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Topaz, cinnamon and gold: Autumn’s cargoes

October 29, 2013

It was a bright autumn morning today; blue sky with high, wind-sculpted clouds, a fresh breeze blowing. How could I regret leaving Bath, splendid though it is? It was a beautiful day to be heading for the woods.,29.10.13-1


The whole landscape seems to be washed with gold at the moment. We are in the last and best stage of the autumn colour, which is growing brighter every day even as more and more branches push their bare fingers through the thinning canopy. The sun is a little lower every day, dazzling the eyes until one is under the woodland shade.,29.10.13-2


A strong breeze is filling the air with  leaves: they whirl and race across the paths like live things. I imagine being a cat in this weather, eyes big as saucers, pouncing on nothings. Meanwhile my dog startles a couple of roe deer: they crash out of the undergrowth straight towards me and judder to a stop as they realise I am standing there. I don’t know which of us is more surprised to be facing each other. Then they are gone, off down a slope, where they trot to a halt again, unworried. One does that deer yoga thing of scratching its ear with its hind hoof. The other glances about through long-lashed eyes. A couple of iridescent cock pheasants pick their way past the deer. I am, I reflect, in a Bambi wonderland.

The wind seems to unsettle all creatures, including the wildfowl on the lochan at the woods’ edge. A large flock of mallard is agitating the water, quacking and squabbling, disturbing the family of wild swans who sail like stately Spanish galleons through the dirty British coasters of the ducks.,29.10.13-3


Under the trees the ground is thick with the new-minted copper pennies of beech leaves. The branches overhead are topaz and golden, shimmering with light. I probably say this every year, but this moment of  blazing colour really is one of the two most beautiful moments of the turning year. By the afternoon, even the clouds are tawny, reflecting the glow of the landscape beneath them.,29.10.13-4


By the way, I am sure that some of you have picked up the references to John Masefield’s poem ‘Cargoes’. Many of us first learned it at school: it is one that has stayed in my head ever since, colouring my imagination. Being all about ships, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the land-locked woods. I thought of it only because the ducks reminded me of little bustling boats…and then I realised that it also includes the colours of autumn’s woodland treasures, ‘topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.’ Here it is.


CARGOES [or, the poem which has nothing at all to do with Tuesday Trees]

by John Masefield

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

(With thanks to


You might enjoy Pied Beauty, another post about autumn colour and poetry.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2013 6:43 pm

    And thanks for the John Masefield! The only one I ever learned was Sea Fever. I need to open that book again soon!

  2. October 30, 2013 12:15 pm

    Lovely descriptions and photos! We have been out in the autumn sunshine too – just snatching a few hours while we can, before the leaves have all dropped. It really is a special time, because it’s so transient. Thank you for reproducing that poem, which I love! 🙂

    • October 30, 2013 10:03 pm

      Thanks – yes, it is such a glorious and fleeting moment, isn’t it?
      I’m glad you like this poem too. I think Masefield has long fallen out of fashion – perhaps from being over-familiar and out-dated – but I think that there is so much to relish and discover in this superficially simple poem.

  3. November 1, 2013 8:03 am

    Your area is indeed at the peak of autumn glory at the moment. We have been passing through every weekend in October on the way to and from Moray, where my father has been in hospital. I am more familiar with autumn colours along the A9 than in Edinburgh, since I leave for work and return home in the dark now during the week. I realise I haven’t seen my own garden in daylight since the start of October. Or the inside of my house – am considering hiring a team of industrial cleaners!
    Was amused to see Dunkeld’s ‘Perthshire Amber’ streamer things hanging outside shops and restaurants last wekeend – it’s scary in the dark when you walk into them.

    • November 2, 2013 11:47 am

      I’m very sorry that you should have been seeing the autumn colours here in such circumstances. It is a sad and stressful time when a family member is so ill, perhaps especially when you are the one caught between caring for your no-longer-young parents and for your still-needing-their-mum children. I’ll say a wee prayer for your father and for all of you.

      Perthshire Amber has been a real joy this year. We have been quite closely involved in the festival and have had a great time: I think Dougie McLean and his family have created something that benefits our whole community, both materially and psychologically. It’s been lovely to see Dunkeld wrapped in bunting and streamers and full of music-tourists. You’d be welcome to drop by here for a cup of tea, by the way, if you are stopping again in our part of the world!

  4. November 1, 2013 3:08 pm

    What a lovely post, with images and words celebrating the annual magic transformation of autumn. Sadly we haven’t had a touch of frost here yet and our autumn is still unusually drab in many ways, even to the skies. Fingers crossed for a late burst of colour.

    Thanks for the memory leap back into primary school English lessons, with Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’ to be learned off by heart for homework. I can’t remember it all now, but much is still there when prodded. 🙂

    • November 2, 2013 11:51 am

      My knowledge of ‘Cargoes’ is probably much the same as yours, then, and learned in the same way! I have read so much poetry since, and with pleasure, but these first poems one learns at school are the ones that stick.

      I read a couple of weeks or so ago that we were in for the best autumn colours ever after the hot summer, but it was pretty clear to us that nothing much was going to happen as long as the Indian summer continued. We have had only a few light frosts so far, just enough to turn some of the trees (sorbus, beech, chestnut, maple) to their wonderful seasonal blaze. Others however are still quite green.

  5. Nib's End permalink
    November 3, 2013 9:57 pm

    Pied Beauty is one of my favorites. Here in Chicagoland, our “fresh fire-coal chestnut falls” have come and gone, but the birches, maples and burning bush have begun shouting with color. I like your copper coined beech woods.

    • November 5, 2013 10:52 pm

      Thank you for visiting here. Yes, I love ‘Pied Beauty’ too; although GM Hopkins does make one work a bit to follow his thoughts! Perhaps that is why he was not taught much in school.

  6. November 3, 2013 11:22 pm

    Beautiful photos. I only remember the second verse of Masefield’s poem. As soon as I saw ‘stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus” it reminded me of Saturday ‘Speech and Drama lessons’ as a ten year old – it was one of our enunciation exercises.
    Lovely to see your Autumn photos as we experience Spring here in the Southern Hemisphere.

    • November 5, 2013 11:05 pm

      Thank you, Pam. I can see that this poem would be an excellent enunciation exercise!

      One of the things I enjoy about the blogosphere is the ability to share in seasonal cycles all around the world. It brings us much closer together, somehow, seeing pictures of Australian spring as we sink into winter – and vice versa.

  7. hmunro permalink
    November 6, 2013 4:50 pm

    I don’t often get writer’s block, DB — except when it comes to commenting on your posts. Your writing is so crisp and insightful, and your photos are so beautiful, that I often find myself at a loss for words. So it is with this post. I think it’s one of the most lovely tributes to autumn I’ve read. Thank you, dear DB.

    • November 7, 2013 7:48 pm

      Ah, Heather, you are always so encouraging. I am struggling to find the muse at the moment in the daily grind, so I am very heartened by your kind words. And I can barely imagine you with writer’s block: I always so enjoy your writing! 🙂

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