« | Archives | »

What Can this Poem Teach You about Midlife?

October '20

Here in the Northeast of the U.S., the sun is setting earlier and the leaves are changing color as the world around us revamps itself. The arrival of fall is upon us. This seasonal shift is often used as a metaphor for the midlife transition, because the change happens gradually, and the shift is inevitable.

It’s not like the aftermath of a hurricane with trees down and power out. It’s bit by bit. The sun slips below the horizon a minute, or two earlier each night. The leaves slowly turn from green to brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. And later fall to the ground starting at the top of the tree and working their way down.

And this shift is inevitable. There is no stopping this seasonal change. And so it is when you find yourself in the midst of a midlife transition. At some point, you realize that you cannot move forward with the same routine, but you don’t want to let go of what you have, and cannot see a clear way forward.

In Mary Oliver’s poem, Song for Autumn, she addresses this kind of change.

Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now                                        
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for                                              

the birds that will come–six, a dozen–to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

So how might you take Mary Oliver’s advice about change? Why not find aspects of your life that you are ready to release? And envision a soft landing for them like the leaves in her poem. And why not imagine a new landscape for your life, literal and/or metaphoric? You don’t reinvent your life overnight. It takes time to realize the leaves of your life changed color. It takes time to let go of some parts of your life and even longer to conceive of a new landscape. All these steps are critical for any midlife reinvention, or seasonal change, as Mary Oliver’s amazing poem reveals.

Enjoy this gorgeous season!


  1. Linda said on November 23, 2020:

    This is a lovely poem and your advice for us to let go of some parts of our lives and conceive of new landscapes is apropos. Moving on, yet not forgetting the past and how it may have changed our lives, and doing so without bitterness, may also allow our release to land more softly.

  2. Bonnie said on August 11, 2021:

    Thank you so much for this kind and thoughtful comment, Linda! I’m so late in responding to it because I did not receive it until today because of a computer snafu. Lovely to hear from you! Bonnie

Leave a comment