Summary and Analysis

“Autumn,” by the South African poet Roy Campbell (1902-1957), celebrates the coming of fall and winter and the various kinds of beauty those seasons can reveal. The speaker of the poem appears explicitly in the work’s very first word. The poem thus expresses this speaker’s particular—and somewhat unusual—point of view. Whereas many people lament the advent of the colder seasons, and whereas they especially regret the way trees lose their leaves (and apparently much of their life) during those times of the year, this particular speaker invites us to see autumn and winter in different, literally more revealing ways.

When leaves fall from trees as autumn turns into winter, those trees are stripped of whatever is merely temporary and non-essential. All that is left of them is “what is pure and will survive” (5). The loss of leaves reveals the “clear anatomy” of the trees themselves (2). Winter is thus a “paragon of art”—a model of excellence at the kind of artistry (like sculpting) that creates by pruning. Trees in the spring and summer may be beautiful in their own ways, but the bare trees exposed during the fall and winter are revealed in their true essences. The speaker thus implies his own insight by showing that he can see beauty where others might only see loss.

Stanza two compares flocks of geese to “clanging chains” that are “harnessed to the moon” (6-7): they make loud sounds as they move through the sky, apparently pulled by the glowing moon (which is itself a common symbol of change because of the various phases through which it moves). Plane trees (such as sycamores) have lost their broad leaves, thus allowing the sun to shine down through the thin needles of pine trees and thereby touch the ground. Part of the paradox of this stanza—and indeed of the poem as a whole—is that every apparent loss involves some kind of gain. Even the coming of winter (often dreaded) can be seen as a...

(The entire section is 672 words.)