|Where the Forest Murmers,
Vol VI, Fiona Macleod
September: the very name has magic. In an old
book, half in Latin half in English, about the months, which I came upon in a forgotten
moth-eaten library years ago, and in part copied, and to my regret have not seen or heard
of since, or anywhere been able to trace, I remember a singular passage about this month.
Much had been said about the flowers of "these golden weekes that doe lye between the
thunderous heates of summer and the windy gloomes of winter"; of those flowers and
plants which bloom in gardens, and those, as the harebell and poppy and late flowering
gorse, which light the green garths of meadow and woodland; as the bryony, which trails
among the broken copses and interweaves the ruddy masses of bramble; as the
traveller's-joy, which hangs its frail wreaths of phantom-snow along the crests of every
hedgerow of beech and hornbeam. Of the changing colours of the trees, too, the old writer
had much to say: of the limes "that become wan and spotted as a doe," of the
mountain-ash "that has its long fingers dyed redd and browne," of "the
wyche-elme whose gold is let loose on the wind after nighte-frosts and cold dawnes."
Nor did he forget that "greate beautie of mistes " which we all know; and
he reached eloquence when he spoke of the apple-orchards and of the wall-fruits of
"olde manor-gardenns "---" the peache that women and poetes doe make the
queene of fruites," the rich glowe and savour of the apricock," "the
delicate jargonell that keepes the sweetes of France in olde warme English gardenns."
Of wild-fruit, also, he had dainty words and phrases. Blackberries, "the darke-blue
bilberry," the sloe "whose excellent purple bloode maketh so fine a
comfort," " the dusky clustres of the hasel," "the green-smockt
filberte," and so forth. Even upon mushrooms he had words of sun and wind and dew, so
lightsome were they, ardent and joyous, with a swift movement---as though writ by one who
remembered gathering "musherooms" in a sun-sweet dawn after a night of heavy
dews, in company with another who laughed often in gladness and was dearest and fairest of
all dear and fair things. "Howbeit," he added, after sorrowing that "many
doe feare these goodly musher-rooms as poysonis dampe weedes," "this dothe in
nowise abate the exceedynge excellence of Goddes providence that out of the grasse and
dewe where nothing was, and where onlie the lytell worme turned in his sporte, comes as at
the shakynge of bells these delicate meates."
Then, after some old-world lore about "the wayes of nature with beastes and byrdes" in this month, he goes further afield. " nd this monthe," he says, " is the monthe of dreames, and when there is a darke (or secret) fyre in the heartes of poetes, and when the god of Love is fierce and tyrannick in imaginings and dreames, and they doe saye in deedes also, yett not after the midwaye of the monthe; butt whye I know not."
We hear so much of the poet-loved and poet-sung month of May, and the very name of June is sweet as its roses and white lilies and lavender, that it is become a romantic convention to associate them with "dreames" and the "tyrannick" season of "the god of Love." But I am convinced that the old Elizabethan or Jacobean naturalist was right. May and June are months of joy, but September is the month of "dreames" and "darke fyre." Ask those who love nature as the poet is supposed to love her, with something of ecstasy perhaps, certainly with underglow of passion: ask those in whom the imagination is as a quickening and waning but never absent flame: ask this man who travels from month to month seeking what he shall never find, or this woman whose memories and dreams are sunny, howsoever few her hopes . . . and the chance will be that if asked to name the month of the heart's love, it will be September. I do not altogether know why this should be so, if so it is. There is that in June which has a time-defying magic: May has her sweet affinities with Spring in the human heart: in April are the flutes of Pan: March is stormy with the clarions of the winds: October can be wild with all wildness, or be the calm mirror of the passing of the loveliness of the green-world. There is not a month that has not its own signal beauty, so that many love best February, ---because through her surge of rains appear days of blue wonder, with the song of the missel-thrush tost like spray from bare boughs---or November, because in the grey silence one may hear the fall of the sere leaves, and see rnist and wan blueness make a new magic among deserted woods---or January, when all the visible world lies in a white trance, strange and still and miraculous as death transfigured to a brief and terrible loveliness on the face of one suddenly quiet from the fever of youth and proud beauty. There is not a month when the gold of the sun and the silver of the moon are not woven, when the rose of sunset does not lie upon hills which reddened to the rose of dawn, when the rainbow is not let loose from the tangled nets of rain and wind, when the morning-star and the evening-star do not rise and set.
And yet, for some, there is no month that has the veiled magic of September.
"The month of peace," "the month of beauty," it is called in many Gaelic songs and tales; and often, "Summer-end." I remember an old rann, perhaps still said or sung before the peat-fires, that it was in this month God created Peace; again, an island-tale of Christ as a shepherd and the months as sheep strayed upon the hills of time. The Shepherd went out upon the hills, and gathered them one by one, and led them to the fold: but, before the fold was reached, a great wind of snow came down out of the corries, and on the left a wild flood arose, and on the narrow path there was room only, and that hardly, for the Shepherd. So He looked to see which one of the twelve He might perchance save, by lifting it in His strong arms and going with it alone to the fold. He looked long, for all were the children of His Father. Then He lifted September, saying, "Even so, because thou art the month of fulfilment, and because thy secret name is Peace." But when He came out of the darkness to the fold, the Shepherd went back between the wild lips of flood and tempest, and brought to the fold June, saying, "Because thy secret name is joy" : and, in turn, one by one, He brought each to the fold, saying unto each, in this order, May, because thy secret name is Love" "April, because thou art made of tears and laughter" ; "July, because thou art Beauty"; "August, thou quiet Mother"; "October, because thy name is Content"; " March", because thy name is Strife ; "February, because thy name is Hope "November", because thy name is Silence; "January", because thou art Death"; and at the last, " December", whom I have left to the end, for neither tempest could whelm nor flood drown thee, for thy name is the Resurrection and the Life."
And when the tale was told, some one would say, "But how, then, was September chosen first?"
And the teller would say, " Because its secret name is Peace, and Peace is the secret name of Christ."
It is no wonder the poets have loved so well this month whose name has in it all the witchery of the North. There is the majesty of the hill-solitudes in it, when the moorlands are like a purple sea. It has the freshness of the dew-white bramble-copses, of the bracken become russet and pale gold, of the wandering frostfire along the highways of the leaf, that mysterious breath whose touch is silent flame. It is the month when the sweet, poignant second-song of the robin stirs the heart as a child's gladness among tears. "The singer of September," a Gaelic poet calls it, and many will recall the lovely lines of the old half-forgotten Elizabethan poet on the bird
It is strange how much bird-lore and beast-lore lie with September. The moor-cock, the stag, the otter, the sea-wandering salmon, the corncrake, and the cuckoo and the swift, I know not how many others, have their tale told or their farewell sung to the sound and colour of September. The poets have loved it for the unreturning feet of Summer whose vanishing echoes are in its haunted aisles, and for the mysterious silences of the veiled arrivals of Winter. It is the month of the year's fulfillings---
And yet there are other Septembers than the Septembers of memory, than
the Septembers of the imagination. For three years past the month has come with rains from
the sea and cold winds out of the east and north. The robin's song has been poignantly
sweet as of yore, but the dream-glow has been rare upon the hill and valley, and in the
woods and on the moor-slopes the leaf has hung bannerets of dusky yellow, and the bracken
burned dully without amber and flamelit bronze. This year, though, there has been some
return of those September days which we believe in, while yet a long way off, as we
believe in May, as we feel assured of June. This last June was truly a month of
roses, and in May the east wind slept: but last year the roses trailed along flooded
byways, and the east wind nipped bud and blossom through the bleak days of "the merry
month," and a colourless and forlorn September must have chilled even that
"darke fyre in the heartes of poetes " of which the old naturalist wrote.