Here it is November again. The year, as defined by the Gregorian calendar, is drawing to a close.
Ishmael, in the first paragraph of Herman Melville’s great novel, Moby-Dick; or The Whale, likens a bout of depression with “a damp, drizzly November in my soul.” That might be hard to understand if you live in the tropics or south of the equator, but many people in the Northern Hemisphere can identify with it. This view seems to be reflected in some November poems, including this one by "The Prairie Poet."
Deep lie the shadows on
the russet slopes,
Loud blows the wind and shrilly falls the hail.
The tangled sedge-grass closes o’re the quail,
And on the withered hill the woodchuck mopes,
A dusky image of disastered hopes,
Against whose roof the ruthless storms prevail;
November! and the farmer hunts the flail,
And puny Autumn poets seek for tropes.
Alack-a-day! that Nature o’er should robe her
Glorious form in gloomy garbs like these;
Alas! the faded splendor of October,
The summer gone, and its Arcadian ease;
The lengthened year is glimmering to its close,
Mid piping tempests, and descending snows.
~ James Newton Matthews
From James Newton Matthews, Tempe Vale and Other Poems (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1883), page 188. This poem is in the public domain.
Here is another somewhat bleak view of the month:
Yet one smile more,
departing, distant sun!
One mellow smile through the soft vapory air,
Ere, o'er the frozen earth, the loud winds run,
Or snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare.
One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,
And the dark rocks whose summer wreath
And the blue gentian flower, that, in the breeze,
Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.
Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee
Shall murmur by the hedge that skirts the way,
The cricket chirp upon the russet lea,
And man delight to linger in thy ray.
Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear
The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air.
~ William Cullen Bryant
This poem is in the public domain.
Elizabeth Drew Stoddard had a less negative view of the month:
Much have I spoken of the faded leaf;
Long have I listened to the wailing wind,
And watched it ploughing through the heavy clouds,
For autumn charms my melancholy mind.
When autumn comes, the poets sing a dirge:
The year must perish; all the flowers are dead;
The sheaves are gathered; and the mottled quail
Runs in the stubble, but the lark has fled!
Still, autumn ushers in the Christmas cheer,
The holly-berries and the ivy-tree:
They weave a chaplet for the Old Year’s bier,
These waiting mourners do not sing for me!
I find sweet peace in depths of autumn woods,
Where grow the ragged ferns and roughened moss;
The naked, silent trees have taught me this,—
The loss of beauty is not always loss!
~ Elizabeth Drew Stoddard
This poem is in the public domain.
Here is the first stanza of another poem with a more positive spin on the month:
said November’s face was grim?
Who said her voice was harsh and sad?
I heard her sing in wood paths dim,
I met her on the shore, so glad,
So smiling, I could kiss her feet!
There never was a month so sweet.
~ Lucy Larcum
You can read the entire long poem at https://poets.org/poem/november-3.
There is a list of November poems on the website of the Academy of American Poets, at https://poets.org/search?combine=november. The Interesting Literature website has its own list of “The 10 Best Poems for November” at https://interestingliterature.com/2019/10/the-best-poems-for-november/.
The November Challenge:
The challenge for this month is a poem about November. It doesn’t have to be about November in the Northern Hemisphere—if it is a different season in your part of the world, let your own November be the subject of your poem. Just let us know where you live. Your poem does not have to reference nature - it could be about a November event. Your poem may be serious or humorous. Although the example poems all are rhymed and metered, yours does not have to be written that way. Free verse or formal? That is your choice. November in your poem may be metaphoric (as in the quote from Moby-Dick, or literal. Use your imagination! Note that the blog format does not accommodate shaped poems or long lines; if long lines are used, they have to be broken in two, with the second part indented (as in the poem “Lilith,” one of the May 2018 winners), or the post has to use small print.
1-Title your poem unless it is in a form that discourages titles.
3-Put your name, a brief third-person bio, and your email address in that order under your poem. If the poem has been previously published, please put the publication data under the poem also.
4-Please keep the poem on the left margin (standard 1” margin). Do not put any part of your submission on a colored background or in colored type. Do not use a fancy font and do not use a header or footer.
5-You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet. Poems already used on this blog are not eligible to win, but the poets may submit a different poem.
6-The deadline is November 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards. Winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language or content (some children and teens read this blog).
7- No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published.
8-The poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.
9-Decision of the judge or judges is final.
10-If the same poet wins three months in a row (which has not happened thus far), he or she will be asked not to submit the following two months.
How to Submit Your Poem:
1-Send one poem only to wildamorris4[at]gmail[dot]com (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). The poem must respond in some way to the specific challenge for the month.
2-Put “November Poetry Challenge Submission” FOLLOWED BY YOUR NAME in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month.
3-Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem.
4-Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment or both (Doc, Docx, rich text or plain text; no pdf files, please). Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). 6-Also, please do not use multiple spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However, I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.
Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.
William Cullen Bryant, 1794-1879, was born in Massachusetts. He was considered one of the greatest English-language poets of his time. He was associated with the Hudson School of poets, and often identified as a nature poet. He published his first poem in 1808 at the age of 14. “Thanatosis,” one of his most famous poems, was published when he was in college. Bryant studied law and was a practicing lawyer for ten years. He then moved with his wife to New York, where he became an editor. He was an ardent abolitionist and helped Abraham Lincoln will election to the presidency.
Lucy Larcum was born in Massachusetts in 1824. At age 11, after the death of her father, she began working in a textile mill. Soon thereafter, she began writing and submitting poetry. She met John Greenleaf Whittier, who encouraged her. She became a teacher, first in Illinois, and then at the Wheaten Seminary (now called Wheaton College) in Norton, Massachusetts (which incidentally is where Elizabeth Drew Stoddard was educated). Her poems found homes in prestigious journals. She published several collections of her poetry, but is best known for her memoir, A New England Girlhood, Outlined from Memory. She was also known as an abolitionist. There is a building at Wheaton College named for her.
James Newton Matthews was born in Indiana in 1852, but lived most of his life in Mason, Illinois, where he was a country doctor. He became good friends with James Whitcomb Riley, who encouraged him to write more poetry. He became known as “The Poet of the Prairie.” Had he given up his medical practice, he might have become as well known as Riley. He is credited with “discovering” Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar was working as an elevator operator when they met. Matthews wrote a newspaper article praising Dunbar’s poetry and recommended him to others. They exchanged a number of letters, some of which are still extant, and Dunbar wrote a poem in appreciation of Matthews (https://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/dunbar/poetry/347). Matthew died in 1910, after walking more than five miles in a snowstorm to treat one of his patients.
Elizabeth Drew Stoddard was born in Massachusetts in 1823. She began publishing poems in respected magazines after marrying the poet, Richard Henry Stoddard. As a well-educated woman, she wrote for an educated audience. She also published essays, short stories, travel pieces, children’s’ literature, and social commentary. She is most famous as a novelist, however. The Morgensons, the first of her three novels is most highly regarded. The Stoddard home in New York City was an elite gathering place for poets and other writers. She died in 1902.
© Wilda Morris