A Calendar of Sonnets: October
The month of carnival of all the year,
When Nature lets the wild earth go its way,
And spend whole seasons on a single day.
The spring-time holds her white and purple dear;
October, lavish, flaunts them far and near;
The summer charily her reds doth lay
Like jewels on her costliest array;
October, scornful, burns them on a bier.
The winter hoards his pearls of frost in sign
Of kingdom: whiter pearls than winter knew,
Oar empress wore, in Egypt’s ancient line,
October, feasting ‘neath her dome of blue,
Drinks at a single draught, slow filtered through
Sunshiny air, as in a tingling wine!
Helen Hunt Jackson
When colour goes home into the eyes,
And lights that shine are shut again,
With dancing girls and sweet birds’ cries
Behind the gateways of the brain;
And that no-place which gave them birth, shall close
The rainbow and the rose: –
Still may Time hold some golden space
Where I’ll unpack that scented store
Of song and flower and sky and face,
And count, and touch, and turn them o’er,
Musing upon them; as a mother, who
Has watched her children all the rich day through,
Sits, quiet-handed, in the fading light,
When children sleep, ere night.
Rupert Brooke wrote this immediately after the outbreak of the First World War. It is a preface to five further sonnets, the last of which is the well-known ‘The Soldier’ – If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. …
Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.
Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up
From the underground stain of a decayed Viking
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.
Then they grow grey like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.
Thistles are everywhere in summer and are often seen as a nuisance. As Ted Hughes makes clear, they are armoured, have been around for quite a while, and can be hard to get shot of. They are also beautiful, and very good for butterflies and moths.
THE soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings
With green hath clad the hill, and eke the vale;
The nightingale with feathers new she sings;
The turtle to her make hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs;
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings;
The fishes float with new repairèd scale;
The adder all her slough away she slings;
The swift swallow pursueth the flies small;
The busy bee her honey now she mings;
Winter is worn that was the flowers’ bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.
This is by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and first cousin to Anne Boleyn. He was executed, age 30, in 1547 having lost the trust of that other, more powerful, Henry. Howard is known, with Sir Thomas Wyatt, as the father of the English sonnet.
soote, sweet; eke, also; turtle, turtledove; make, mate; brake, thicket; flete, float; mings, mingles or remembers.