Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Reluctance" Revisited: "All The Leaves Want To Go"

The following poem by Norman MacCaig perhaps bears consideration in conjunction with Robert Frost's "Reluctance."


Wanting to go,
all the leaves want to go
though they have achieved
their kingly robes.

Weary of colours,
they think of black earth,
they think of
white snow.

Stealthily, delicately
as a safebreaker
they unlock themselves
from branches.

And from their royal towers
they sift silently down
to become part of
the proletariat of mud.

Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).

When it comes to our leafy fate, I opt for "reluctance" rather than "wanting to go."  But, in the end, it is a matter of six of one, half a dozen of the other, isn't it?

                        Samuel Palmer, "The White Cloud" (c. 1833-1834)

A lonely four-mat hut --
All day no one in sight.
Alone, sitting beneath the window,
Only the continual sound of falling leaves.

Ryokan (translated by John Stevens), One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan (1977).

                            Samuel Palmer, "The Harvest Moon" (c. 1833)


Anonymous said...

what a nice blog!!

Fred said...


I wonder what the poet is waiting for--his own death. The tone seems to fit in better with "waiting to go" than with "reluctance."

Anita said...

it is very beautiful those poems:)

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you very much. I'm pleased that you found your way here.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: well, MacCaig was two months shy of 72 when he wrote the poem. But, thankfully, he lived nearly 14 more years. So it turns out that he had a while to wait!

As always, thanks for visiting, and for your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anita: thank you very much for visiting. I'm pleased that you like the poems. Thanks again.

Fred said...


Actually I was thinking more of Ryokan's poem, although it could apply as well to McCaig's "Autumn."

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: sorry for being slow on the uptake! I agree with you: many of Ryokan's poems seem to be about waiting for death, which makes them sound gloomy, which is not the case at all. Thanks for the thoughts.

Fred said...


Looking back at my message, I wasn't clear as to which poet I was referring to.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: in any event, I think that your thought is right on point for both MacCaig and Ryokan! Thanks again.

Peter said...

Hello, well.. I gotta some problems in the school with this poem, because of questions made by the teacher about the poem. Down here are these questions and i really hope that some1 can help me, its so important. Thanks anyway.

1. What does the poet mean when he says in line 4 that the leaves achieved their kingly robes?
2. Where, according to stanza 2 do the leaves want to go?
3. What element of nature is personified in the poem?
4. Which two words contrasts sharply in the final stanza?