“When melancholy autumn comes to Wembley

And electric trains are lighted after tea.”

What follows need not detain us, except to marvel at how, from that start, John Betjeman creates a quite wonderful picture of London suburbia transformed into a harbour scene in his beloved Cornwall.

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Detached from that purpose, those lines always enter my head at this time of the year. Most of us know John Keats’ “season of mists”. It turned up on this page just a couple of days ago. Of course he adds “mellow fruitfulness,” beautifully pictured in the image of autumn “bending with apples the mossed cottage trees.”

Yes, Keats’ Ode to Autumn has imprinted itself on the national psyche. But there’s a wealth of autumn images the equal, or near-equal, of Keats’s and, with your indulgence, dear reader, I’ll be pleased to share a few of my favourites with you.

If you are lucky enough to have a resident robin, you will know that the nation’s most popular bird falls largely silent in summer. Then, one day, often about dusk, its plaintive, tin-whistley, song is heard again. A short poem by Richard Watson (1833-1900) punches home this return by rounding off a series of images of autumn (e.g. “The thistle now is older, / His stalk begins to moulder”) with an emphatic final line: “The robin pipeth now.” Indeed it does.

The robin also pops up in Vita Sackville-West’s long, unjustly neglected, poem The Land. Urging gardeners to make the most of the fast-diminishing autumn light she says:

“Gentleman robin, brown as snuff,

Shall be your autumn company.”

Published in 1926, Sackville-West’s poem is especially rich in now vanished but still cherished images. There are corn stooks “that like a tented army dream away/The night beneath the moon in silvered fields”.

And October mists melt to reveal “the thresher lumbering slowly up the lane… England’s a humming hive till threshing’s done".

Still with us, more’s the pity, is the “early nip of changeful autumn” – another Betjeman phrase that always comes into my mind. Wordsworth had felt that nip too. He observed:

“While not a leaf seems faded this nipping air a foretaste yields

Of bitter change, and bids the flowers beware.”

Who actually loves autumn – not just the pretty bits but its wilder aspects, particularly its gales? John Clare revelled in them, his exhilaration evident in lines like:

“I love the fitful gust that shakes

The casement all the day…

I love to see the shaking twig

Dance till shut of eve…

The cock upon the dunghill crowing,

The mill sails on the heath a-going”.

(Can we, I wonder, transfer that pleasure to the monster whirling blades of wind turbines? Hmm…)

But it is Betjeman’s “melancholy” and “changeful” that perhaps most keenly hit the spot of our feelings towards autumn. Ready to explain why is the Victorian Jesuit priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. In a poem addressed, rather oddly, “to a young child”, he asks:

“Margaret, are you grieving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?”

He concludes with the reason for her (and our) dejection:

“It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.”

I’ve always thought it would have been soon enough when she discovered this unwelcome truth for herself.