{p7 on poetry friday: autumnal hymns}

Well, it was either this, or Emily’s poem to the tune of The Earworm We Shall Not Name…

It’s been a week… but despite the erratic nature of human nature, the seasons tick on; seedtime and harvest, summer and winter. And today we celebrate the steady metronome of the natural world with… hymn meter.

Isaac Watts, the mad rhymer, pretty much invented it, and Emily D perfected it. Not to be confused with the meter of hymn music, this deals with text, and is a fairly simple form. There are three categories of hymn meter: common, which is alternating lines of iambic tetrameter with iambic trimeter; long, which is iambic tetrameter the entire stanza; and short meter, which is two lines of iambic trimeter followed by a single line of iambic tetrameter, and finally returns to iambic trimeter for the fourth line. It’s actually more complicated to explain than to compose.

Because hymn meter was well loved by Emily Dickinson whose 236th poem, “Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church” has ever been used by earnest poets to get out of leaving the house at the weekend, I thought I’d dash off a quick nod to her. Of course, this effort isn’t true short meter, because the third line is not short by any means, and to make it even more hymn-like, I added a distinct refrain. This was me not trying to quite go with the rules just yet:

Keeping Emily’s Sabbath

cathedral light abounds
through old growth canopy
as crows produce a raucous sound, as fog’s damp surges all around
and we breathe autumn’s ease, in redwood panoply.

(no sermon, no sexton. birdsong, from every direction
the quail’s quiet sageness is truth for the ages, and never is service too long)

leaf-fall means death. Rejoice
in every dying tree
for autumn leads to winter’s choice. Then, ending, winter gives spring voice
and brings the honeybee, renewal’s guarantee.

(no chalice, no cantor: listen to the blue jay’s banter
the woodpecker’s rapping, its beats overlapping, and never is service too long)

scythe down, like autumn’s weeds
what binds you to the pew
no dome nor chorister a need, that “all are loved,” be that the creed
which Sabbath-hearts pursue; may Light be found in you.

No vestments, no hymn book. Take to the woods. Change your outlook.
Your body will thank you – the dogma will keep – and the sermon won’t put you to sleep.

Somewhere, my mother is perhaps despairing of my church attendance. *cough*

The next two poems I tried a little harder to both keep to the theme (why, oh, why is it that the minute someone mentions theme, poems spring forth from the forehead of Zeus on thoroughly different topics? I have the most contrary brain) and to the rules of form. This one in common meter goes out to the people who I annoyed on Twitter when I told them not to talk to me about pumpkin spiced anything until November… when I’m spicing pumpkins for pie:

There’s More To Life (Than Pumpkin Spice)

(There’s more to life than pumpkin spice
In autumn’s short-lived hoard,
Than cutesy “hygge” merchandise
You really can’t afford.)

Crabapples, crisp, without a doubt
When kissed by nighttime’s rime
Are twice as sweet, and Brussels sprouts
when roasted, are divine.

Bright hops, persimmons, leafy kale
Meld autumn’s rustic hues
Gold cannot stay, and fog’s exhale
Bronze streaks the sunset’s blue.

There’s more to life. Though pumpkin’s nice
Sing autumn’s fullest song —
Praise for short days in paradise
Laud nights, knife-crisp and long.

Hops really are gorgeous – Click if you’ve never seen them. There was a hop farm up near where we used to live, and though we don’t brew beer, it was A Big Deal to the many who do. Apparently the in-thing for decoration this fall is not hops, but… cotton bolls. Meh, I’ll pass. Give me that glorious hoppy green.

Finally, this is long meter, and while it’s definitely less… sparkly and dance-y than the rest, it likely lends itself to four-part voices and pipe organ beautifully.


Contrails streak skylines, white on blue,
Crossing guards heed the avenue,
Breath makes its halo misty cloud,
Fog folds the land within its shroud.

Schoolyards burst forth with raucous noise
Squirrels scold unheeding girls and boys
Bees labor long on winter’s hoard
Markets display their festive gourds

Landscape takes shades of orange and gold
Ocher and azure, tawny, bold
This serves as notice: time runs on
In this seasonal marathon.

Bright as a coin, the harvest moon
Draws down the drapes of afternoon
Last gasp of summer’s bright caprice
Leaves pass out autumn’s press release

This has been kind of a fun meter to play with! Enjoy more autumn-flavored selections from: Tricia, a this-girl-ain’t-growing-old ode from Liz; Sara brings the beauty to the dying season and Laura’s adorable tribute to Jack made me smile. Now, here’s Kelly‘s take on the form, and hugs to Andi; we’ll catch up with her later.

Even MORE autumnal poetry is found in Violet Nesdoly’s pumpkin patch!

14 Replies to “{p7 on poetry friday: autumnal hymns}”

  1. I’ve had my grandchildren as I wrote all the weekend, then struggled for some reason finding out that I didn’t have a proper log in in order to comment. Sometimes things go awry! But not in your poems, Tanita. Each one, though in that hymn form, is different, complex, and a pleasure to read. I like that you added to Emily D’s own sabbath, but especially loved your fall music. It is a wonderful season, isn’t it? Thanks!

    1. @LindaBaieHi! Thanks for dropping by! I’m sorry my commenting thing is weird, it’s apparently not really WordPress but looks like it. (I don’t even know what that’s about…) And I’m so glad you enjoyed our experiment with hymn meter. It’s such a rich season to draw from in the autumn – so many colors and textures, so it just lends itself to poetry.

  2. Tanita, these are fabulous! And all so different! Nature is everyone’s church, and that “(no chalice, no cantor)” refrain caught me up. Your ode to seasonal foods and funny rebuttal of pumpkin as the iconic flavor had me chuckling until that last line cut me: Laud nights, knife-crisp and long. Cut me. See what I did there? But seriously. Long, dark nights are a thing of utter beauty, and we don’t give them the honor they deserve, in my opinion! And then the seasonal marathon in the final one. I think I actually like “Bulletin” best, because its very conciseness (is concision a word) is at such odds with the lush imagery. Sigh. Thanks for this trio. I feel wrung out, in the best possible way.

    1. @LauraSalas Thank you, I’m so glad you liked them! (And no thank-you for your pun.) I’m sure someone has already written an entire picture book ode to darkness, but I do think the parts of autumn that make some of us anxious – early darkness, rising damp, creeping chill – are some of its gifts, too, even though they don’t always come with crunchy leaves and firewood smells. Long nights are THE BEST – I looked forward to them as the end of yard work and the beginning of book-time when I was a kid.

  3. First, this: “we celebrate the steady metronome of the natural world with… hymn meter.” Love!! Then, oh, WOW! Three, and each a very different kind of awesome: the Emily-ized bits in the chorus of the first, the rich list (Brussels sprouts!) in the second, the final line in the third.

  4. Three poems?! I barely got one on the page. Of the first poem, I adore the final refrain …
    No vestments, no hymn book. Take to the woods. Change your outlook.
    Your body will thank you – the dogma will keep – and the sermon won’t put you to sleep.

    Your second poem made me hungry. I adore brussels sprouts, kale, and persimmons. And pumpkin spice, well I hate it.

    And the last poem, well sigh … I love this bit:
    “Bright as a coin, the harvest moon
    Draws down the drapes of afternoon”

    Well done over-achiever. I enjoyed this one and will definitely play with hymn meter a bit more.

    1. @MissRumphius: HAH! Overachiever, no, I just know hymn structure really, really REALLY well, from singing “all 99 verses” as we girls complained, from the time I was knee-high. I didn’t actually realize hymn meter was A Thing until later, but you really can easily predict patterns within it, especially in long meter, which makes it fun to play with.

  5. You ran amok with this month’s assignment. 🙂

    First, the cartoon and the pumpkin spice latte poem made me laugh. Yes, that pumpkin spice madness has got to STOP.

    I love that you composed a chorus for the first poem (I’m sure Emily is very impressed with that) — it was fun reading aloud (I, too, cannot sing . . . i.e., you would not want me to).

    My fave stanza in the last poem is the last (“drapes of afternoon” — *swoon*). Imagine: canopy/panoply and “summer’s bright caprice” all in one post. Go to the head of the class, Miss T! *applause*

    1. @Jama-jams: Girlfriend, I am ALWAYS running amok.
      I wanted to put in something about the fabulous MOON we’ve been having – I think next time I’ll write an entire hymn to the moon – but the way the light is fading – here in our new house, which is further South and West – continues to just fascinate me! And trust me – with the fog, it is kind of drapes… it’s just suddenly… there, and pouf goes the light.

      I love it.

  6. Reposted that cartoon!

    As I’ve roamed around these past few weekends, I’ve felt exactly what you stated in “Emily’s Sabbath”.

    And pumpkin spice just needs to STOP. There’s a meme going around with an auto shop offering pumpkin spice oil change~it’s not that far from the truth.

  7. Heh, heh. That xkcd toon is one of my favs, and it’s good to see it here. We needed a sense of humor to tackle these fall hymns, I think. I mean, with all its natural beauty, it’s still the season of the Dreaded Pumpkin Spice Latte. (Gad, I hate flavored coffee, unless it’s chocolate) And how much do I love it that you BROKE THE RULES for the first one?? I’m reading it over and over and thinking how fun it is to say (I don’t sing) and marveling at its Hamiliton-like cleverness: “no sermon, no sexton. birdsong, from every direction” Yeah, baby. I’m going to rap THAT when someone why I walk on a Sunday morning.

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