“The Fall” is a lyrical poem, suffused with Christian themes, mixed with the images of autumn in New England. The themes are allusive and suggestive but nonetheless stark and an integral part of the poem, imbuing the seasonal descriptions with a transcendent quality.
The first level of religious allusion is to the Christian history of New England, a region settled by the Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, followed by various ethnic and religious groups over the succeeding centuries. “The Fall” is set in New England towns with biblical and Christian names—Canaan, Salem, Bethel, Concord, Fairhaven, and Christmas Cove. Images of the religious heritage of New England are sprinkled throughout the poem: cities such as Boston and Plymouth that were founded by Pilgrims and Puritans, sermons preached by stern eighteenth century Anglican ministers, and the Irish chambermaids of nineteenth century Massachusetts and their devotion to weekly Mass.
The seasonal imagery reflects the inevitable decline of life. In the robust bloom of September, “fuddled age” makes its first appearance. By October, life has been overtaken by death, as nostalgic images of New England’s past are buried in “New England’s gravemuck.” November gives way to the long still of winter, but in that season is contained the promise of spring, of resurrection, of life following people’s earthly end.
Bottum’s images of fall raise the central questions of human and Christian life. The title evokes both a New England autumn and humankind’s first descent into sin. Evocations of violence, judgment, forgiveness, and mercy are sprinkled through each section. The dominant metaphor of fire in September describes the blaze of colors of a New England autumn but also makes explicit violent references to the...
(The entire section is 433 words.)