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 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)