Fall Retreat by Matt Melone

Fall Retreat’ by Matt Melone describes an annual gathering of family and friends beside a lake, immersed in a natural, spiritual setting. 

The poem begins with the speaker stating that everyone is on their way to a gathering. This happens every year. Everyone in this group calls on the “native spirits”, reminisces on the past, and plans for the future. Through imagery associated with fall and rebirth, ‘Fall Retreat’ ends without an actual conclusion. No one goes to sleep that night as they relish one another’s company and the setting around their “Homefire”. 

 

Poetic Techniques in Fall Retreat

Fall Retreat’  by Matt Melone is a six stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains do not follow one specific pattern of rhyme, but they do make use of full, half, and internal rhyme. The former can be seen a few times in the text, such as at the ends of lines two and four of the second stanza with “ground” and “abound” or, lines one and two of the fourth stanza with “Fall” and “all”. 

Half rhymes, also known as slant or partial rhymes, are seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “King” and “keen” in the third stanza. These words are connected through the use of the long ‘e’ and ‘k’ sounds. Or, in the final stanza, “sky” and “fire” (as well as “tire”). These words all utilize the long ‘i’ sound. 

Internal rhyme is also present in the poem. This is a kind of rhyme that is not constrained to the end of the lines but can appear anywhere. For instance, in the first line of the second stanza with “year” and “here”

 

Other Poetic Techniques  in Fall Retreat

Melone also makes use of a few other poetic techniques. These include alliteration and enjambment. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. It can be seen in the fourth line of the second stanza with “tears”, “tall” and “tales”. 

Another important technique that is commonly used in poetry is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point.  It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout the poem, but one example is the transition between the first and second lines in the second stanza. 

 

Fall Retreat – Poem

A pilgrimage among friends,

from Winding Stair to Cedar Lake

Beckon the native spirits,

Earth and Heaven make

 

Year upon year, we gather here

this ancient and sacred ground

Time for Fellowship and Solitude

tears and laughter, tall tales abound

 

Towering pines and cedars King

ever showing robes of green,

and lording over hardwoods keen,

Mighty oak and hickory redeem

 

Campfire is always center Peace,

Wilderness paths call to teach

We circle the Lake, as we can

and return to Homefire once again

 

Escape is welcome, Renewal required

Falling leaves yield to rainbow sky

At set of sun, clouds blaze autumn fire

And of Twilight stars, we dare not tire.

 

Analysis of Fall Retreat

Stanza One 

A pilgrimage among friends,

from Winding Stair to Cedar Lake

Beckon the native spirits,

Earth and Heaven make

In the first stanza of ‘Fall Retreat,’ the speaker describes a journey undertaken by “friends”. It is related to a pilgrimage, immediately introducing religious connotations. Likely, it is something that occurs annually (or as the second stanza puts it “Year upon year”). The group of friends travels from “Winding Stair to Cedar Lake”. It is unclear if these are actual place names or just descriptions of other places. “Cedar Lake” is as likely to be a town as it is an actual lake at this point.

Through this journey, the group beckons to “the native spirits”. There is a comma after “native sprits”, suggesting that a reader should pause before moving down to the next line. There, earth and heaven are said to “make” something. This line is enjambed, meaning the reader has to go to the second stanza to find out what they “make”. 

 

Stanza Two 

Year upon year, we gather here

this ancient and sacred ground

Time for Fellowship and Solitude

tears and laughter, tall tales abound

The second stanza does not appear to pick up exactly where the first left off. But, it might connect up again to the “native spirits” and their beckoning. This happens “Year upon year”. Maybe it was the poet’s intention to draw attention to the consistency of this journey, the presence of the sprits and the security of heaven and earth. 

The word “sacred” appears in the second line, alongside “ground” and “ancient”. These words all have religious or spiritual associations, suggesting that this pilgrimage is one of a spiritual nature. But, it is also a secular one in which the group can come together and tell stories. There is a question around the capitalization of words in this stanza. Why a reader might ask, are “Time”, “Fellowship” and “Solitude” capitalized? Is it in order to suggest that these forces have been made real? They are embodied somehow? Or was it done simply to denote importance? 

The use of the ABCB rhyme scheme in this stanza of ‘Fall Retreat,’ and in the previous, lends the text a sing-song like rhythm. This can be powerful in some circumstances, and childish sounding in others. In this case, the pattern seems somewhat out of place as the speaker discusses something as meaningful as “sacred ground” and the telling of tales. But, that being said, these two lines centre around storytelling, group gatherings and ritual. Perhaps it is with this context in mind that Melone made the choice to utilize this rhyme scheme. 

 

Stanza Three 

Towering pines and cedars King

ever showing robes of green,

and lording over hardwoods keen,

Mighty oak and hickory redeem

Throughout the following stanzas of ‘Fall Retreat,’ it becomes clear that “Cedar Lake” was, in fact, a lake and not somewhere more suburban. The group is surrounded by “Towering pines and cedars King”. These huge trees are personified. The speaker states they are wearing “robes of green” and “lording over hardwoods keen”. The phrase “hardwoods keen” is a curious one. It suggests another kind of tree, perhaps one that is generally used for hardwood. This tree is lesser somehow, perhaps just in size, and is being dominated by the larger lords of the forest. 

 

Stanza Four

Autumn colors shout at peak of Fall

Maples are most proud of all

Yet all the trees are surely just,

flashing gold, crimson, and amber rust

Once again the third stanza is enjambed, leading a reader quickly into the fourth of ‘Fall Retreat’.  But, as with the transition between the first and second stanza, there is no clear conclusion or elaboration on the line. It is somewhat confusing what the trees “redeem”. Is the “autumn colors” or something else that’s redeemed by the “shout[ing]”?

Even though the speaker spent time praising the pine and cedar trees in the third stanza, in the fourth he states that the “Maples are most proud of all”. This is immediately followed by a statement that makes clear that “all the trees are surely just”. The use of “just” here is also slightly confusing. Does the speaker think they are worthy? That they all should have adequate consideration? Or was this word solely used in order to rhyme with “rust” in the fourth line? 

 

Stanza Five 

Campfire is always center Peace,

Wilderness paths call to teach

We circle the Lake, as we can

and return to Homefire once again

Stanza five of ‘Fall Retreat’ expands the surroundings some more. There is a “Campfire” that is a symbol of “Peace,” both words again using capitalized letters. It is the centre of the gathering, as one might imagine. Through the imagery of paths, specifically, that which goes around the lake, the speaker depicts a process of learning and coming together. The group moves through these natural spaces, communing with one another and with the nature around them. No matter where they wander, they end up back at the “Homefire”. This is a very clear metaphor for the larger themes of the poem, family, home, ritual/ceremony and spirituality. 

 

Stanza Six 

Escape is welcome, Renewal required

Falling leaves yield to rainbow sky

At set of sun, clouds blaze autumn fire

And of Twilight stars, we dare not tire.

Despite the coming tougher that occurred in the fifth stanza, the sixth stanza of ‘Fall Retreat,’ starts off with the statement “Escape is welcome”. Because there is no end punctuation in any of the lines, it is hard to determine where one thought ends and another begins. This could’ve been through choice, in order to wrap the reader in the pilgrimage and gathering, but it confuses the descriptions. 

Through a concluding image of fall and renewal, the group considers the future and the past. Again, there is a series of warm reds and oranges, this time created by the fire, not the trees. Finally, rather than conclude the scene, the poet chose to extend it beyond the bounds of the poem. “We”, he states, “dare not tire”. 

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