In November we featured Fanny Kemble as a 19th century exemplar of reinvention, noting her independence and talent, and her unique reliance on those traits rather than her beauty. She was a poet and diarist, a thinker and, most important, a woman of conviction.

Now, at the time of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we revisit Frances Ann Kemble with very good reason.

Her family was aristocratic, British, and thoroughly abolitionist. Beginning in 1836, when her American husband inherited a plantation in Georgia, Fanny turned her unerring attention to the issue of slavery. She left her marriage just three years later. In England twenty years after that, with the Civil War in America about to rage, she published Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839. Her insights about slavery as well as her faithful presentation of the voices of the enslaved women on that plantation have been cited as one of the reasons why the United Kingdom never officially recognized the Confederacy.

Here Kemble writes not about slavery, but about the change of season in all its majestic glory—a fitting tribute to the autumnal weather that we will soon enjoy.


Thou comest not in sober guise,
In mellow cloak of russet clad—
Thine are no melancholy skies,
Nor hueless flowers pale and sad;
But, like an emperor, triumphing,
With gorgeous robes of Tyrian dyes,
Full flush of fragrant blossoming,
And glowing purple canopies.
How call ye this the season’s fall,
That seems the pageant of the year,
Richer and brighter far than all
The pomp that spring and summer wear?
Red falls the westering light of day
On rock and stream and winding shore;
Soft woody banks and granite gray
With amber clouds are curtained o’er;
The wide clear waters sleeping lie
Beneath the evening’s wings of gold,
And on their glassy breast the sky
And banks their mingled hues unfold.

Far in the tangled woods, the ground
Is strewn with fallen leaves, that lie
Like crimson carpets all around
Beneath a crimson canopy.
The sloping sun with arrows bright
Pierces the forest’s waving maze;
The universe seems wrapt in light,—
A floating robe of rosy haze.
O Autumn! thou art here a king;
And round thy throne the smiling hours
A thousand fragrant tributes bring
Of golden fruits and blushing flowers.

Oh! not upon thy fading fields and fells
In such rich garb doth Autumn come to thee,
My home!—but o’er thy mountains and thy dells
His footsteps fall slowly and solemnly,
Nor flower nor bud remaineth there to him,
Save the faint-breathing rose, that, round the year,
Its crimson buds and pale soft blossoms dim,
In lowly beauty constantly doth wear.
O’er yellow stubble lands, in mantle brown,
He wanders through the wan October light;
Still as he goeth, slowly stripping down
The garlands green that were the spring’s delight.
At morn and eve thin silver vapours rise
Around his path; but sometimes at mid-day
He looks along the hills with gentle eyes,
That make the sallow woods and fields seem gay.

Yet something of sad sov’reignty he hath—
A sceptre crown’d with berries ruby red;
And the cold sobbing wind bestrews his path
With wither’d leaves that rustle ‘neath his tread;
And round him still, in melancholy state,
Sweet solemn thoughts of death and of decay,
In slow and hush’d attendance, ever wait,
Telling how all things fair must pass away.

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen September 25, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Wonderful poem about my favorite season of the year. We forget that reinvention by women has been around as long as there have been women of intelligence, conviction and courage. Thank you for
    telling this story of a woman we could all emulate.