Notes to Poem:
Autumn Leaves

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: Autumn Equinox fell on September 22 (2012 & 2013), but on September 23 (2014 & 2015). Patrick McDonnell's comics Mutts welcomed the fall season on September 22 with a Emily Brontë's poem— "Every leaf speaks bliss to me / fluttering from the autumn tree." Two weeks later (October 6), Charles Schulz honors Autumn with Snoopy dancing merrily with a falling leaf in his comics Peanuts with Snoopy bowing to the leaf "Thank you for the dance!" It was around October 1969 at Cornell, when I noticed the different shapes of leaves on trees around the campus, began gathering them and learning the names of trees. This poem celebrates Autumn and that moment of discovery 45 years ago, with appreciation of leaves seen on hikes and nature walks. While writing this poem, an epiphany came when I noticed Snoopy dancing and Earl sitting still— "Action & Non-action"— pseudonym of Wei Wu Wei, an Irish sage who taught me much about enlightenment and spiritual awakening.

Commentary on Poem "Autumn Leaves":

Vivaldi's music, Brueghel's painting, Keats' "Ode"
celebrating Autumn— and now the comics
are doing it too. The terrier Earl in Mutts
sits beneath a tree watching a leaf falling

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741),
The Four Seasons (1725)

Pieter Brueghel (1525-1569), The Hay Harvest (1565)
Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Castle, Prague

John Keats: "To Autumn" (1819)
Illustrated by W. J. Neatby
Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (1725) inspired my first poem "I See Joy" (June 8, 1968), when listening to the Largo movement of "Winter". Several years ago, Vivaldi's Four Seasons ranked #1 among listeners of KDFC's classic music, before Beethoven's Ninth Symphony regained the top honor. Music videos of "Autumn" (Sarah Chang; Julia Fisher; John Harrison; Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Di Lugano). The Flemish master Pieter Bruegel has several seasonal paintings. I wrote my first Art History paper on Brueghel's The Harvester (1565) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for Professor Howard Hibbard at Columbia, 1961). While in Vienna (August 1972), saw Brueghel's Return of the Herd (1565) at Kunsthistorisches Museum.
I even found myself in Brueghel's The Hay Harvest (1565) while dreaming. I first heard Keats' Ode "To Autumn" at Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop (July 1989) from Galway Kinnell who recited it from memory. I honored Keats on his 218th birthday with a poem "Bending Bay Tree" last year on Halloween (10-31-2013). There are many renditions of Autumn in music, art, and poetry, but these three came to mind first.
Photo Sources: Vivaldi's Four Seasons (; The Hay Harvest (; Keats "To Autumn" (

with a quote from Emily Brontë's poem—
"Every leaf speaks bliss to me
fluttering from the autumn tree."

Two weeks later in Peanuts, another leaf

Patrick McDonnell, Mutts (September 22, 2014)

Emily Brontë (1818-1848)
Here's Emily Brontë's entire poem
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Image Sources: Mutts Comics (; Emily Brontë (;

is falling with the beagle Snoopy leaping
in delight: "Thank you for the dance!"
Autumn is the harvest season, a time
of gratitude for nature's abundant gifts.

Charles Schulz, Peanuts (October 6, 2014)

Autumn Leaves
Seeing Charles Schulz's Peanutes comics on October 6, 2014, I was overjoyed at Snoopy dancing merrily with a falling leaf. After his joyful exuberance, Snoopy bows to the leaf "Thank you for the dance!" How touching! This comic originally appeared 47 years ago on October 9, 1967. Beside plentitude of colorful Autumn leaves, it's the harvest season where farmers reap crops, the fruit of their labor.
Image Sources: Peanuts (; Autumn Leaves (;

In the Bhagavad Gita 9:26, Krishna says:
"He who offers to me with devotion
only a leaf— this I accept because
with a pure heart, it was offered with love."

Charioteer God Krishna driving Arjuna
in the Bhagavad Gita (circa 200 BC)

Krishna awaiting Radha
Kangra School (circa 1780)

Child Holding Maple leaf
a newly found treasure
Bhagavad Gita is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that's part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The charioteer god-king Krishna drives the warrior prince Arjuna to the battlefield and counsels him on his duty as a warrior and not to act cowardly. While living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was fortunate to hear over a hundred lectures on The Gita and Upanishads at MIT from Swami Chinmayananda's annual visits (1972-1977). One of my favorite passages is Bhagavad Gita 9:26, when Krishna tells Arjuna: "He who offers to me with devotion only a leaf— this I accept because with a pure heart, it was offered with love." Image Sources: Krishna & Arjuna (; Krishna awaiting Radha (; Child Holding Maple Leaf (

So I gathered leaves in a plastic pumpkin—
five-lobed red, orange, yellow Sugar Maples,
green heart-shaped Redbuds, fan-shaped Ginkgos,
bristle-tipped Red Oak & round-lobed White Oak,

Plastic Pumpkin

Sugar Maple


Ginkgo Biloba

Red Oak

White Oak
I recall the precise moment when discovering the beauty of leaves. It was in October 1969 when I was at Cornell's Student Union, Willard Straight Hall. There was a sudden downpour and I didn't have an umbrella. While waiting for the rain to subside, I noticed the tree by the left door of main entrance had heart-shaped leaves. It was amazing to see a "Valentine Tree", so I plucked a few as future Valentine Day greeting cards. After consulting several books on trees, found out it came from a Redbud Tree (Cercis canadensis). Here are some Redbud Leaves at the San Antonio Shopping Center (Showers Drive & California Street) in Mountain View, California (10-8-2009). Passed by a Y-shaped Redbud Tree at Hidden Villa hike (11-22-2013). Maple (Acer) trees grow to 33-148 ft height. The leaves in most species are palmate veined and lobed, with 3 to 9 (rarely to 13) veins each leading to a lobe, one of which is central or apical. A lone Maple leaf appeared on the Hidden Villa hike (11-22-2013), and is at the center of the Canadian flag. The Big Leaf Maple still had most of its colorful leaves on at the UVas Canyon hike (9-25-2011). The Red Mountain Trail was covered with Maple leaves on the Skyline to the Sea Trail hike (9-21-2008). More Maple leaves were encountered on the Castle Rock hike (9-8-2010). Ginkgo biloba also known as the Maidenhair tree, is native to China, used in traditional medicine and as a source of food. The leaves are unique among seed plants, being fan-shaped with veins radiating out into the leaf blade, sometimes bifurcating (splitting). During autumn, the leaves turn a bright yellow, then fall, sometimes within a short space of time (one to 15 days). Here's a field of yellow Ginkgos at Stanford (11-21-2007), and Ginkgo trees on Ortega Ave, Mountain View (12-10-2010). The Ginkgo inspire my poem "Meeting Goethe in Heidelberg" (12-13-2007) (Notes). Walking home on Montebello Ave, I pass by a Ginkgo with five branches with snail lodging in its trunk groove. (5-24-2014). Enjoyed a "Poetry and Mighty Oaks" hike at Pulgas Ridge (9-25-2008), while learning about oaks as five hikers read tree poems. The Red Oak (Quercus rubra) is a native of North America. It has stout branches growing at right angles to the stem, forming a narrow round-topped head. Its bark ridges have shiny stripes down the center. Red Oak leaves alternate, 7 to 9-lobed, oblong-ovate to oblong, 5-10 inches long, 4-6 inches broad; 7-11 lobes tapering gradually from broad bases, acute, and usually repandly dentate and terminating with long bristle-pointed teeth; the second pair of lobes from apex are largest; midrib and primary veins conspicuous. The White Oak (Quercus alba) has a bark that's usually light gray in color, with large branches striking out at wide angles. its leaves alternate, 5-9 inches long, 3-4 inches wide. Obovate or oblong, 7 to 9-lobed, usually 7-lobed with rounded lobes and rounded sinuses; lobes destitute of bristles. A tall White Oak on the Saratoga Gap hike (8-15-2010) and another at Stanford Dish hike (11-1-2013). Photo Sources: Plastic Pumpkin (; Sugar Maple (; Redbud; Ginkgo Biloba (; Red Oak (; White Oak (

crescent-shaped Eucalyptus, oval-shaped Ash,
bell-shaped Elms, lance-shaped Weeping Willows,
star-shaped Sweet Gums, giant-lobed Sycamores—
over a hundred leaves for the Great Pumpkin.


White Ash


Weeping Willow

Sweet Gum

Stanford's Eucalyptus Grove is located at Galvez Street & Arboretum Road in Palo Alto. Across the street is Stanford Stadium. The Eucalyptus Grove on Galvez Street is the site of Stanford's Annual Powwow. The Eucalyptus leaf is from my essay "Eucalyptus: Star and Crescent" (8-5-2007). Passed by a giant Eucalyptus Tree at Wunderlich Park (10-18-2013). Now I greet a three-trunk Eucalyptus on Montebello Ave as the Three Graces teaching me civility, on my walk daily to the bus. White Ash Tree (Fraxinus americana) has 5-9 leaflets per leaf. Baseball bats are made of Ash trees because of their durability. Elm Trees have been decimated by Dutch elm disease. Elm leaves are alternate, with simple, single- or, most commonly, doubly serrate margins, usually asymmetric at the base and acuminate at the apex. Weeping Willows (Salix babylonica ) have leaves alternating and spirally arranged, narrow, light green, with finely serrate margins and long acuminate tips; they turn a gold-yellow in autumn. I recall taking Mom and my 2-year old nephew André for Swan Boat ride at Boston Public Garden (1972) that had many Weeping Willows along the pond. The leaves of American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) usually have five (but sometimes 3 or 7) sharply pointed palmate lobes. Photo of Starry-shaped Sweet Gum at Sally's backyard (11-25-2010) that looks like a magic starry wand (11-22-2007). Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) leaves alternate, palmately nerved, broadly-ovate or orbicular, 10 to 23 cm (4 to 9 in) inches long. I found several giant Sycamore leaves near the Palo Alto Medical Foundation on El Camino Real, and bought them as gifts to my Mom (2004). She was amazed that the leaf was bigger than her face. Photo of Sycamore Tree top at Picchetti Ranch hike with Sycamore leaves on trail (10-25-2013). The Great Pumpkin is a fictional holiday figure in the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, first mentioned by Linus van Pelt in 1959. Every year, Linus sits in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear, but it never showed up. I enjoyed reading about Linus and his Great Pumpkin (1, 2, 3). When Linus says "the Great Pumpkin prefers sincere pumpkin patches" (October 30, 1960), it reminded me of sage Chou Tun-yi: "Sincerity is the foundation of the sage." (Penetrating Book of Changes, Ch. 1). When I gathered over 100 leaves in my plastic pumpkin and still didn't fill it up by Halloween 1969, I felt failure in my gift to the Great Pumpkin. Now I realized that quantity doesn't count, it was the sincerity of my activity that brought many sages to my life who guided me to peace and blessings. Photo Sources: Eucalyptus (; White Ash (; Elm (commons.wikimedia.or); Weeping Willow (; Sweet Gum (; Sycamore (; Great Pumpkin (

Seeing Snoopy dancing and Earl sitting still
conjured up the Mundaka Upanishad 3:1—
"There are two birds dwelling on the same tree,
one eats fruits thereof, the other looks in silence."

Snoopy dancing with leaf in Peanuts
by Charles Schulz (October 6, 2014)

Earl contemplating falling leaf in Mutts
by Patrick McDonnell (September 22, 2014)

Two Birds in Flowered Tree
by Anna Weber (1814-1888)
In the recent comics celebrating Autumn, Snoopy is dancing happily with a falling leaf while Earl is sitting still watching a falling leaf contemplating in silence. I recall the active & contemplative life contrasted in the Mundaka Upanishad (circa 500 BC). The bird eating is the body (jiva or Active Life) while the bird watching without eating is the Spirit (Pure Consciousness or Contemplative Life). "Two birds, united always, cling closely to the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit while the other looks on without eating." Mundaka Upanishad, III.i.1 (revised from translation by Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads: Katha, Isa, Kena, & Mundaka, Volume I, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1949, p. 179 & p. 297) Image Sources: Snoopy (; Earl (; Two Birds in Flowered Tree (

symbol of the active and contemplative life
practiced by the Irish sage Terence Gray with
pseudonym Wei Wu Wei— "Action, Non-action"
growing wine grapes while writing 8 Zen classics

"Vita Contemplativa"
Chartres Cathedral
North Transept (1194)

Terence Gray
Wei Wu Wei

Wei Wu Wei's gift
Open Secret (1965)
Hong Kong University Press

Wei Wu Wei
The Tenth Man (1966)
Hong Kong University Press
I've written an earlier poem "Mind: Questing or Resting" (7-20-2011), on the active & contemplative life (Notes, 7-27-2011). Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) in Nicomachean Ethics extols the virtue of contemplation which became a consummate activity during the Middle Ages. On August 15, 1979, I visited the Chartres Cathedral and saw the sculpture Vita Contemplativa (1194) at the North Transept. On Prayer and the Contemplative Life by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) gives nine reasons why Christ preferred Mary (contemplative) to Martha (active life) with additional support from Saint Augustine and Saint Gregory (Question CLXXXII). The Irish sage Terence Gray (1895-1987) took on the pseudonym Wei Wu Wei, and between 1958 to 1974, published 8 Zen classics: Fingers Pointing Towards the Moon (1958), Why Lazarus Laughed: Essential Doctrine Zen-Advaita-Tantra (1960), Ask The Awakened: The Negative Way (1963), All Else Is Bondage (1964), Open Secret (1965), The Tenth Man (1966), Posthumous Pieces (1968), Unworldly Wise: As the Owl Remarked to the Rabbit (1974 under pseudonym O.O.O.). On October 29, 1978, I learned from the sage Paul Brunton that Wei Wu Wei was visiting him, that he lives in Monte Carlo and grow wine grapes in Dijon, France. PB tells me "Wei Wu Wei is Irish, and he's three years older than I am. He was instantly enlightened without a guru like Ramana." In his letter of Sept. 17, 1979, Terence Gray writes "Our spiritual sadhana is largely in making wine". Quote from Open Secret (I.1): "Events, or memories of events, are objectivisations in consciousness." Wei Wu Wei inscribed this koan in his Open Secret gift: "To whom could I be present? From whom could I be absent?" In The Tenth Man (I.2): "to the Sage, there is no difference between self and other."
Photo Sources: "Vita Contemplativa" (; Wei Wu Wei (; Open Secret (; Tenth Man (

on awakened awareness and "Know Thyself",
living a simple life of timeless balance—
This is what Autumn Equinox teaches us
with equanimity of darkness and light.

Wei Wu Wei's
Ask the Awakened
Little, Brown & Co.,
Boston (1973)

Paul Cornwell's book—
Only by Failure: The Many
Faces of Impossible Life
of Terence Gray

Earth Lighting Equinox
Earth's two hemispheres receive
the sun's rays equally now. Night
and day are approximately equal.

John Keats: "To Autumn" (9-19-1819)
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
While browsing at the Harvard Coop Bookstore bargain table (c, 1976), I bought my first Wei Wu Wei book Ask the Awakened: The Negative Way for $1.23 (35% of the cover price of $3.45). With more meditation experience, I was able to relate more to Wei Wu Wei's insightful words. I was convinced that he is an enlightened sage like Ramana Maharshi and the Zen Patriarchs he often cites in his books. Quote from Ask the Awakened (I.2): "we need is another Bodhidharma, an Awakener who comes, with kindness but also with implacable firmness, to rouse us from the dream in which we are living." On September 6, 2008 at Stanford Green Library, I came across Paul Cornwell's book Only by Failure: The Many Faces of Impossible Life of Terence Gray (2004). I celebrated this illuminating experience with a web page "Wei Wu Wei: Open Secret— Discovering Wei Wu Wei in the Cornell Library (1968) & at Stanford Library Stacks (2008)" (9-11-2008). At the time, Amazon had it priced at $27.95, with 19 copies from used book dealers priced from $30.54 to $500.00! Now, the hardcover is priced $73.43 (out of stock at Amazon) and the used paperback is $788.93! But the teachings of enlightened sages are priceless. Paul Brunton has interviewed many enlightened masters. He told me that he has met only one who has experienced timelessness. I guess it's probably Wei Wu Wei. Terence Gray has lived a life comparable to a contemplative Taoist/Zen Master with stillness of mind exemplified by his books. At the same time, he has led an active life as Red Cross ambulance-driver, WWI air-mechanic, Egyptologist, playwright, stage designer, raising race horses, marrying a Russian princess, and growing wine grapes. An equinox occurs twice a year, around 20 March and 22 September. The oldest meaning of the word is the day when daytime and night are of approximately equal duration. The word equinox comes from this definition, derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). This poem was inspired by the recent comics of Mutts and Peanuts with Earl pondering on a falling leaf and Snoopy dancing with one. It brought memories of my first experience in appreciating the beauty and diversity of leaves, so I began collecting leaf images for the poem. Suddenly, I realized Snoopy's dancing and Earl's sitting still symbolized the active & contemplative life "Action, Non-action" or "Wei Wu Wei"— triggering a flood of memories of the Irish sage whose teachings have been truly a blessing like the autumn leaves bringing me equanimity of body & mind. Photo Sources: Ask The Awakened (; Only By Failure (; Earth Lighting Equinox (; Welcome Autumn Equinox (;

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 10-20-2014

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