Saturday, November 7, 2015

"The Region November"

As the years pass, I find myself growing fonder of November.  I have tended to think of the month as merely the somber denouement of the brilliance of October, with its mix of exhilaration and wistfulness, beauty and loss. November is pitched at a lower key.  An end has been reached.  Our task seems to be "what to make of a diminished thing."  (Robert Frost, "The Oven Bird.")

             The Region November

It is hard to hear the north wind again,
And to watch the treetops, as they sway.

They sway, deeply and loudly, in an effort,
So much less than feeling, so much less than speech,

Saying and saying, the way things say
On the level of that which is not yet knowledge:

A revelation not yet intended.
It is like a critic of God, the world

And human nature, pensively seated
On the waste throne of his own wilderness.

Deeplier, deeplier, loudlier, loudlier,
The trees are swaying, swaying, swaying.

Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose (The Library of America 1997).  The poem was written in the closing years of Stevens's life.

A side-note:  long-time (and much-appreciated!) visitors to this location may recognize "The Region November" as my "November poem."  I beg your indulgence for our annual visit to the poem:  I'm afraid I will never tire of it.

James Paterson, "Moniaive" (1885)

But is November in fact "a diminished thing"?  I have been taking my daily walks at dusk.  In this part of the world, we are entering into a greyness that will persist, with occasional bright intervals, until spring arrives.  Yet the November twilight's combination of grey sky and gold-leaved trees is enchanting.  And, thanks to our rain and our mild climate, the grassy meadows remain green, with palls of fallen gold leaves spread beneath the trees.  We walk within a shimmering grey-gold-green evening light.  Yes, there is a somberness.  But, if we have suffered a loss, the loss is not without compensations, nor is it irrevocable.

Others may feel differently.  We have all felt and heard the winds of November, and shivered.  Well, yes, of course:  mortality.

                  November Eves

November Evenings!  Damp and still
They used to cloak Leckhampton hill,
And lie down close on the grey plain,
And dim the dripping window-pane,
And send queer winds like Harlequins
That seized our elms for violins
And struck a note so sharp and low
Even a child could feel the woe.

Now fire chased shadow round the room,
Tables and chairs grew vast in gloom:
We crept about like mice, while Nurse
Sat mending, solemn as a hearse,
And even our unlearned eyes
Half closed with choking memories.

Is it the mist or the dead leaves,
Or the dead men -- November eves?

James Elroy Flecker, in J. C. Squire (editor), The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker (Martin Secker 1916).

James Paterson, "Autumn in Glencairn, Moniaive" (1887)

Stevens is more equivocal than Flecker:  the trees in "The Region November" are "saying and saying" something.  I suspect that mortality crossed Stevens's mind, but he seems open to other possibilities as well:   "A revelation not yet intended."

I am reminded of "The River of Rivers in Connecticut":  "The river is fateful,/Like the last one.  But there is no ferryman."  As is so often the case with Stevens, it is movement that is important:  the movement back and forth between our Imagination and the World, a World in which "the mere flowing of the water is a gayety,/Flashing and flashing in the sun."  The trees "swaying, swaying, swaying" are part of that World.  Charon the ferryman is not present.

Flecker, on the other hand, is quite clear as to what November eves and November winds betoken.  As is Thomas Hardy.

             A Night in November

I marked when the weather changed,
And the panes began to quake,
And the winds rose up and ranged,
That night, lying half-awake.

Dead leaves blew into my room,
And alighted upon my bed,
And a tree declared to the gloom
Its sorrow that they were shed.

One leaf of them touched my hand,
And I thought that it was you
There stood as you used to stand,
And saying at last you knew!

Thomas Hardy, Late Lyrics and Earlier, With Many Other Verses (Macmillan 1922).

Those talking trees again:  "And a tree declared to the gloom/Its sorrow that they were shed."

James Paterson, "Borderland" (1896)

There is also this in November:  the sliver of yellow sky just above the horizon, beneath the wall of grey clouds, as the sun sets.  I saw it earlier this week.  Again, the loss we have suffered, the loss that brings us to November, is not without compensations, nor is it irrevocable.  That is what the evanescent, luminous sliver of yellow sky says.

            There's Nothing Like the Sun

There's nothing like the sun as the year dies,
Kind as it can be, this world being made so,
To stones and men and beasts and birds and flies,
To all things that it touches except snow,
Whether on mountain side or street of town.
The south wall warms me:  November has begun,
Yet never shone the sun as fair as now
While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough
With spangles of the morning's storm drop down
Because the starling shakes it, whistling what
Once swallows sang.  But I have not forgot
That there is nothing, too, like March's sun,
Like April's, or July's, or June's, or May's,
Or January's, or February's, great days:
And August, September, October, and December
Have equal days, all different from November.
No day of any month but I have said --
Or, if I could live long enough, should say --
"There's nothing like the sun that shines today."
There's nothing like the sun till we are dead.

Edward Thomas, in Edna Longley (editor), Edward Thomas: The Annotated Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2008).

James Paterson, "The Last Turning, Winter, Moniaive" (1885)


asquith said...

John Ashton said...

Like you Mr Pentz I have come to appreciate November more as I have advanced in years. I there a link? I have come to think of it as rather a quiet, intimate month. As the colours go from the trees and growing things die back into the earth, though very slowly here as it has been so unseasonably mild. I feel a sense of the earth being closer as we see Nature working to an end, and some of the process of that the end, things being so stripped back. There is no end of course, more a settling down, a rest before the return of Spring. The thick cloud and day long murk of the November day lend a stillness to everything, a slowing down. Working at my allotment, tidying and readying things for the winter, is to me to be a part of that.
Thank you for another wonderful post, and Stevens, Hardy and Thomas, what an incomparable way to begin my day. I am now off to attend to allotment and make the most of this November day.

Stephen Pentz said...

Asquith: Thank you very much for the link. Unfortunately, links lose their "clickability" (if that's a word) when posted as a comment in Blogger. Therefore, for any readers wishing to find the subject of the link, please search for: Gram Parsons and "November Nights." It is a lovely song. (Although I confess that I am biased: I am extremely fond of Gram Parsons's music, and his death at too young an age was a tremendous loss. If he is new to you, I recommend listening to "Hickory Wind," "A Song for You," "The New Soft Shoe," and "Return of the Grievous Angel," for starters. )

Thank you again, asquith.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Ashton: Thank you very much for your thoughts on November. I agree with you that there may be a link between aging and increased affection for November: in fact, the same thought occurred to me as I was writing the post, but I left it out because the post was getting too long. So I greatly appreciate your mentioning the connection. There is, of course, the oft-remarked upon parallel between the stages of human life and the seasons. Which may mean that you and I are in the November of our years! Which is perfectly fine, as far as I am concerned.

And thank you as well for your meditation on November's characteristic features. Your thoughts bring to mind Frost's poem "In Hardwood Groves" (which I'm sure you are familiar with) in which, like you, he notes that autumn is a necessary stage on the return to spring: "Before the leaves can mount again/To fill the trees with another shade,/They must go down past things coming up./They must go down into the dark decayed."

I hope you enjoyed your time in your allotment today. As for here: rain, and more rain.

As ever, thank you for your thoughts, and for visiting.

Anonymous said...

In my "Collected Poems of Robert Frost", on the facing page to "In Hardwood Groves" is another poem that fits in well here:

Now Close the Windows

Now close the windows and hush all the fields:
If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
Be it my loss.

It will be long ere the marshes resume,
It will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.

Fred said...


The poem by James Flecker is closest to how I view November. That's based on growing up in Chicago, where November is a cold, dreary, damp, drab month when the fall colors have disappeared,and there isn't even snow to either cover up the drabness or provide some color.

This is not true of Tucson, of course, but it's hard to forget a Chicago November. The weather is so much different here that I don't even think it's November now.

Stephen Pentz said...

Susan: Thank you very much for sharing Frost's poem. I agree that it goes well here. It's one of my favorites by Frost, although I confess that I've never quite figured it out, apart from glimmers now and then. But that's fine with me. It is lovely just as it is, with no explanations or explications required.

As always, it is a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you again for sharing this.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: I've never lived in Chicago, but I can imagine why Flecker's poem might resonate for you. That cold wind off of Lake Michigan, for instance. And what a contrast with Tucson. I hope you've had a chance to visit the aspens in the mountains this year.

I appreciate hearing from you again. Thank you for stopping by.

Bovey Belle said...

We have - until today - had a very mild November - in fact, we even had a record-breaking day of sunshine when temperatures in Wales reached 22 deg! I have grasped every moment of warmth and sun and so understand Hardy and ET doing the same thing with such eloquence. Out in the Brecon Beacons today, I noted each bright concentration of colour in the hedgerows, where hazel leaves still clung hard, and beech leaves rattled a tattoo. Even a splash of deep lilac from Tufted Vetch, not yet browbeaten by November. ET's poem seems so apt here and nice to think he did sometimes have a glass half-full day.

I know exactly what Hardy meant when he spoke of the panes beginning to quake - they do in our bedroom too, when the wind is from the North, and the Georgian glass with all its blemishes shakes in the frame. Although Hardy is thinking of Emma visiting him (I assume), I see the bedroom as the one in the cottage at Higher Bockhampton where he grew up, but that is just my wont. I love the tree declaring to the gloom too . . . he was so in touch with nature.

Flecker is a "who he?" to me, and I know only of Wallace Stevens what I have read today. I was deep in thought in the poetry sections of the Hay-on-Wye bookshops today, but I was trying to be good, so actually came home empty-handed . . . unheard of.

Thank you for such a wonderful atmospheric choice - as always.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: Thank for stopping by again, and for your thoughts on (and kind words about) the post.

Yes, it is always nice to see that part of ET come out -- as you say, it is there, but usually overshadowed.

I also assume that the leaf in "A Night in November" is Emma. Late Lyrics and Earlier, in which the poem appears, was published in 1922, but Hardy included a subscript to the poem dating its composition to "1913," which, as you know, was the year after Emma's death. It thus appears to be a poem that he did not include in his "Poems 1912-13" sequence.

As for Flecker, I recommend looking into his poetry. I suspect that you may have come across some of his poems over the years; perhaps "The Old Ships," "A Ship, an Isle, a Sickle Moon," "No Coward's Song," or "To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence" may ring a bell? As for Stevens, he is one of my favorites. You can find quite a few poems by him that have appeared here if you click on "Wallace Stevens" under the "Labels" column to the left.

As always, it is a pleasure to hear from you. I was very sorry to read on Codlins and Cream about your loss of Lucy this past week. I know it is hard to find comfort now (particularly in light of the connection with your mother), but you have my sympathy. She was well-loved, and you gave her a good life.

Bovey Belle said...

Many thanks, Mr Pentz, for keeping the faith by reading my blog. Lucy's loss was poignant but I feel she is with us still, if only in spirit.

I have put a "note to self" in my bag, so that next time I am in Hay-on-Wye I DON'T come back empty-handed (as I did last week) but I will have found a book of Flecker's poetry and also Wallace Stevens. I shall catch up on here in the meantime.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: A loss like that is never easy. But I agree with you about the continuing presence of the companions that have departed: they never entirely leave us.

Good luck with finding something by Flecker and Stevens. Stevens should be fairly easy to find, although he is still not as well known in the UK as over here. He supports an academic cottage industry in "explication" and "criticism" in the U.S.: ugh! Flecker may not be difficult either: he became fairly popular after his death (he died quite young). I'm holding the 1947 edition of his Collected Poems, and it shows that the 1916 edition of the Poems went through 14 printings between 1916 and 1933, which is very good for a book of poetry. So there are probably some copies still around. Good luck with them both!

Thank you very much for the follow-up thoughts.