The Autumn Equinox

Salubrious air, free of the low fogs that were
(he wrote) like steam from cabbage water;
past scrubbed stoops and ram’s-head-knockered
doors, a daily walk through the cathedral yard
down to the river: how beautiful
the season was—ay, better than
the chilly green of spring, the warmed hue
of grainfields’ harsh stubs turned pictorial
with equinoctial bloom, the tincture of
the actual, the mellow aftermath of fever:
purgatorial winnowings, the harvest over.

Seamless equipoise of crossing: Nox,
primordial half-shape above the treadle,
the loomed fabric of the sun-god’s ardor
foreshortened, with a roar as if of earthly
fire, all twilit Europe at his back,
toward the threshold of the west: in me
thou seest such twilight, in me thou seest
the glowing of such fire as after sunset

floods the west’s unentered spaces. Black gates
shut against the sunrise; north and south, a mist
of nothing: the opening was to the west.

The opening of the West: what Miltonic
rocketry of epithet, what paradigm
of splendor in decline, could travel,
and survive, the monstrous region (as he’d
later depict it) of dull rivers poured
from sordid urns, rank tracts unowned
by any weed-haired god he’d ever heard of,
that had fleeced his brother George? “Be careful,”
he wrote, “of those Americans”—meaning
mainly a certain Audubon, of Henderson,
Kentucky. “I can not help thinking Mr. Audubon
has deceived you. I shall not like the sight
of him . . . You will perceive,” he’d also
written, “it is quite out of my interest to
come to America. What could I do there? How
could I employ myself ?” John James Audubon,
whether swindler or merely incorrigibly careless,
might carve a kind of wonder, a fierce, frightful
elegance, out of the houseless openings,
the catbrier-hammock deadfalls of that
unfenced paradise. But what could Milton,
from whom he’d set himself to learn, have done

to clear a path either for grandeur or
for simple ruth to enter? Look homeward—
where? What images, what language, fossil
child of all the dislocations of antiquity,
could clear that threshold? Like the mild moon
who comforts those she sees not, who knows not
what eyes are upward cast, Moneta, Shade
of Memory, Admonisher, when called upon—
whereon (he wrote) there grew a power within me
of enormous ken—showed only splendor fallen.
His peace made with the diminishments of autumn,

he now declared the second epic of the sungod’s
fall abandoned.
Hampstead: Fever
and passion. A comedy. A sonnet. In letters,
now and then a cry of protest. The rest
is posthumous.