SADNESS is either letting go of something good or feeling the pain of something that was not. Sometimes, it can be a bit of both.
The season of autumn is traditionally a time for melancholy; and those with this disposition regard it as holy. In the spring, we do not talk of “letting go” of winter; but in the autumn we do let go of the summer.
It may be a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but it also feels like a bereavement. “The summer’s lease hath all too short a date,” and so the mature sun must become weak, and the trees become bare. Here is a land of creeping chill; and one littered with “if onlys” and “what ifs?”.
Vincent Van Gogh enjoyed painting in the autumn; these were good conditions for creating. “Autumn weather is rainy and chilly,” he said, “but full of atmosphere. It is especially good for figures, which show a range of tone on the wet streets, and roads in which the sky is reflected.”
Here was a man acquainted with sorrow. He may have left the potato-coloured north for the golden light of Arles, but he remained forever drawn to those who’d received a “drubbing” in life. The yellow sun of hope called him; but the cold hand of sadness gripped his abandoned soul.
Robert Frost’s poem “Reluctance” acknowledges the pain of a season ended. “The leaves are all dead on the ground, Save those that the oak is keeping”; and there is nothing to be done but to let go of things past.
There is no desire to let go, but what choice is there? Yet still the poet’s ache, which borders on shame: “Ah, when to the heart of man Was it ever less than a treason To go with the drift of things, To yield with grace to reason, And bow and accept the end Of a love or a season?”
The Garden of Sadness is generally avoided: busy opinion and determined good works remove it from view. “Onwards and upwards, mustn’t stop!” people say. Others might speak of the garden in dramatic tones, but more for effect than for healing. “Leave me to my melancholy!” is their proud demand.
So, only rarely is the garden of sadness entered, and we should not be surprised. It is a raw place, where barbed wire is dragged through the soul, and old happiness raked, scraped, and sifted. Here is an unprotected wound of unresolved emotion. Who would willingly sit or wander here? It creeps up on you by day, and wakes you by night.
But those who enter the garden find gates leading beyond — and different gates from those by which they entered. Here, amid the fallen leaves, are kind openings to new places, unknown until now. “Autumn makes nature even more serious and intimate,” Van Gogh said. And, perhaps, it is that intimacy that puts the joy inside our tears, as we accept the end of a love or a season.