What?! Another Falling Leaves Poem! Yes – With A Difference

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

Falling Leaves

I’ve read about falling leaves in fifty thousand poems novels
   and so on
watched leaves falling in fifty thousand movies
seen leaves fall fifty thousand times
              fall drift and rot
felt their dead shush shush fifty thousand times
              underfoot in my hands on my fingertips
but I’m still touched by falling leaves
              especially those falling on boulevards
              especially chestnut leaves
              and if kids are around
              if its sunny
              and I’ve got news for friendship
especially if my heart doesn’t ache
and I believe my love loves me
especially if it’s a day I feel good about people
              I’m touched by falling leaves
especially those falling on boulevards
especially chestnut leaves.

6th September, 1961, Leipzig

Nazim Hikmet from Poems of Nazim Hikmet, trans. Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, Persea Books, 2002

Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963)

Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963)

This poem by the great Turkish poet and exile Nazim Hikmet seemed just right for this sun-heavy Thanksgiving Saturday on Vancouver Island. Here, on a day when Autumn, in its riot of colours, is still a consolation and not the desolation it can be when the rain and gray skies move in. And it seemed just right for a day when all the stock Autumn images seem to trap me in one wonderful cliché after another. What a challenge for a writer to come at this season in an unexpected way!

That’s why I so appreciate how Hikmet tackles the cliché of falling leaves head on; and how he, wonderfully, gives us this fifty one thousand and first poem on falling leaves. And gets away with it. Such a lovely reversal he pulls on the reader. Once he deals again and again with his list of fifty thousand instances of reading about, watching and stepping through falling leaves his line: but I’m still touched by falling leaves seems such a welcome surprise.

For me, that surprise earns Hikmet the right to be writing yet another “falling leaves” poem and I am pulled in and then drawn in even further by his conditional phrases that start with especially. These phrases add such resonance and poignancy. And his repetition of especially creates the momentum that drives the poem forward so successfully.

And something else. What becomes clear towards the poem’s end is that his being touched by falling leaves is so specific to a time and place. In September in Leipzig. I can imagine him walking down a boulevard, lined with chestnut trees. It is sunny, children are playing and life seems pretty good on a day where he believes his love loves him and he feels good about people! All this is a wonderful opposition to the usual metaphoric sense of sadness or loss evoked by falling leaves.

So, on a day of thanksgiving here in Canada I give thanks for this poem and for Hikmet; and especially for how he reminds me, on this beautiful day, to see falling leaves as a consolation not as a desolation.