October 27, 2009
Autumnal Tints was published in October 1862, five months after Henry Thoreau’s death.
Years earlier, he had gathered much of its text from his Journals, as part of a projected larger work he intended to call The Fall of the Leaf.
It describes a phenomenon that we in the Northeast are gifted with each year.
After reading it, some of the words have stuck with me, and have been following me on my autumn walks:
October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world.
The very forest and herbage, the pellicle of the earth, must acquire a bright color, an evidence of its ripeness,—
as if the globe itself were a fruit on its stem, with ever a cheek toward the sun.
The purple grass is now in the height of its beauty…
Close at hand it appeared but a dull purple, and made little impression on the eye;
it was even difficult to detect; and if you plucked a single plant,
you were surprised to find how thin it was, and how little color it had.
But viewed at a distance in a favorable light,
it was of a fine lively purple, flower-like, enriching the earth.
Such puny causes combine to produce these decided effects.
I was the more surprised and charmed because grass is commonly of a sober and humble color.
Stand under this tree and see how finely its leaves are cut against the sky,—
as it were, only a few sharp points extending from a midrib.
There they dance, arm in arm with the light,—tripping it on fantastic points,
fit partners in those aerial halls.
So intimately mingled are they with it, that,
what with their slenderness and their glossy surfaces,
you can hardly tell at last
what in the dance is leaf
and what is light.
These bright leaves which I have mentioned are not the exception, but the rule …
As fruits and leaves
and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall,
so the year near its setting.
October is its sunset sky.
(To read this essay in full, go to)