Posted On October 29, 2023 Reading Time: 5 minutes.
All Hallows’ Eve and Swedish Halloween film, Michaelmas drinking and graveyard poetry. And are there such things as autumn cocktails and music?
All Hallows’ Eve, or Garden Club Memento Mori
Halloween is a corruption of “All Hallows’ Eve,” the evening before All Saints’ Day (November 1), the day in the Anglican tradition when one seeks
grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may may come to those ineffable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee . . .
The Book of Common Prayer, “Collect for All Saints’ Day”
Composed of refined sugar and impatient children, the contemporary commemoration of the day leaves much to be desired. Oddly, though, neighborhood decorations viewed closely offer a memento mori otherwise unacceptable in Instagram culture:
The “Halloween” Movie
Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) was no Freddy Krueger, and “The Seventh Seal” is no Halloween movie, but BBC Radio 4’s excellent In Our Time podcast, anchored by Melvyn Bragg, put me in mind of it—especially where the really pale guy says, conversationally, “I am Death.” (Link to film at the bottom of this post).
Thinking about death is hard work. From Punch, consider the “Michaelmas Term” cocktail.
Readers may summon up a nineteenth century British literature survey course and recall that “Michaelmas”—pronounced MICKLE-muss—in the English university calendar was the period roughly from September to Christmas (thus, the fall term at school was “Michaelmas term”). (Traditionally, Michaelmas—the Feast of Michael and All Angels—was celebrated on September 29. Being close to the equinox, it was associated with autumn and shorter days). Punch’s spec is straightforward:
1/4 ounce ruby port, preferably Quinta do Infantado
1/4 ounce crème de cacao, preferably Tempus Fugit
1/4 ounce Amaro Averna
5 drops saline solution or a tiny pinch of salt
Garnish: orange peel and a cherry on a pick; side of 2 ounces of high-quality cola, such as Fever-Tree Distillers Cola (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass, fill with ice, and stir until chilled.
Strain into a double rocks glass over a large ice cube.
Express the orange peel over the drink and garnish with the peel and a cherry.
If using, serve the cola neat in a very small glass on the side.
Now that you have a drink, two poems about the graveyard. The first is by former United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins—”Cemetery Ride,” from his collection Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems (2013):
My new copper-colored bicycle
is looking pretty fine under a blue sky
as I pedal along a sandy path
in the Palm Cemetery here in Florida,
wheeling past the headstones of the Lyons,
the Campbells, the Vesers, and the Davenports,
Arthur and Ethel, who outlived him by eleven years.
I slow down even more to notice,
but not so much as to fall sideways on the ground.
And here’s a guy named Happy Grant
next to his wife Jean in their endless bed.
Annie Sue Simms is right there and sounds
a lot more fun than Theodosia S. Hawley.
And good afternoon, Emily Polasek,
and to you too, George and Jane Cooper,
facing each other in profile, two sides of a coin.
I wish I could take you all for a ride
in my wire basket on this glorious April day,
not a thing as simple as your name, Bill Smith,
even trickier than Clarence Augustus Coddington.
Then how about just you, Bernice Owens?
Would you gather up your voluminous skirts
then ride sidesaddle on the crossbar
and tell me what happened between 1863 and 1931?
I’ll even let you ring the silver bell.
But if you’re not ready, I can always ask
Amanda Collier to rise from her long sleep
beneath the swaying gray beards of Spanish moss
and ride with me along these sandy paths
so I can listen to her strange laughter
as some crows flap in the blue overhead
and the spokes of my wheels catch the dazzling sun.
The second is by reliable Robert Frost—”In a Disused Graveyard,” which appeared in Frost’s collection New Hampshire (1923):
In a Disused Graveyard
The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never any more the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
“The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay.”
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can’t help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.
Music for autumn is notoriously difficult to pinpoint, at least for me, but two struck me recently as nailing the season, despite their different forms.
Second, consider Autumn by The Gaslight Anthem on their just-released History Books. [Bonus points available: the album’s fifth track—Michigan,1975—opens with “Don’t be in love/I’m not your savior/Just a dream/Dressed up to scare you/On Halloween.”]
As promised above, here is a link to The Seventh Seal. Much of life, perhaps, can be summed up as chess on the beach with Death.
Finally, a look at Billy Collins reading some of his poems: