by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
November. Depending on where you live, it’s still autumn, or already winter, or spring-into-summer if you’re south of the equator. Here in America, we’re going off Daylight Savings Time this weekend, and it will get dark by five o’clock in the afternoon again.
November is a time of transition no matter where you live. So I’ve rounded up some poets with very different views of the month to take us into the change.
Emily Dickinson spent her whole life on the edge of things, in a very small corner of the world, but she was a peerless observer of every shift and variation around her.
Nature, Poem 49: November
Besides the autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the haze.
A few incisive mornings,
A few ascetic eyes, —
Gone Mr. Bryant’s golden-rod,
And Mr. Thomson’s sheaves.
Still is the bustle in the brook,
Sealed are the spicy valves;
Mesmeric fingers softly touch
The eyes of many elves.
Perhaps a squirrel may remain,
My sentiments to share.
Grant me, O Lord, a sunny mind,
Thy windy will to bear!
Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) – one of America’s greatest and most original poets. Her works was almost completely unpublished during her reclusive life in Amherst MA, but many volumes of her poems have been in print in the decades since.
by Maggie Dietz
Show’s over, folks. And didn’t October do
A bang-up job? Crisp breezes, full-throated cries
Of migrating geese, low-floating coral moon.
Nothing left but fool’s gold in the trees.
Did I love it enough, the full-throttle foliage,
While it lasted? Was I dazzled? The bees
Have up and quit their last-ditch flights of forage
And gone to shiver in their winter clusters.
Field mice hit the barns, big squirrels gorge
On busted chestnuts. A sky like hardened plaster
Hovers. The pasty river, its next of kin,
Coughs up reed grass fat as feather dusters.
Even the swarms of kids have given in
To winter’s big excuse, boxed-in allure:
TVs ricochet light behind pulled curtains.
The days throw up a closed sign around four.
The hapless customer who’d wanted something
Arrives to find lights out, a bolted door.
Maggie Dietz – her debut poetry collection, Perennial Fall (2006), won a Jane Kenyon Award; she’s served as director of the Favorite Poem Project, working with its founder, U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky; they also coedited anthologies: Americans’ Favorite Poems (1999), Poems to Read (2002), and An Invitation to Poetry (2004)
From New Zealand, a pair of contrasting poets. First, Lola Ridge, who was born in Ireland, but moved with her mother to New Zealand when she was 13. She left as a young adult for Australia, and then moved on to New York in her early thirties, although she reinvented herself for America as an Australian and knocked 10 years off her age. Her restless spirit is reflected in this poem.
by Lola Ridge
Wind, just arisen
(Off what cool matters of marsh-moss
In tented boughs leaf-drawn before the stars
Or niche of cliff under the eagles?)
You of living things,
So gay and tender and full of play,
Why do you blow on my thoughts – like cut flowers
Gathered and laid to dry on this paper, rolled out of dead wood?
I see you
Shaking that flower at me with soft invitation
And frisking away,
Deliciously rumpling the grass . . .
So you fluttered the curtains about my cradle,
Prattling of fields
Before I had had my milk.
Did I stir on my pillow, making to follow you, Fleet One –
I, swaddled, unwinged, like a bird in the egg?
My dreams that crackle under your breath . . .
You have the dust of the world to blow on.
Do not tag me and dance away, looking back . . .
I am too old to play with you,
- Lola Ridge (1873-1941) born Rose Emily Ridge in Dublin, Ireland, author of several poetry collections, including Sun-Up (1920), Red Flag (1927) and Dance of Fire (1935); she won the Shelley Memorial Award (1934-1935). Ridge died of pulmonary tuberculosis on May 19, 1941 in New York City
Hone Tuwhare was born in Kaikohe, Northland, New Zealand into the Maori Ngapuhi tribe. Well-known and much-loved in his own country, his collections of poetry are rare finds elsewhere. The Campbell Albatross migrates to New Zealand in September or October, and nests through January or February — spring and summer there.
Toroa ~ Albatross
by Hone Tuwhare
Day and night endlessly you have flown effortless of wing
over chest-expanding oceans far from land.
Do you switch on an automatic pilot, close your eyes
in sleep, Toroa?
On your way to your homeground at Otakou Heads
you tried to rest briefly on the Wai-te-mata
but were shot at by ignorant people. Crippled.
You found a resting place at Whanga-nui-a-Tara;
found space at last to recompose yourself.
Now, without skin and flesh to hold you together
the division of your aerodynamic parts lies whitening,
licked clean by sun and air and water. Children will
discover narrow corridors of airiness between,
the suddenness of bulk. Naked, laugh in the gush
and ripple — the play of light on water.
You are not alone, Toroa. A taniwha once tried
to break out of the harbour for the open sea. He failed.
He is lonely. From the top of the mountain nearby he
calls to you: Haeremai, haeremai, welcome home, traveller.
Your head tilts, your eyes open to the world.
A ‘taniwha’ is supernatural creature of Maori legend which lives in watery caves or rivers, and is strong enough to uproot trees —‘haeremai’ means welcome
Hone Tuwhare (1922 – 2008) was given the same name as that Maori warrior who was a leader of one of the tribes that is part of his heritage. Tuwhare became an outspoken activist for trade unionism, civil rights, the environment, and against nuclear weapons, as well as becoming New Zealand’s pre-eminent Maori poet
Back in the Northern Hemisphere, we take a look at a poem by Rita Dove, U.S. Poet Laureate (1993-1995), which she dated November, 1981:
November for Beginners
by Rita Dove
Snow would be the easy
way out — that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.
So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,
a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!
Rita Dove (1952 – ) U.S. Library of Congress Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, 1993-1995, the first African-American (after the title change from Poetry Consultant to Poet Laureate), and at age 40, the youngest poet to be appointed Poet Laureate by the Librarian of Congress
Staying in place geographically, we move in time, back to Denise Levertov’s poem about protesting the Vietnam War in the bleak November dusk.
At the Justice Department November 15, 1969
by Denise Levertov
Brown gas-fog, white
beneath the street lamps.
Cut off on three sides, all space filled
with our bodies.
…Bodies that stumble
in brown airlessness, whitened
in light, a mildew glare,
hand in hand, blinded, retching.
Wanting it, wanting
to be here, the body believing it’s
dying in its nausea, my head
clear in its despair, a kind of joy,
knowing this is by no means death,
is trivial, an incident, a
fragile instant. Wanting it, wanting
…with all my hunger this anguish,
…this knowing in the body
the grim odds we’re
up against, wanting it real.
Up that bank where gas
curled in the ivy, dragging each other
up, strangers, brothers
and sisters. Nothing
will do but
to taste the bitter
taste. No life
other, apart from.
Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997) British-born American poet, author of 20 books of poetry as well as non-fiction, served as poetry editor of The Nation and Mother Jones
Tomas Tranströmer was a Swedish poet and psychologist who worked with juvenile offenders and drug addicts. In 2011, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
November in the Former DDR
by Tomas Tranströmer
The almighty cyclop’s-eye clouded over
and the grass shook itself in the coal dust.
Beaten black and blue by the night’s dreams
we board the train
that stops at every station
and lays eggs.
The clang of the church bells’ buckets
And someone’s inexorable cough
scolding everything and everyone.
A stone idol moves its lips:
it’s the city.
Ruled by iron-hard misunderstandings
among kiosk attendants butchers
metal-workers naval officers
iron-hard misunderstandings, academics!
How sore my eyes are!
They’ve been reading by the faint glimmer of the glow-worm lamps.
November offers caramels of granite.
Like world history
laughing at the wrong place.
But we hear the clang
of the church bells’ buckets fetching water
– is it Wednesday? –
so much for our Sundays!
East Germany was the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR)
Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015) was one of Sweden’s leading 20th century poets, publishing numerous collections of poetry, including Windows and Stones (1972) and The Great Enigma (2006). He won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, after being nominated by the Swedish Academy every year since 1933
I’m always delighted to give the last word to Dorothy Parker.
by Dorothy Parker
In May my heart was breaking-
Oh, wide the wound, and deep!
And bitter it beat at waking,
And sore it split in sleep.
And when it came November,
I sought my heart, and sighed,
“Poor thing, do you remember?”
“What heart was that?” it cried.
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American short story writer, critic, poet and satirist, best remembered for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles, but also a supporter of civil rights, who left her literary estate to Martin Luther King Jr., a man she had never met, for use in advancing the cause
So we’ve made our whirlwind November trip around the world, dashing from north to south and back again. The great things about armchair travel are that your luggage never gets lost, and there really is ‘no place like home.’
- “Nature, Poem 49: November”– aka poem#131 –
- “November” from That Kind of Happy, by Maggie Dietz, © 2016 by The University of Chicago – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/89599
- “Dawn-Wind” from Mosaic of Fire: The Work of Lola Ridge, Evelyn Scott, Charlotte Wilder and Kay Boyle, by Caroline Maun, © 2012 University of South Carolina Press
- “Toroa ~ Albatross” from Deep River Talk, by Hone Tuwhare, University of Hawaii Press (1994) –
- “November for Beginners” from Poetry magazine (June 2012) – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/55630
- “At the Justice Department November 15, 1969” from Poems 1968-1972, © 1969 by Denise Levertov, New Directions Publishing –
- “November in the Former DDR” from New and Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton, 1997 by Bloodaxe Books – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/51018
- “Autumn Valentine” from Dorothy Parker: Complete Poems, Penguin Classics (2010) – http://www.poetrysoup.com/famous/poem/autumn_valentine_4285
- Autumn leaves swirling
- Last Autumn leaf on the tree
- Pohutukawa (NZ Christmas Tree), Tahunanui Beach, Nelson NZ, photo by lrbarrett
- Campbell’s Albatross in flight
- Lost by Laura Amiss
- In the street outside the Justice Department, November 15, 1969
- Berlin train platform, Bundesarchiv Bild Berlin, Dampflokomotive
- Torn and crumpled red heart, symbol of a break-up
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud