‘The Heat of Autumn’ by Jane Hirshfield talks about the nature of summer heat and autumnal heat. In the poem, the poet presents her innovative thoughts regarding the difference between the two. The poem is simple and interesting to read and think about. There isn’t much complexity. The simplicity of thoughts and the spontaneity of rhythm is there in the poem. The metaphors used in the poem are also unique enough. What makes the poem more interesting, is its use of homely imagery and simple versification.
Summary of The Heat of Autumn
‘The Heat of Autumn’ by Jane Hirshfield introduces the theme of the poem that is the difference between the “heat of autumn” and the “heat of summer” in the first two lines of the poem. The poet says, the summer-heat ripens the apples whereas the autumnal heat transforms them into “cider”. Cider is a type of apple juice that is generally made from the early apples of the summer season. Thereafter the poet talks about the possibilities of the summer season. While autumn is according to the poet like the shivering “spine of a thin swimming horse” in the cold water of a river.
In the upcoming lines, the poet presents a simple story of a husband suffering from cancer and his wife. The man deserts his wife for his lover. But the wife remains constant in her duties towards the husband. Her love is like the heat of autumn that fades away in the winter.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of The Heat of Autumn
‘The Heat of Autumn’ by Jane Hirshfield has a total of 14 lines. The poem doesn’t have a specific line length. There is a use of both short and long lines. The rhyme scheme of the poem is interesting. It is not a regular one but the poet uses internal rhyming for maintaining the flow of the poem. Likewise, the second and third line rhyme together. The seventh and eighth lines again catch the rhythm.
However, there isn’t a specific metrical scheme in the poem. The poet makes use of both the iambic meter and the anapestic meter in this poem. There are also some variations in the poem. As an example, the first line of the poem contains a hypermetrical ending.
‘The Heat of Autumn’ by Jane Hirshfield doesn’t contain a variety of literary devices. The poet uses it when it is necessary, otherwise, the simplicity of the poem is enough to engage readers in her thought process. However, the major literary device used in the poem is enjambment. It helps the poet to connect the sense of the lines internally. The poet uses some amazing metaphors in the poem. The first metaphor is present in this line, “One is a dock you walk out on”. The line following it uses the metaphor of a horse to illustrate the heat of autumn.
The poet uses a climax in the lines where the wife is seen arranging her husband’s items. She places the “belts”, “socks”, and “sweaters” in ascending order of importance. The poet uses an extended metaphor while comparing the wife’s love for his husband to the heat of autumn. There is a synecdoche in the line, “her hand placing silver buckles with silver”. Here the hands refer to the wife as a whole. In the last two lines, the poet uses irony as well as a paradox.
Analysis of The Heat of Autumn
The heat of autumn
and the river each day a full measure colder.
‘The Heat of Autumn’ by Jane Hirshfield talks about the difference between the heat of autumn and the heat of summer in the first few lines of the poem. Heat being an abstract idea is hard to comprehend. If the discussion is about the significance of summer-heat and autumnal heat, it becomes a little tricky. But the poet presents it in a manner that it becomes simple to the readers.
The poet uses the image of a “dock” while talking about the summer’s heat. Dock symbolically represents the possibility it brings to a country through trade and commerce. While the autumn’s heat brings negative thoughts to the poet’s mind. She uses the image of a swimming horse struggling in the cold river-water to bring home her idea about the autumn’s heat. The poet symbolically presents nature in the guise of the horse. During autumn the weather starts to become cooler day after day and finally, winter comes with chilly days. By the image of the horse, the poet refers to this idea.
A man with cancer leaves his wife for his lover.
by color. That’s autumn heat:
In the next few lines of the poem, the poet shares the story of a husband suffering from cancer and his wife. The husband maroons his wife for another lady. Though he leaves his wife, she still arranges his items in the order. The poet refers to this love as the heat of autumn. The heat of love keeps the wife warm but in reality, it is leading her to the winters of her life. When she comes to know about her husband’s affair, she will face the harsh reality. Then her life will no longer be as warm as she was before for her feelings towards her husband.
In this way, the poet compares the transience of autumn’s heat to the wife’s love. Both are temporary and lead to the winter. Autumn leads to the winter season and the wife’s love will lead her to the winters of life, meaning painful and cold hours of loneliness.
her hand placing silver buckles with silver,
and calling it pleasure.
In the last few lines, the poet Jane Hirshfield shows what the wife does after the departure of her husband. Her caring nature and love for her husband reflect in these lines, “her hand placing silver buckles with silver,/ gold buckles with gold, setting each/ on the hook…” The wife thinks everything is normal around her but her ignorance makes her blind about the coldness in their relationship.
However, the “closet” is a metaphor for nature and the items in it resemble the heat of autumn. One day the husband will come and take his possessions with him. Like the husband, winter is approaching near with her days of pessimism. And the poet, like the wife in the poem, calls the autumn’s heat “a pleasure”, ironically.
About Jane Hirshfield
The poet of ‘The Heat of Autumn’, Jane Hirshfield was born on 24th February 1953. She is an American poet and essayist of the modern age. According to David Baker, Jane Hirshfield is “one of our finest, most memorable contemporary poets”. Her poetry reflects a modern sense and innovative ideas as can be seen in this poem. The emotional appeal in her poems is a specialty of Hirshfield. Her works have been published in major literary journals of America and her works are often read on many National Radio Programs.
‘The Heat of Autumn’ by Jane Hirshfield features the theme of autumn and talks about the weather of autumn in an interesting manner. The following poems also make use of the theme of Hirshfield’s poem.
- Autumn Song by W.H. Auden – In this poem, the poet Wystan Hugh Auden illustrates autumn as a time of both beauty and bleakness.
- Autumn Song by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – In this poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the poet talks about the feelings of nature as if it has a soul to sense what is happening with her during autumn.
- Autumn Song by Sarojini Naidu – This poem by Sarojini Naidu is close to the essence of Hirshfield’s poem.
- To Autumn by John Keats – This poem of John Keats refers to the upcoming decay beneath the natural beauty of autumn.