Tuesday, November 30, 2021


In this wet but temperate corner of the world, the short meadow grass, which turned pale-yellow and dry in the summer sun, is now green again.  The autumn and winter rains have arrived.  Over the weekend, I walked past a row of tall big-leaf maples -- a dozen or so, all of them emptied of leaves.  I was struck by the sight of the stout, grey and brown parti-colored trunks rising out of the deep-green grass.  

November was coming to an end, but the scene was one of illimitable life.  The long column of wide trunks stretched ahead beside the pathway, anchored in a sweep of bright grass, a canopy of countless empty branches overhead.  It was a matter of color and of light: the grey and brown of the trunks set against the green of the grass.  It felt like Spring.

               At Common Dawn

At common dawn there is a voice of bird
So sweet, 'tis kin to pain;
For love of earthly life it needs be heard,
And lets not sleep again.

This bird I did one time at midnight hear
In wet November wood
Say to himself his lyric faint and clear
As one at daybreak should.

He ceased; the covert breathed no other sound,
Nor moody answer made;
But all the world at beauty's worship found,
Was waking in the glade.

Vivian Locke Ellis, in Walter de la Mare (editor), Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages, Volume Two (Constable 1923), page 81.

John Aldridge (1905-1983), "Beslyn's Pond, Great Bardfield"


Bruce said...

The Night was wide, and furnished scant
With but a single Star —
That often as a Cloud it met —
Blew out itself — for fear —

The Wind pursued the little Bush —
And drove away the Leaves
November left — then clambered up
And fretted in the Eaves —

No Squirrel went abroad —
A Dog's belated feet
Like intermittent Plush, be heard
Adown the empty Street —

To feel if Blinds be fast —
And closer to the fire —
Her little Rocking Chair to draw —
And shiver for the Poor —

The Housewife's gentle Task —
How pleasanter — said she
Unto the Sofa opposite —
The Sleet — than May, no Thee —


Emily Dickinson didn't live in a temperate zone as you do: she lived in New England, where when golden October steals away a cold and often nasty November creeps in, merciless, its stertorous breath frigid, the gray clouds often dumping snow and sleet, often veiling the land in dismal mist. In Amherst in November, she sat in her rocking chair close to the fire.

The cold wind is astir, driving the dead leaves through the inky night. One imagines the air redolent of the odor of wood burning, the town's chimneys funneling the smoke skyward. The gelid sky, full of clouds, only one star showing it face and then leaving as the wind ferries the clouds. It may be green and mild where you are, as if spring never left, but in New England November and the three months that follow say in all but words they they are the antipodes of June.

Esther said...

“So sweet, ’tis kin to pain….” reminds me of Blake’s “Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.” Also, a brief poem quoted by an unremembered poet one evening at college, which he said he "lifted" (I would say plagiarized, but that is not my point here) from a paper by one of his students: "Sorrow so perfect it brings a smile."

Stephen Pentz said...

Bruce: Thank you very much for sharing another evocative poem by Dickinson, and for providing your own thoughts to place it in context. The endings of her poems often leave me puzzled (the fault is all mine), and this is no exception: I'm not sure what to make of "the Sofa," and of that last line. I suppose I need to let the poem sit with me a while. Still, as you articulate, the cold vastness of a New England November is certainly made clear, and is something to reckon with.

As always, thank you for stopping by. Here we are in December, so I wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas.

Stephen Pentz said...

Esther: Thank you for those two thoughts. The Blake is new to me. Looking into it, I see that he placed it among his "Proverbs of Hell." I don't know what to make of that. I certainly understand the sentiment, but will reserve judgment as to whether it is a proverb of Hell or of Heaven. I do like "Sorrow so perfect it brings a smile" by the unknown student. I suspect that many of us are familiar with that experience, that feeling.

As for Locke Ellis' "So sweet, 'tis kin to pain," in my experience this tends to be at the heart of many (if not all) experiences of beauty. Not necessarily always as the predominant feeling, but there. (Now that I think of it, Japanese poetry comes to mind, doesn't it?) But I am no doubt a soppy sentimentalist and romantic when it comes to this sort of thing.

Thank you very much for visiting again. Take care.