My Intro to literature professor had taught this course for fifteen years or more by the time I sat in his classroom. By now, he has likely taught it for three decades. No October passes without me remembering him, looking like Santa Claus dressed up as a college professor in khakis and knit ties. (And while he would grit his teeth at the jolly reference, his eyes would twinkle in spite of himself.)
Whenever the leaves color and fall in a chilly breeze, I remember Dr. LaPointe teaching Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall,” particularly the line “Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.”
The word “leafmeal” has not likely entered the vocabulary of your average 19 or 20 year old. So, to demonstrate the evocative Hopkins-invented term, Dr. LaPointe pulled from between the pages of the phonebook-thick Intro to Lit a dried, pressed maple leaf, then crumbled it. Leafmeal.
After class, he would scoop up a freshly fallen ochre or scarlet leaf on his way across campus and tuck it into the book for next year’s demonstration of leafmeal.
I don’t know if he still does the leafmeal demonstration. But every October, like clockwork, I remember it vividly. That memory, plus seventeen years of academics ingraining “fall = books,” brings on an annual bout of bookish-ness. (As if I’m not normally bookish. I’m just more so in October.)
Piled on my desk right now are: Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, Joyce’s Dubliners, Czarnecki’sNever Stop Asking for Poems, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and a collection of essays by the late reporter and columnist Michael Kelly. Each, to me, are volumes of quiet power spread out in a buffet of what makes us human, for better or for worse.
I had to travel to the bookcase in my attic to retrieve most of these books; some are re-reads, and I’ll likely just dip into each one rather than powering through cover-to-cover. I feel an internal tugging to revisit these words that along some neural pathway links to the memories and sensations that make up “autumn.”
No other change of season sends me to the bookcase. Like the need to drink apple cider, wear fleece, and carve a pumpkin, October also kindles in me a need to read what stirs a certain kind of yearning. I’m not sure what I’m yearning for – the books, the season, or some combination of both that is peculiar to me.
All I know for sure is that it’s October, and I’m feeling bookish.
Oh Dr. LaPointe… I enjoy the same desire to return to books. Not as much literature as you, but I do long for a story and the feel of paper. Leafmeal, or leafmold in the gardening circle, is very valuable. I have been collecting my neighbor’s leaves. I will make leafmeal, and add it to my garden to feed and strengthen next Spring’s plants. When I go out today to make leafmeal I will feel like I am participating in Manley Hopkin’s poem.
“Leafmeal” is the official Word of the Week! We have tar-spot up here on the maple leaves, but the unaffected leaves are coloring spectacular this year. Hopkins is with you as you make leafmeal!
I feel as if I were there with you in class. We’ll see if next October I too remember leafmeal. 🙂
“Leafmeal” is unforgettable!