as the sun sets, “taking the village
without sound.” The quietude depicted in this line evokes a disquieting fear, born of the instinctive
repulsion from anything out of detection like this change, which is ove
rtaking the entire village
“without sound”. The next scene in view is the sun, which is tired and old, described as “vulture
-
headed.” The
bald head

of a vulture contributes to the imagery of the suns old age. In “his low”,
where the alliteration emphasiz
es the suns position on the flat horizon, because it is “chained to the
violet ground.” The comparison of the sun’s journey to a slaves’ is appropriate not only because it
follows a day
-
night schedule like a contracted worker but also it is bound by the i
nescapable destiny
to leave its position when the shift is over. In the second stanza, Lee utilizes the comparisons
between sunset and change to illustrate the secretiveness and inevitability of the latter.


The third and the fourth stanzas zoom in on two

typical farm animals, the horse and the
sheep, and focus on how they are affected by the seasonal change. Both animals sense the advent
of something new, and the passing of the golden autumn. The horse is moved with the sadness of
this realization that
it “does not raise his foot or move his shoulders from the fly.” This
outward
,
statue
-
like immobility is contrasted with the internal movement as it “rolls, all the valley in his eye.”
The diction “rolls” is normally attributed to physical frolicking in a field, but the action takes place
inside the horse’s eyes in this case. What

is keeping the horse from rolling physically? Lee does not
answer directly. However, drawing from the previous descriptions, decay and desolation, the reader
emphatically feels the sorrow of the horse as it registers in its mind the changing landscape.

Ironically, the horse stands “upon the cocky height” but feels the heavy weight of the “rocks” on its
heart. Similar to the horse’s resignation and helplessness to stop the change from taking place, the
sheep is portrayed as unintellectual but sensitive
on a primitive level. Its lack of intelligence is
portrayed by its “blind face” and the fact that it “does not know the cry her blackened tongue gives
forth in the first bleat of snow.” Although it is not fully conscious that the departure of autumn is
a
pproaching and the implications of this seasonal shift, it perceived something changing and thus
bleats out of distress. The diction of “blackened tongue” ominously portends destruction and death,
as all life forms are about to combat the brutality of win
ter upon the leave of fall. The phrase “first
bleat of snow” creates sound effects and evokes visual imagery, drawing a comparison between the
string of

staccato
noises and a
fusillade
of freezing flakes. The personification of the horse and the
sheep, a
ttributing to them characteristics of feeling animals mournfully witnessing the changes in
their environment, emphasizes the inescapable nature of change.



The fifth stanza extends the scope of observations to include “each bird and stone, each
roof and w
ell.” Not only are living beings sentient of the impending winter but also the inanimate
objects which also feel “the gold foot of autumn pass”. The syntax that places an animal and a stone
side by side illustrates the symbiotic relationship between them
: when the bird migrates, the cock
will be left lonely and friendless. The same applies to “each roof and well”, as villagers huddle in
their homes during the harsh inclement months, abandoning activities outside. The diction of
“feels” echoes the sensit
ive and partially unconscious acknowledgement of the horse and the sheep.
In contrast to the passive acceptance depicted before, the spider takes on the challenge to
b
ind

“with glittering snare the splintered bones of grass”. However, the wreckage of “sp
lintered bones”
are irreparable as a sense of pathos is evoked in readers, feeling sympathetic toward the spider’s
futile attempt. In this stanza, autumn is personified as a visitor to the countryside, about to take
leave, and this departure is depicted a
s destined and irrevocable.



Upon painting a setting of morose countryside on the brink of winter, and lending light
into the sorrow of inner animals and the inanimate objects in the village, the final stanza
summarizes the tortuous and slow process of wa
iting for an inevitable end of something cherished,
like “the gold foot of autumn”. The first word of the lost stanza echoes that in the first, a parallel
structure that emphasizes the outward semblance of consistency and as the word “slow” denotes,
the s
ubtle pace at which changes take place. Expanding on the topic of the autumn’s departure, Lee
compares the gradual shift of season to the termination of life. “Slow moves the hour that sucks our
life, slow drops the lost wasp from the flower.” The image

of the slow process of death is reinforced
here with a concrete example, illustrating the unfortunate fate of a wasp. The gradualness of this
degradation is metaphorically conveyed as “the rose tree’s thread of scent draws thin
-

and snaps
upon the air.”
The dash not only creates a moment of suspense but also contributes a visual
representation of a piece of thread stretched thinner and thinner across the space of time. The
diction “snaps” carries a sound effect that is in beat with the readers’ heartbeat

at this poignant yet
truthful conclusion. The lengths of the first three lines in the final stanza are uniformly long but the
last line is only half their length
-

the moment has come for the poem to end just as the subjects in
the poem are confronted wit
h the arrival of winter.


Throughout the poem, a sense of angst and solemn anticipation hangs on each line. With
the
“mid heath”,

the fallen apple, the “vulture
-
headed sun”, the saddened horse and sheep, and the
spider’s futile struggle, the slowness and
painfulness of waiting for a destined end effectively bring
the readers to emphasize with the experiences of the subjects in the poem, and perhaps reflect on
similar post memories. The tension is at last resolved with final conclusion when the thread of l
ife is
all taut and “snaps upon the air.” The theme of “Field of Autumn” is centered on the futility to resist
the passing of time and the inevitable destruction of the mortals, but the author has an ulterior,
more subtle purpose to creating the poem. Ha
ving led the readers through an emotional journey
confronting the advent and the anticipation of something terrible, Lee leaves the readers aware of
the pain of dreading death, thus warning everyone against it. The hidden message in the poem is a
call to
live without fear of the inevitable, to enjoy the present without worrying about tomorrow, for
this lifetime is all the time we have.




Note: The
IB
examiner gave this commentary a mark of 25/25 and wrote the following comment:


“There is very strong understanding evident here as well as sophisticated analysis and


interpretation.
There may be a couple of questionable assertions
;

this is excellent work overall.”