It’s the kind of brisk, newly pressed autumn day my mother would have chosen to recite the above lines. They’re from one of a dozen or so poems she knew by heart, along with Longfellow’s ‘The Children’s Hour’ and ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ — verses that she had learned at the knee of her charismatic raconteur of a father. I always assumed that Longfellow had also penned ‘October’s Bright Blue Weather’ until a recent search for the poem revealed its author to be Longfellow contemporary and Emily Dickinson confidante Helen Hunt Jackson.
Born in Amherst in 1830, Helen Hunt Jackson went to school with Emily Dickinson and they remained life-long friends. Jackson went on to publish reams of poetry, children’s books, and novels, but she’s probably best known for two books that helped galvanize America’s awareness of the plight of Native Americans. A Century of Dishonor was a scathing indictment of state and federal policies — including the many broken treaties — that helped decimate Native American tribes across the country. She then turned to fiction to bolster her case, writing Ramona, the story of a mixed race orphan girl in Southern California, that became immensely popular at the time and has been reissued over 300 times since. Almost a century after it was published, it was read aloud to me and a classroom of enraptured school girls at story hour. It’s probably not great literature and, like her poetry, is often forced and overly schematic. Even her friend Emily Dickinson had to admit that Jackson “has the facts but not the phosphorescence.” Despite that, both Ramona and ‘October’s Bright Blue Weather’ are still remembered and — because they’re works I first heard as a child —remain dear to my heart. Here’s the poem in full:O suns and skies and clouds of June, And flowers of June together, Ye cannot rival for one hour October’s bright blue weather; When loud the bumblebee makes haste, Belated, thriftless vagrant, And goldenrod is dying fast, And lanes with grapes are fragrant; When gentians roll their fingers tight To save them for the morning, And chestnuts fall from satin burrs Without a sound of warning; When on the ground red apples lie In piles like jewels shining, And redder still on old stone walls Are leaves of woodbine twining; When all the lovely wayside things Their white-winged seeds are sowing, And in the fields still green and fair, Late aftermaths are growing; When springs run low, and on the brooks, In idle golden freighting, Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush Of woods, for winter waiting; When comrades seek sweet country haunts, By twos and twos together, And count like misers, hour by hour, October’s bright blue weather. O sun and skies and flowers of June, Count all your boasts together, Love loveth best of all the year October’s bright blue weather.