The Last Leaf

It’s officially winter on Saturday and yet Autumn has barely started. The falling of the leaves has commenced and many trees I suspect, will be bare by next week. Due to climate change the seasons have lost their conventional beginnings and completions, such markings of time and weather can no longer be depended upon.

Such seasonal change is made for poets and writers.

And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare

Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn
Elizabeth Lawrence

My favourite story for this time of year, one which makes me ponder the inevitable loss of change is “The Last Leaf” by the American writer

O. Henry.

He’s an author who depicted the extraordinary in the ordinary lives of his fellow citizens. This story, just like the Autumn season, is of loss, sacrifice, death,art and love.

During a pneumonia epidemic in Greenwich Village a young woman, an aspiring artist, hypnotises herself in believing that she will die. A neighbour who is also an artist and has a penchant for a drink or two, hears of her pact with fate ” If one leaf is left on that tree” she tells her mother as she points to the tree outside her window which is rapidly losing leaves to the wind “then I will survive. If there’s none left, well then…”

Her artist neighbour learns of this and in the chill wind that night, endangering his own health, paints an exquisitely life-like leaf at the end of a bare bough. The girl awakes next morning to accept her fate; her mother opens the curtains to reveal the last leaf on the tree.

The girl is revitalised and later learns of the death of their neighbour, the artist who had risked his health and life to offer hope to her and perhaps to prove his skill.

She dismisses him as an inadequate painter, a useless sot just as her mother sees the bough move and the shinning, exquisitely painted leaf remain.

What a perfect meditation on the futility of sacrifice! It makes me think of all those silent artists in life; taken for granted, dismissed in their work who support others, allowing them to thrive.

For me Autumn is the time to review and release everything no longer needed for the next stage of my journey. As I travel light, these releasings are of an inner nature.

When the last leaf falls,
what will die within us?”
Sheniz Janmohamed, Firesmoke

Rather than winter, Autumn is the best season to contemplate the penultimate release of death, hoping that it will occur as naturally and as beautifully as the fall of the last leaf on the tree.

No Spring nor Summer beauty hath such grace,

As I have seen in one Autumnal face.”

John Donne

5 thoughts on “The Last Leaf

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