Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Leaf Burning

Leaf burning? Do you see it anymore?

I remember my father burning leaves in the ditch by the street in November and other men in the neighborhood out there too, each tending their little flames.

1951 ad

When I saw this ad in an old Progressive Farmer magazine, I remembered Autumn afternoons and that sharp fragrance released into the air.

It made me think of Laurence Binyon's bittersweet poem, fraught with symbolism of the Great War, but a poem I love simply because it is beautiful to read. Here is the poem written by the man who is called the poet of November.

The Burning of the Leaves

Now is the time for the burning of the leaves.
They go to the fire; the nostril pricks with smoke
Wandering slowly into a weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.

The last hollyhock's fallen tower is dust;
All the spices of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! The reddest rose is a ghost;
Sparks whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.

Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before:
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there;
Let them go to the fire, with never a look behind.
The world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.

They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.

by Laurence Binyon


  1. oh that poem. so beautifully encompasses it all doesn't it.
    "the world that was ours is a world that is ours no more."
    and then... "the same glory to shine upon different eyes."
    i DO remember the burning of leaves. and that sweet yet acrid smell.
    remember the opening scene in "all that heaven allows" ???
    he's burning a small pile of leaves right there at the curb. it's wonderful!
    you can almost feel the crisp air and smell those leaves. the essence of fall itself.
    there are too many regulations for people to do that now. and we're in a terrible drought here yet again. so nobody should be burning ANYTHING ANYWHERE here! the leaves have all simply turned brown and most are still on the trees waiting for the first huge wind storm. but i loved your post. it made me think of autumns in another gentler time. a time with no climate change. XOXO♥

    1. Yes, Tammy, it makes me think of those autumns too! And of All That Heaven Allows, how I love that movie!

  2. I remember my grandpa burning leaves in the gutter in front of his house. It was an older neighborhood and the street was lined with lots of big trees, unlike the newer neighborhood that we lived in at the time. I can still smell the smoky aroma that was autumn.

    1. Lovely, Karen! I'm guessing it was an Autumn chore that he an other men probably enjoyed very much, don't you think?

  3. Oh, Dewena, what a beautifully nostalgic picture, so true to its autumnal ambience, so cozy and comforting, and the perfect complement to illustrate this wonderfully dramatic poem. I particularly like the first and third stanzas, for their appeal to the senses and philosophical fall flare, respectively.

    I don't remember ever seeing anyone burning autumn leaves here in Toronto during my childhood. It was only when I went to live in our little, pastoral paradise did I observe the farmers setting fire to the branches that they had just sawed off their grape vines. How beautiful the valley is when it is lit up by these bundles of red flames!

    Thank you for sharing this poem, which invited the sweet memories of your readers and your own recollections of the season's distinct sights and sounds and scents!

    Love you!

    1. Poppy, I love that first and third stanzas too. "Time for stripping the spirit bare..." makes me think of November, and I just remembered that someone I read, I think it was Ronald Blythe, called Binyon the "Poet of November."

      I can just imagine how magical it must have been to see those little bonfires of grape vine branches burning in the valley beneath your home. The scent must have been as heady as the wines they produced.


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