Friday, October 12, 2012

Autumn Afternoons

The Berkshires in western Massachusetts
Photo via here

"The afternoon was perfect.  A deeper stillness possessed the air, and the glitter of the American autumn was tempered by a haze which diffused the brightness without dulling it.
In the woody hollows of the park there was already a faint chill; but as the ground rose the air grew lighter, and ascending the long slopes beyond the high-road, Lily and her companion reached a zone of lingering summer.  The path wound across a meadow with scattered trees; then it dipped into a land plumed with asters and purpling sprays of bramble, whence, through the light quiver of ash-leaves, the country unrolled itself in pastoral distances.

Higher up, the lane showed thickening tufts of fern and of the creeping glossy verdure of shaded slopes; trees began to overhang it, and the shade deepened to the checkered dusk of a beech-grove.  The boles of the trees stood well apart, with only a light feathering of undergrowth; the path wound along the edge of the wood, now and then looking out on a sunlit pasture or on an orchard spangled with fruit.

Lily had no real intimacy with nature, but she had a passion for the appropriate and could be keenly sensitive to a scene which was the fitting background for her own sensations.  The landscape outspread below her seemed an enlargement of her present mood, and she found something of herself in its calmness, its breadth, its long free reaches.  On the nearer slopes the sugar-maples wavered like pyres of light; lower down was a massing of grey orchards, and here and there the lingering green of an oak-grove.  Two or three red farm-houses dozed under the apple-trees, and the white wooden spire of a village church showed beyond the shoulder of the hill; while far below, in a haze of dust, the high road ran between the fields." 

Lily dropped down on the rock, glowing with her long climb.  She sat quiet, her lips parted by the stress of the ascent, her eyes wandering peacefully over the broken ranges of the landscape.  Selden stretched himself on the grass at her feet, tilting his hat against the level sun-rays and clasping his hands behind his head, which rested against the side of the rock.  He had no wish to make her talk; her quick-breathing silence seemed a part of the general hush and harmony of things.  In his own mind there was only a lazy sense of pleasure, veiling the sharp edges of sensation as the September haze veiled the scene at their feet.  But Lily, though her attitude was as calm as his, was throbbing inwardly with a rush of thoughts.  There were in her at the moment two beings, one drawing deep breaths of freedom and exhilaration, the other gasping for air in a little black prison-house of fears.  But gradually the captive's gasps grew fainter, or the other paid less heed to them: the horizon expanded, the air grew stronger, and the free spirit quivered for flight."  --  Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

Wishing you a beautiful autumn weekend!


  1. My book group will be reading "The House of Mirth" in February. I was not in attendance to argue on it's behalf, but it made the final cut. I am looking forward to reading it.

    May you have a wonderful weekend as well!

  2. What a wonderful passage, I especially love 'a zone of lingering summer.' Wishing you a lovely weekend.

  3. Thanks for a great post! Have you read Edith Wharton's ghost stories? If not, you're in for a treat. Now's the time! Your blog stands out among the many I subscribe to. Thanks, and happy sails from Gold Boat Journeys: Live. Write. Travel. Explore.(

  4. 'The glitter of the American autumn' it! We've finally received our own small share of fall here in Phoenix. It is so beautiful and refreshing.

  5. I love Edith Wharton - every thing she has written. Maybe it's her great use of irony. Or maybe just her great writing.

  6. We drove many many miles over the weekend through several Northwest states and enjoyed the changing colors. Although not as vibrant as a New England Autumn, the Northwest offers a lovely contrast of evergreens and deciduous trees. Thank you for the reading suggestion. Sounds perfect for the season.