Over the years I have posted several collections of poetry and a couple of songs which show that I am far from being alone in believing November to be the worst month of the year. This is the piece I shared two years ago – having re-read it, I didn’t really feel there was anything I wanted to add, so you’re getting it again, albeit with a couple of small edits. Originally posted on 19 November 2019, this is:
I’ve always thought of autumn as my favourite season, but that is based on late September going into October, when the leaves turn all those wonderful shades of gold and brown. I’m afraid that my positivity about the season tends to evaporate when November rolls around: I’ve always found November a dull month. The clocks have just gone back, heralding the onset of long, dark evenings, the weather usually starts to turn from autumnal to wintery, and everything seems to be on hold until December arrives, bringing the promise of Christmas and good times with family. Unlike the USA, who have Thanksgiving Day, for us it’s a kind of nothing month. I wondered if I was alone in that so I did some research, particularly into poems about November, to see what others thought of this month.
Before I share any with you, take a look at this from Google:
I must admit I hadn’t realised that death was a criterion by which poets were judged: that Robin Williams movie has a lot to answer for. I have posted a couple of times previously about how poets see this month but felt it was about time I shared a new set with you – some I’ve chosen before, but others are new to my selections.
As before, the first poem I’ve chosen to share is by Thomas Hood, and is simply called November:
No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
He doesn’t really like this month either, does he! At least he has shown me that my feelings about November are nothing new: Hood lived from 1799 to 1845, so that poem is almost 200 years old. Encouraged by finding this I thought I’d expand on this theme, as it is fertile ground for some very descriptive (and dismal!) poetry. My apologies to those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, who no doubt are basking in sunshine and increasing temperatures and must be wondering what I’m on about: I guess your equivalent must be May, when autumn turns to winter for you.
Not being poetic myself, and feeling short of inspiration to recall any more poems about this month, I returned to my main reference source: Google. If you do the same you’ll appreciate how much dreary doggerel I’ve spared you by not sharing them with you here! The great (?) William Topaz McGonagall seems to have been particularly taken with bad news stories from this month. One thing most of his poems have in common is that their length is inversely proportional to their artistic merit. I’ll save you the ordeal, but one of his November offerings is his poem about the Funeral of the Late Ex-Provost Rough of Dundee: all fourteen verbose stanzas of it! It came as no surprise to me to learn that audiences used to throw fruit and vegetables at him when he performed his poetry in public. He doesn’t sound as though he’d have been much fun at darts night with the lads in the pub, but at least his narrative style makes a change from poetic perceptions of the changing seasons. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic do look that poem up – and be grateful to me for not inflicting it on you.
Thomas Hardy is probably better known for his novels, but he also wrote poetry. Indeed, his final novel, Jude The Obscure, was published in 1896, and from then until his death in 1928 he only published poetry – he is rated by many as one of the best twentieth century British poets. Here’s an offering from him, entitled At Day-Close In November:
The ten hours’ light is abating,
And a late bird flies across,
Where the pines, like waltzers waiting,
Give their black heads a toss.
Beech leaves, that yellow the noon-time,
Float past like specks in the eye;
I set every tree in my June time,
And now they obscure the sky.
And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
A time when none will be seen.
There is the beginning of a theme developing here, I think: it’s rather bleak, isn’t it! One poem that did strike me in both its beauty and brevity was this one:
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
That is called November Night and is by a poet I’ll admit to not having heard of before I first posted some November poems. Let’s face it, if you’d heard the name Adelaide Crapsey you’d remember it! I rather like that little poem and didn’t just choose it so that I could mention the poet’s name, honest! I found this biography of her and it seems she lived a brief and tragic life. This poem was written when she was already aware of her own mortality, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis of the brain lining, and this makes it all the more poignant for me. The imagery of passing ghosts assumes extra significance when you know that she is one herself. In just 20 words she has captured perfectly the essence of November, as I believe it.
Having had my interest piqued by my Google search, I thought it might be an idea to seek out the work of some of those aforementioned ‘dead poets.’ Firstly, here is Robert Frost’s offering on this month, which is called My November Guest:
My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted grey
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise
I think that is a beautiful poem, and it’s good to see something so lovely being inspired by the feelings of sadness we may be having in the aftermath of summer and early autumn. The little screenshot from Google (above) also identifies Shakespeare and Keats as being dead poets who had written about autumn, presumably while they were still alive and, in Bill the Bard’s case, without the aid of those fabled hordes of monkeys with typewriters. I don’t know the works of Shakespeare sufficiently well to identify any poetry he wrote specifically about November – after all, my degree in English Literature was over 40 years ago – so I did a bit more research. It seems that he tended not to identify months, but his sonnets contain a great many poems which clearly relate to a season – this is Sonnet no.12, a typical example and very much about now:
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silver’d o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.
And to share another member of the Dead Poets’ Society, this is the very familiar first verse of Keats’ To Autumn:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
As you can see, Keats is more positive towards this time of year, and he continues in this vein for the remaining two verses of his poem. Maybe I’m being too harsh in my view of this month? Or maybe not…. As I said at the beginning November is, for me, the time when our weather starts turning wintery. Officially, the winter solstice isn’t until just before Christmas, but no one seems to have told that to the weather gods. It has been distinctly crappy – as distinct from Crapsey – here of late, not exactly the sort of weather that encourages you to go outside. I think I’ll just stay in with my poems, books, music, tv….