When the Leaves are Falling
Trish Falin on Finding William Butler Yeats
Three weeks of days growing shorter, warm afternoons with a cool breeze or occasional rain and gray mornings. . . . November is probably not the month most people choose to go to northern Italy’s Veneto region, but I found myself there among all the yellow leaves. The old city of Vicenza is a train stop between Venice and Verona and many in the region love the city for its shops, restaurants and cafes. If you hike up to the top of Monte Berico, you can take in a view of the whole city.
Out late in places like Art Café, known for its walls plastered with American cartoons and movie posters or listening to music in Bar Sartea’s dark interior lit by red lights, I usually made it back before dawn and picked a book off the shelf to read while watching the gray light grow into another misty morning. In the small hours, the book A Poet to His Beloved: The Early Love Poems of W.B. Yeats kept me company and was a nice salve for my heart, which needed to heal from a love that didn’t work out.
“Autumn is over the long leaves that love us,” begins the poem “The Falling of the Leaves.” Autumn feels like the season of loss, as everything is decaying. “Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us, / And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.” The end of the first stanza painted the world in yellow leaves, the same color of those lining walkways through Vicenza’s many parks. Upon arriving in Vicenza, walking from the train station, I came across an open park with tree-lined paths that were as yellow as the leaves that inspired Yeats when he wrote poems for Maud Gonne, the woman who refused to marry him no matter how many times he asked or how many years he waited. There are some loves that strike deep and are difficult to walk away from without a lingering desire to keep them alive, as Yeats has done in his poetry.
There is a reason people go to Italy after a breakup. It’s not because of the latest “When in Rome” film that makes one hopeful for new love, or the book Eat, Pray, Love and Elizabeth Gilbert’s great description of the language and food (not to mention the cute young tutor). It isn’t just because the men are flirtatious and lovely and the stracchino cheese on pizza at Pub Re Di Spagna in Vicenza is orgasmic. It has to do with the way the place can heal a heart. Whether you touch the left breast of Juliet’s statue (Romeo’s Juliet) at Casa di Giulietta in Verona for better luck in love or feel the bells toll inside your body in Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy has the powerful ability to make one forget about pain and replace the unfulfilled desire with new passion for everything.
Even surrounded by the yellow leaves of Yeat’s longing, I see Vicenza’s bright yellow chrysanthemums in pots along the bridge over the Bacchiglione River that meanders through the city like an afternoon inside Teatro Olimpico can meander back in time. Built in the 1580s, the stage in the old theater is a permanent set of the seven streets of Thebes, and the theater itself is the oldest surviving enclosed theater in the world.
“The hour of the waning of love has beset us, / And weary and worn are our sad souls now;” the second stanza of Yeats’s poem “The Falling of the Leaves” continues. Time means so much more when I am standing in the Piazza dei Signori on the hour and the bell tower doesn’t let me forget that another hour has passed. The heart of the city, where the piazza is located, is principale del centro storico di Vicenza, the site of the old Roman forum, where two columns remain from the Venetian period. The Basilica Palladiana, a Renaissance building designed by Andrea Palladio that is a World Heritage Site, is also there. The right foundation will make a building last forever.
People say time heals all wounds, but some wounds are deeper, and perhaps we learn how to move on and find joy with the dull ache sleeping inside. That seems clear when Yeats closes the poem “The Falling of the Leaves” with “Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us, / With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow.” Only in the small hours did I give in to the urge to feel the sadness of loss. Yeats’ early book of poems written for his lost love was a perfect match for a couple of dawns that brought home the gray light to the apartment off Piazza 20 Settembre, the piazza guarded by an angel high up on a column that overlooks the Ponte degli Angeli, the Bridge of Angels.
After a night of drinking some of the region’s wine, listening to music, and making new friends, and after the bar café Pitanta closed its door on the last soccer fan’s reverie, and after the garbage collector had taken the trash, and before the birds began the new day with happier sounds, I felt as if the book had been written in this place. “I bring you with reverent hands / The books of my numberless dreams,” begins the title poem of Yeats’s book.
In the introduction of A Poet to His Beloved, Richard Eberhart recommends reading this book of Yeats’s poems before the rest of his work. I recommend reading it some early morning in the fall, near a window overlooking a lonely street in the Veneto region of Northern Italy after a night of food, drink, and companionship, when your heart is still feeling tender from loss. Yeats wrote words filled with deep longing. Take the book with the intent Yeats had when he wrote for his beloved the poem “When You Are Old,” and begin healing:
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once…
In addition to travel articles, Trish Falin is working on a collection of poems inspired by the four seasons in Italy, beginning with fall. The collection of poems moves to winter, spring, and summer with the taste, smell, and feel of Italy giving life to a year of transformation. A former news reporter and editor, Trish earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in 2009. Her poetry has appeared in Soundings, Askew, Penumbra, Dash, Welter, and other literary journals. Non-fiction publications include travel books and textbooks for carpenters in Las Vegas.