Two Autumn Poems by Two “Robert”s

Fall descended on Durham recently like someone turned a key and announced, “New season, step up now, no dallying!” It had been summer-hot and sticky per usual through most all August and the first three weeks of September. Then came the autumn equinox on the 22nd with a full day of intermittent rain, and early the next morning, upon opening the door to the sun porch, “Whoa! Where’s my sweatshirt?”

Sure, days are still getting up in the mid-to-upper 80s with that nice penetrating fall warmth that somehow never feels hot, but the heat and especially the humidity have begun leaching from the air every night, the nascent crisp morns letting us know there’s no going back to summer of 2021, seeya next go-round.

That’s a welcome development down here in the Southern climes where the dog days insist on their due in deep summer and leashes aren’t even required to keep the natives quietly restrained, grateful for their air conditioners and iced drinks.

All of which calls for a brief homage to the season with two poems that happen to be by guys named Robert—one long dead and so famous you’ve no doubt read him even if you claim, “Oh, I don’t read poetry,” the other contemporary and likely known only to aficionados.

The latter’s poem is mostly about the live antics of a chipmunk, though in the way of most things poetic, it’s about much else. The former alludes to dying plants and mentions Eden and grief, so we know we are in overt DeepLand, with a slow climb out till we reach the promise of spring.




                     By Robert Gibb

I think he knows I’m alive, having come down
The three steps of the back porch
And given me a good once over. All afternoon
He’s been moving back and forth,
Gathering odd bits of walnut shells and twigs,
While all about him the great fields tumble
To the blades of the thresher. He’s lucky
To be where he is, wild with all that happens.
He’s lucky he’s not one of the shadows
Living in the blond heart of the wheat.
This autumn when trees bolt, dark with the fires
Of starlight, he’ll curl among their roots,
Wanting nothing but the slow burn of matter
On which he fastens like a small, brown flame.


Pennsylvania-based poet Robert Gibb, now 75 and author of 15 poetry volumes, begins with an encounter, sentient creature to creature, each aware of the other, the larger-brained one noting the attentions of the smaller-brained and offering up the wry observation that it is giving him, in colloquial terms, “the once over.”

But the once won’t lead to twice, because the demands of the season are too unrelenting for those tied inextricably to the rhythms of nature without the benefit of technology (refrigeration, canned food, supply chains spanning the globe).

No, the life of a chipmunk is circumscribed to the few trees and porches and edges of fields of a neighborhood that is its world. And in fall especially, its imperatives are stark and demanding if it is to meet what comes. (Which, “lucky” for him, does not include “Living in the blond heart of the wheat,” where the mangling machinery descends.)

Instead, it is gathering nature’s detritus for its winter home, a survival task that keeps it busily to its own grindstone.

But for all the limitation our porch visitor faces, “He’s lucky/To be where he is, wild with all that happens.”

“Wild with all that happens”—is there a better way to be? A state of pure nature, a beingness unto itself, of Chipmunkdom, nothing more, nothing less. No need to write poems to seek or express meaning.

For us larger-brained types, I suspect that is the beating heart of all our longings to hit the trail, the road, the wider world, to sit or amble in the silent forest, watching.

Finally, as the season deepens and “trees bolt,” our friend can afford, in human parlance, to chill, to “curl among their roots,” wedded indelibly, unselfconsciously, to a world of fires and starlight and “the slow burn of matter” that envelops all of existence, creature by creature, tree by tree, cliff by eroding cliff, in due time.




         By Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. 


Robert Frost needs little introduction here and only eight lines to capture the unparalleled, mournful beauty of fall. With his somewhat crusty, white-haired Father Time demeanor, Frost (1874-1963) continues to occupy a rarefied perch in American poetry, forever identified with the rural life of his adopted New England, though he was born and lived till age 11 in San Francisco, when he took another road that went east after the death of his father.

The poem actually begins with an image of spring, “Nature’s first green,” subject of celebration, like gold for the spirit. But, he notes, it is the “hardest hue to hold,” its innocence fleeting, its buds blooming only “an hour” before they transform into the more pedestrian and durable leaves that last till fall.

And so it is that the supposed bright perfection of Eden “fell to grief.” Nothing stays the same, joy and beauty fade. The promise of unfettered delight, the limitless possibility of the world, of our personal springtime stretched out before us, remain subject to constraint, disappointment, and decay, because “Nothing gold can stay.”

Who knew?

We all learn it eventually, but that has never stopped us from taking hold of spring yet again when it comes around, giving it (ourselves, really) a good shake. Drunken like the birds that feast on the new season’s pyracantha and then start banging into windows, we exult in the moment and still want to believe spring’s purported promise of more, more, more stretching to forever.

And though it’s a lie that is ultimately betrayed by fall, at least it’s a beautiful lie. And that counts for something, doesn’t it?

“It’s all holy smoke and the flame dies fast/We hold our hats while the days fly past…”


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Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Fall leaves by Andrew Hidas

Chipmunk by Joel Tonyan

Fall creek by Moonjazz, Palm Desert, California

10 comments to Two Autumn Poems by Two “Robert”s

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    As a fellow Californian now living in the South, two days ago I felt a similar twinge of fall. Low 58 and high 81 with a reasonable level of humidity, at least for us living near the Gulf. Unfortunately, fall moves on too quickly like a a slice of tiramisu. The two Robert poems are an interesting choice, not because one is known by all and the other is familiar to few, but rather how they relate to our modern world. The chipmunk’s survival depends on nature (gathering nuts) while avoiding the trappings of technology (thresher blades). Perhaps people need to be more chipmunk-like when it comes to the world around them. The health of our climate might appreciate it. “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, Pony Boy’s poem in the “The Outsiders” expresses the loss of innocence that so many children suffer because of our technological progress (X-box violence, internet access to harmful material and such). Childhood is too brief as is. As a final note, Robert’s chipmunk observation would be non-existent in my Robert’s backyard: Two dogs.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      “Childhood is too brief as is” encapsulates all manner of concerns for modern childhood, Robert—from all the obvious downsides of omnipresent screen time and social media to the easy access to porn to the sexualization of even mainstream media and its advertising. Was simpler & more innocent when we were trying our best to snag a “Playboy” back in the day, I daresay, but mostly just making do with fantasizing about the Lennon Sisters! :-) Interesting little tangent from Frost bemoaning fall!

  • David Jolly  says:

    Andrew, a few years ago I penned this reply to Frost in response to the rueful tone of “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and based on my own observations of spring’s initial colors.

    And Yet…

    Nature’s first green is gold
    this we have been told
    by Mr. Frost who pitched his story
    but only catalogued one glory
    of trees’ rebirthing hues.
    Birch and beech leaf chartreuse,
    maple flowers dusky rose,
    ash buds seem black when seen afar
    but deep maroon limned lime up close.
    Each fresh sweet shade a shooting star
    in heavens radiantly vernal,
    fleeting yes – and yet, it’s clear,
    spring hopes eternal.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Enjoyed this greatly, David. You should write more poetry!

  • kirkthill  says:

    My thoughts today in Costa Rica.

    It Don’t Mean a Thing

    In this jungle where I swing
    The equinox don’t mean a thing
    The toucans croak instead of sing,
    “dowat dowat dowat dowat”

    Half the day is filled with rain
    it bathes your mind and numbs the pain
    And fades the parrots razzmatazz
    But dawn will bring the songbirds

    Crimson and gold fills the sky
    Morning allows no time for why
    the cosmic gift will pass away
    Like friends I’ll never see again.

    Spring and Fall all in one chain
    The toucans arrive and croak again
    their colors blare inside my brain
    Like friends I’ll never see

    Only two seasons the year will bring
    One is hot the other rain
    Where morning shines like spring again
    and half the day is filled with pain

    And friends I’ll never see again

    There is nothing I can do
    to break the chain or click undo
    just absorb the brilliant Toucan,
    “dowat dowat dowat do what?”

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Oh my—my poet readers are coming out of the woodwork today, love it! I spent three months on the equator many years ago in Kenya, and it was a strange experience to have the basic two seasons you speak of—Pretty Hot and Lots Hotter. (I think technically, the natives referred to them as the seasons of “Short Rains” and “Long Rains.”) The regularity of the 12-hour-day, 12-hour-night certainly had its appeal, but man, I think I would really miss fall and winter. The greater drama of the seasons is one of the things I appreciate about living in the southeast now.

      Also appreciate how you snuck in the sense of poignancy in your otherwise mirthful poem with that “…friends I’ll never see again” refrain. Thanks, Kirk!

  • kirkthill  says:

    Just a note, here is what a Toucan sounds like:

  • Karen  says:

    Why do I always cry when I read your blog? Not a wailing, hysterical sad cry, but a soft, nostalgic, “ I’m so touched” kind of cry! Thanks Andy. While I have such wonderful childhood memories of the big maple tree in our yard in Indiana that burst into golden flames every fall, here in San Diego, no such spectacles of the season. In fact, today, October 2, it was 95 degrees at my grands water polo game. So we have to settle for other hints of fall! In fact, most notably was the plethora of pumpkin spice flavored items on the Trader Joe’s shelves! Cookies, tea, coffee, cream cheese, hummus (yup, pumpkin flavored hummus! ), ice cream, granola, muffin mix and empanadas! Yes sir! Must be autumn. I think I prefer the golden ! P.S. And the music was definitely beautiful, as usual!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      When I lived in California I always felt slightly defensive when people claimed there are no seasons there. Not true, but they are quite a bit more subtle, and that is even truer the farther south one goes. But 95 degrees on Oct. 2—naw, that should not happen, sorry it did for you!

      Also glad to serve a cathartic function for you—a good cry can be a soul cleanser, all the more so when it’s soft and nostalgic. Be well, Karen!

  • Marianne Sonntag  says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for these poems and your lovely descriptions of my favorite season. I so appreciate “a good turn of word” and good word selection that create a rich parade of scenes in my mind as I am warmed by my recollections of seasons gone by. Autumn is often the nuanced expression of our senior years, when reflections on our path through the woods and the various sojourns along the way toward “the destination,” occur frequently.

    I’ve got a really old beat-up paperback book of Rod McKuens poems, who though not regarded as a great poet, wrote some poignant relatable poems, this one on fall:

    With most of our summers behind
    we hope that the winter is kind
    as love leads us home through the fall
    like the ivy that clings to the wall.

    I want to share too, with you and your readers who appreciate poetry, a fellow appearing in Sierra magazine, Andy Butter. Not about fall, from his poem, Aphorisms at Long Lake, my favorite three consecutive lines:

    A wise person never enters a sacred place with unwashed feet.
    We are not wise.
    Abutters to the great monuments of faith are mostly unkempt shrubs.

    OK Andrew, have a comfy fall season. I think of a good song for the season, ‘Fires at Midnight,’ Ian Andedson, album Songs From the Wood.

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