‘November’ by Elizabeth Drew Barstow Stoddard is a four stanza poem which is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. The quatrains follow a rhyming pattern of abcb, alternating throughout each stanza. The rhyme scheme is mostly consistent, the only deviation being in the first stanza with the words, “wind” and “mind.” While these two words have the same ending, “-ind,” but they are not pronounced the same.
Summary of November
The poem begins with the speaker acknowledging the fact that she speaks often about the “faded leaf.” She is soothed by the “wailing wind” and the colours of autumn. Although it signals the end of the year and the dying off of many flowers, she does not mind. It brings her a kind of peace to see time progress.
By the end of the poem, she states she feels this way now because she was once told that a loss of beauty does not mean that something, or a particular time, is not valuable. She learned to love the change which comes when the old year dies.
Analysis of November
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.
In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker thrusts the reader right into the midst of an already progressing tale of verse. The speaker is stating, without any prelude, that she has often “spoken of the faded leaf.” Before even getting to the second line of the poem the reader is already aware of one thing the speaker cares a lot about, the changing, or fading, of the leaves during autumn. This coincides well with the title, ‘November.’
In the second line, she describes how she has spent a very long time listening to the “wailing wind.” She has seen it as it “plough[s] through the heavy clouds.” At this point in the poem, the reader is unaware of whether or not the speaker sees these are being good things. She could be so focused on them because she hates the season they represent.
The question of why she is watching the leaves and the wind is answered in the final line of this stanza. She says that the season of “autumn,” which has been described in the previous lines, “charms” her when she is feeling “melancholy.” The symbols and signs of the end of the year are pleasing to her and for a reason unknown to the reader, make her feel better.
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!
In the second stanza, the speaker continues to speak on autumn and gives the reader a bit more detail regarding why she feels so strongly about it.
She states that when “autumn comes,” all the poets will be singing a “dirge,” or a lament for the dead. It is a sign of the end of the year and the fact that all things, life and time, must come to a close. The speaker specifically mentions flowers and the deaths they suffer as winter approaches.
The speaker continues on this strain of thought, moving on to “sheaves.” This is a word that is used to refer to long bundles of grain that are tied together after a harvest. The fall harvest has been completed and the “sheaves” have been “gathered.”
The pastoral feeling of the poem continues with the speaker referring to the “mottled quail,” a type of bird common in England. It “Runs in the stubble” of the field. The quail may still be present, but the “lark” another common type of bird, “has fled.” She knows all of these signs for what they are. It is clear she has experienced autumn here a number of times.
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!
In the third stanza, she moves beyond autumn to speak of what it brings. One of the most important things which follow on the heels of autumn is “Christmas cheer.” Although the world is becoming colder, darker, and in some instances dying, the speaker takes joy in the fact that Christmas is coming soon. It brings with it the “holly-berries and the ivy-tree.”
These are traditions in the speaker’s life which she has come to expect every year. They are simple things that bring her great joy. These elements, the holly, and the ivy, are used to “weave a chaplet for the Old Year’s bier.” This line becomes easier to understand when it is broken down into parts.
A “chaplet” refers to a type of crown or garland which is can be worn on someone’s head, while a “bier” is another word for a coffin. Taken together, the speaker is describing the passing on of the previous year. It is being celebrated with decorations but also ferried on into the past. The final line of this section refers to the first time to other people aside from the speaker. They are there not there to mourn for her experience of the season, but to celebrate and sing out the old year.
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!
In the final stanza, the speaker concludes her description of why it is she takes such pleasure from “November.” She is free to venture into the “autumn woods” and find there a “sweet peace.” It is deep within the trees that she is most calm and serene.
She goes where the “ragged ferns” grow and the “roughened moss” thrives. She is not put off by the physical discomfort of the woods, as she is continually moved by the atmosphere.
In the final two lines, she speaks of what the “silent trees” in the autumn forest have taught her. They have shown the speaker that, “the loss of beauty is not always loss!” There is much to be gained in accepting change. One should not mourn over death, but celebrate the coming of the new year.