Poems & Cemeteries

On the last night of October, I thought I’d go back to my Sunday Poem feature that I started earlier this year and share one of my favourite autumn poems.

The Wild Swans at Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

~W.B. Yeats

I managed to finish Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger a few days ago and although I didn’t know it when I started, it was indeed a spooky Halloween read. I won’t say much about it, but it subtly creeeeped me out. The book starts out fairly normally, but takes a ghostly turn near the end… The best part for me was the setting: an apartment in London (I actually felt like I was living in it while I was reading) right next to Highgate Cemetery, which I must now visit the next time I’m in London. So my experiment in reading books recently published that are actually in stock in bookstores (unlike Persephone books, say) was mixed, I was glued to it while it lasted, but the ending was a bit too disturbing for me. I was hoping one of the characters would find a normal solution to her problems (like growing a spine maybe), instead of looking to a ghost to help her escape from her problems, never a good idea I say! Others who’ve read it, what did you think of the ending?

And since it is Halloween, what is your favourite cemetery? Mine is the Pere Lachaise in Paris, where I spent a romantic rainy afternoon on my honeymoon, arguing over the best way to find the graves of Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde… (that’s my husband in the photo).

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14 thoughts on “Poems & Cemeteries

  1. Penny says:

    It is so autumnal here now and it’s good to read seasonal poems. Thank you for this one, which I hadn’t read before. I’ve recently, because of my studies, become a big fan of John Keats and although it’s possibly now a bit of a cliche, I love his Ode to Autumn. But then, I often think that so-called cliches in music and poetry (think Beethoven) come about because they’re just so good…
    I have that book on my TBR bookcase. I’ll wait till I feel I can cope with such spookiness!
    Favourite cemeteries? Probably Morningside Cemetery in Edinburgh, where we used to walk the dogs in the morning, when we were first living together. It has beautiful tree-lined pathways and must be looking especially good just now. When I became pregnant we used to look at the gravestones for ideas for names!

    • Carolyn says:

      I really like Keats too, especially his odes. Last year after seeing Bright Star, I had to read a lot of poetry in October! So I really like seasonal poems. I worried that posting this poem might be a bit of a cliche too, but then you’re right, it’s so beautiful it doesn’t matter.

      That cemetery in Edinburgh sounds nice, some of my family is from Scotland so I’d love to explore there someday. 🙂

  2. Caroline says:

    I have quite athing with cemeteries. Of course, while living in Paris I was often at the Père Lachaise but I actually remember the one in Edinburgh that Penny mentions. I like those little church cemeteries in England and Ireland best I think. A little church and overgrown tombstones and crosses. Lovely.
    What you say about Her Fearful Symmetry is spot-on. The end is somewhat disappointing. I liked reading it a lot but was not satisfied at the end. I like Yates’s poems so much. This one is very nice, I will have to read some more again.

    • Carolyn says:

      Ooh, how long did you live in Paris for? I’d love to visit there more often, but it’s so far away I’ve only been once.

      I liked reading Her Fearful Symmetry a lot too and thought it might even persuade me to give The Time Traveler’s Wife a try, but the ending was just too unsettling. And if a book is good, but I don’t like the ending, the whole book is coloured by that for me.

  3. Stefanie says:

    I haven’t read that Yeats poem in ages. How nice to see it again. I’ve not been to any famous cemeteries but the office building I worked at in a previous job was directly across the street from a lovely Catholic cemetery and made for a great place to take a lunchtime stroll.

  4. Kristie says:

    I listened to Her Fearful Symmetry on audiobook this past spring and I really liked it. But, I agree with you–the ending is a little disturbing. I sort of wish I had waited to read it in the fall, when it would’ve been more in tune with the spooky time surrounding Halloween.

    I also agree with something you said in one of your comments: a bad ending to a book can almost completely ruin it for me. That’s why I’m always careful when it comes to epilogues. If I think the story has come to a good closure, I don’t like reading the epilogue because it might just ruin the whole story. The epilogue was half of the reason I disliked Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows so much–I shouldn’t have read it…

    • Carolyn says:

      Mystery novels are where the ending really matters to me, because I rush through them so quickly, wanting to know ‘who done it’, that if the solution doesn’t seem right I feel really annoyed that I wasted my time on it. I want them to put a little thought into their villains, instead of them just providing a cardboard excuse for a plot. I didn’t mind the Harry Potter ending though.

  5. Jillian says:

    Such a beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing it!

    Her Fearful Symmetry is on my 250 List. I didn’t know it would be scary! 🙂

    My favorite cemetry: Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, where Margaret Mitchell and her family are buried, along with many Civil War soldiers.

  6. Nicola says:

    Beautiful autumnal poem. I’m so often disappointed with contemporary fiction. I both liked and didn’t like Her Fearful Symmetry. My sister used to live in a cottage overlooking a cemetary and she always said how beautiful it was.

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