A Symphony for the Soul, in the Autumn Light

Lilies in our New York apartment in the autumn light.
New York Skyline in November

For several days now–spurred perhaps by the frantic-but-I-love-it pace of autumn in New York and the prospect of the holidays that the shop windows are already putting upon us–I’ve been thinking of this piece I have taped to my kitchen cabinet, a bit yellow and tattered at this point, but its message clear and in tact.

Its power is in its gentleness. And while I cannot say I always heed its words, I always aspire to return to them, and to be renewed.

My Symphony

To live content with small means;
to seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable,
and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages,
with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly,
talk gently, await occasions, hurry never;
in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common — this is my symphony.

–William Henry Channing

I first discovered this years ago somewhere in the vicinity of my brother-in-law, a very cool dude who has a soulful side (in addition to the intelligence to marry my sister). William Henry Channing, it turns out, was also an extremely cool dude. Harvard graduate, early women’s rights advocate, Unitarian minister, Transcendentalist, writer. (Summary in Wikipedia here.) 

Lilies in our New York apartment in the autumn light.

Fall is my favorite season. It’s like my New Year, my time of renewal. A return to the tasks and purposes we may have let languish over the summer, to rest and to play–which increasingly science tells us are as important as work. 

We are well into the season now, days shortening and good grief in New York it is already dark at 4:30. But the light–while we have it–has a special quality this time of year, a warmth and softness that often stops me in my tracks, even in my own apartment. It reminds me to be gentle, with others and with ourselves. 

Morning light in the gallery of our Manhattan apartment. The walls are in Benjamin Moore Ashwood Moss and hung with mostly black and white prints and drawings. Antique French secretary opens to double as a bar, essential element in any Southerner

When something gives us pause, be it a poem, or a slant of light, or a leaf on the sidewalk–especially in the hectic holiday-preparing days ahead–it’s a sign saying, hey, give yourself a second. Be gentle with yourself.

Lilies in our New York Apartment in the autumn light.


  1. I luv NY and miss it especially at this time of year. The clock never changes in Tucson but it is the best time of year here too. The light is a water colorist dream and I start designing more jewelry too. I would enjoy more pics of your NY apartment what I see is lovely.

  2. Dear Frances,

    The nostalgia for the season in New York that this post evoked, and the profound message of the Channing poem, has spurred me to at last post a comment. In short, I read and love your blog, congratulate you on your marriage (and anniversary) and send you best wishes from NC where I am residing again. I spent time in Morehead this summer and go to Kinston often (have you heard about the Chef and the Farmer?) and was even in Tarboro not long ago. I’m so happy for you
    and hope our paths cross soon. HK

    1. Thank you all for your kind words. I am so happy you get it. Sometimes when I do these “thoughtful” posts I fear I will lose people, and I usually do lose a few, but I have to write from my heart, ya know? I’m glad so many of you are there with me. We are all in it together.

  3. Frances, I agree with you—this is my favorite time of the year. The light is magical. BTW, I have that same daybed. It was my sons bed when he was 10-14. He picked it out at Boxwoods and begged me to buy it for him … so I did.
    xo, Lissy

    1. Love that bed. I think it may have been a Tony Duquette design. It is a hoot. Used to be in my office/guest room but I’ve brought it right out to the living room. All I need is a hookah… Don’t dare let your son take it to college…;)

  4. Frances, thank you for sharing the beautiful simplicity of the poem. Of all the talents you share, and yes there are many, my favorite is when you speak so purely from your heart. Isn’t it wonderful how just a ray of light can hold such power for the feelings it evokes. XO Pete

  5. I love this quote too… I, in fact, used it on the back of my father’s prayer card this year at his Memorial Mass. He died at 95, a Captain in the US Navy, and commanded a ship in the D Day Invasion at Normandy. He was such an extraordinary gentleman, and I really felt this captured him. Love your blog, and thank you for you great humor, lovely taste, and festive photos.

  6. Dear Frances,

    Wow ! The poem was such a needed message today. I shall write this in my day book and read it often for inspiration . Thank you for sharing your vision

    Hearts love, Joanie

  7. I love the Autumn light. It is so clear and fresh. And.. one of my favorite songs is “Autumn in New York” which you showed us so beautifully. What a beautiful dictum to live by!
    I, for one, would hate it if you stopped sharing from that sweet heart of yours! Don’t stop! xxo

  8. Lovely, lovely. Thank you, Frances, for reminding us. Life goes waaaaay too fast when taken for granted.

  9. Dearest Frances, what a treat it is for me to have found you!
    I truly enjoy your great taste, your narratives…and above all
    your delicate spirit. Your relationship with His Highness gives
    me hope that still Love is possible in the Autumn of life. Thank you for coming into my life. May the good Lord continue filling your days with such special blessings. Amen!

    1. Thank you, MC, I do so appreciate your kind words and wholeheartedly welcome you to our community. And yes love is always possible! Keep that lipstick on, girl, you never know who you might run into. Until then, Blessings to you, Frances

  10. I am lucky to be married to a cool dude with a soulful side, and to have a wonderful, fabulous sister! Thanks for bringing that beautiful quote back to our attention. I think I will print it out and read it every day; it says it all.

  11. Loved this. Your blog always makes me smile. Beautiful photos, the light is spectacular. Love the “keep that lipstick on, girl” message to MC Mayoral, Amen to that!

  12. What a peaceful and lovely email.
    Thanks for continuing to share your story with us, it’s a pleasure to read. Linda Dabney

  13. Dear Frances,
    you are dead on right— seize the beauty of the moment of light on your flowers. Loved the Channing quote….a big hug and thanks for the book xox carolyne (roehm)

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