Sunday, 8 November 2009

Autumn 2

Keats liked the phrase 'stubble fields'. On the 21st Sept 1819 he wrote to his friend J.H. Reynolds:
How beautiful the season is now -- How fine the air. Really without joking, chaste weather -- Dian skies -- I never liked stubble fields so much as now -- Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow a stubble field looks warm -- in the same way that certain pictures look warm -- the thought struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it...
And then, of course, in 'To Autumn' we get:
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue.
I used to think this took its poetic force from the implied comparison with the stubble on a man's chin, a fairly intimate physicalisation of the landscape. But, actually, it's the other way around. The OED notes the primary meaning of stubble: 'each of the stumps or lower-ends of grain stalks, left in the ground after reaping'. OED derives this from both the OE 'stobb', meaning 'stub', and the Latin 'stipula' ('a stalk. stem, blade, halm'), itself a diminutive version of 'stipes', 'a log, stock, post, trunk of a tree.' The notion that unshaved beard is 'stubble' is the poeticization ... and that's something wholly untouched in this poem. Rather, and looking at it now, stubble echoes, or rotates through, the 'bars' of the clouds. The clouds are like posts, or 'stripes' (is there a connection between this word and stipes?); but so are the remnants of the wheat harvest. I was scratching my chin in error.

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