The Goldenwod is Wullow: poems for the end of summer (I)

Goldenrod along Quinlan Road, just west of Queensborough.

Back in the middle part of the last century, when I was a schoolgirl, we used to learn poems by heart. It was utterly normal then, part of a regular education. Now, I guess “memory work” just seems quaint. But I think it was good for us.

Anyway, while it’s rainy and cool tonight in Montreal – and by the looks of things also in Queensborough – the weather this past weekend when we were at the Manse (more on that, and on our splendid day at the Madoc Fair, anon) was quintessential end-of-summer/start-of-autumn, and utterly beautiful. Warm, with a bit of a chill. Sunny, mostly. Leaves just beginning to show a bit of colour. Bugs, gone.

It reminded me of some “memory work” from long ago, at Madoc Township Public School. The poem is by Helen Hunt Jackson, 1830-1885 (a Massachusetts native, like Raymond) and it is called September. But I will always think of it as “The Goldenrod is Yellow.”


The goldenrod is yellow,
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.

The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curing in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges haunt their harvest,
In every meadow’s nook;
And asters by the brookside
Make asters in the brook.

From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes’ sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.

By all those lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And autumn’s best of cheer.

But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.

‘T is a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.

It kind of makes you wonder what happened to the narrator on that “one day of one September,” doesn’t it? And in fact I believe that the last two rather mysterious verses are often left out, and may well have been in whatever schoolbook it was from which we read it back in my childhood. Also, I don’t think we were asked to learn much more than the first verse, truth be told; it gets into somewhat hard going after that. “The gentian’s bluest fringes”?

But it’s a lovely poem for this time of year. And it brings a smile to my face for another reason: the memory of my brother John, four years younger than I (you can see a cute picture of him at the top of this post), having memorized that first verse for school and proudly reciting it at home for the family in the Manse kitchen, complete with childish speech impediment (long since gone) that gave him trouble with his Rs and some other sounds: “The goldenwod is wullow…”

It was very sweet. My dad (who loved poetry, and doubtless loved that nature-themed poem) ever after enjoyed proudly and amusedly quoting that line, exactly as his first son had recited it.

Back when we all were young.

13 thoughts on “The Goldenwod is Wullow: poems for the end of summer (I)

  1. What a sweet recollection of memory work and a proud little brother. I too remember memorizing poetry and reciting it in front of our small population at the one-room school I attended in Prince Edward county. I suppose that was the last gasp of old-fashioned elocution. Each grade had a greater number of lines to memorize. I can still recite many of them, and expect as the years roll on, that more will come to me as I drift back into my early days, as many very old folks do (and I intend to be one). And I shall recite “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold” and not understand it any more than I did then. Warm memories for a cold night, thank you.

    • “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold”: gracious, that was a new one to me, Lindi! For whatever reason, I have never had much exposure to Lord Byron. Perhaps his dissolute and romantic ways were out of favour when I was being given poems to memorize. But having read The Destruction of Sennacherib (Hello? “Sennacherib”?) for the first time in my life this very evening, I have to say it’s quite the poem – whatever the heck it might be about.

      • I recall it from Grade 9. A girl in my class volunteered to emote it in front of the group of farm boys lolling in their desks – most were less than impressed. I recall being amazed at her courage – Byronic!
        Funny you should refer to the censoring…I wanted to include The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes in my compulsory recitations in Grade 7. When my teacher started making demands of very shy me to add dramatic gestures, I quickly dropped that from my repertoire. (No doubt, thinking back, that was her intention, as nothing was ever said about it again). The highwayman and his midnight tryst no doubt offended something in her spinsterly sensibilities.

      • The Highwayman! I loved that poem as a kid/adolescent:

        The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
        The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
        The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
        And the highwayman came riding—
        The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door …

        Does it get much better than “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas”?

        But yes, I can see why the tryst with “Bess, the landlord’s daughter” might have worried your teacher, Lindi!

  2. “And asters by the brookside
    Make asters in the brook.”

    Why does this sound so familiar? Is it quoted in L. M. Montgomery somewhere? The whole poem has a ring of familiarity to it, so I’m guessing someone in the family (maybe me) had to memorize it as well.

  3. Ah, the Canadian seasons. A half century after I memorized it, this E.J. Pratt poem (Frost) resurfaces in my mind every winter:

    The frost moved up the window-pane
    Against the sun’s advance,
    In line and pattern weaving there
    Rich scenes of old romance–
    It spun a web more magical,
    Each moment creeping higher,
    For marble cities crowned the hills
    With turret, fane and spire,
    Till when it struck the flaming sash,
    The Kremlin was on fire.

    • Great poem, Jim! It all seems so quietly and frostily Canadian, until you get to the very last line, and what a curve ball that is! That was a new one on me (even though I spent countless hours studying in the E.J. Pratt Library at Victoria College, University of Toronto, way back in my younger days), and I thank you for it.

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