Filled with beautiful images of nature and emotion, ‘A November Night’ is one of Sara Teasdale’s best poems.
‘A November Night’ is characteristic of Teasdale’s work in that she uses night, relationships, and a variety of interesting literary devices to depict a character’s emotional and mental state. Her lyric poetry is noted for its skilled use of images and figurative language like metaphors and similes. Both of these are on display in ‘A November Night.’
Summary of A November Night
In the first part of ‘A November Night,’ the speaker begins by excitedly commenting on all the lights she can see around her. There are the stars as well as the lights that border the street and come up from the park. These attract her, and she expresses her feeling that they are drawn to her partner’s eyes. Together, they’re walking through the night while she stumbles upon memories and shares her thoughts about everything they have seen.
As the poem goes on, the darkness of the night expands, and a mist covers the stars that have been looking down upon them. This changes the atmosphere of the poem, and the speaker starts to comment on how cold it is and how strange everything looks in this light. This odd moment in which the two have the park to themselves is one that she’s been seeking for a while. Now they have it, and they’re alone in the darkness with everything familiar obscured.
Themes in A November Night
In ‘A November Night,’ Teasdale engages with themes of darkness and light. Both of these themes come tougher throughout the poem to help paint a multilayered landscape the speaker navigates through. The light draws her attention, and she tries to point it out to her partner as they walk. It’s on her mind constantly as she crafts metaphors and similes around it and thinks about God looking down on constellations just as they look down on the park. It’s there that they end up, in the park, in among the mist of the evening. Slowly the stars disappear, and they’re left isolated in a world that looks nothing like that which they’re used to. Without the light, the darkness takes on a new meaning.
Structure and Form of A November Night
‘A November Night’ by Sara Teasdale is a three-stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza is the longest, stretching to fifty-seven lines. The second is only three lines long, and the final stanza is twenty-one lines long. While the poem does not make use of a specific rhyme scheme, the majority of the lines are written in pentameter. This means that they contain five sets of two syllables for a total of ten syllables per line. This doesn’t occur throughout the entire poem, and although most of the syllables are iambs, not all of them are.
Literary Devices in A November Night
Teasdale makes use of several literary devices in ‘A November Night.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, caesura, and imagery. The first of these, enjambment, is a common literary device that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines four and five of the first stanza as well as lines thirty and thirty-one of that same stanza.
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of lines, created either through punctuation or a natural pause in the meter. For example, like nine of the first stanza, which reads: “All envious. We are a king and queen.” Another good example is line one of the third stanza. It reads: “How cold it is! Even the lights are cold.”
Imagery is one of the most important elements of poetry. Well-crafted images are likely to get and keep a reader’s attention in a way that poorly written, or uninteresting images aren’t. In this poem, Teasdale skillfully depicts a variety of sense-dependent images. For example, these lines from stanza one: “That loom too big or shrink too little, shadows / That hurry, gesturing along a wall.”
Analysis of A November Night
There! See the line of lights,
A chain of stars down either side the street —
Why can’t you lift the chain and give it to me,
A necklace for my throat? I’d twist it round
And you could play with it. You smile at me
As though I were a little dreamy child
Behind whose eyes the fairies live. . . . And see,
The people on the street look up at us
All envious. We are a king and queen,
Our royal carriage is a motor bus,
We watch our subjects with a haughty joy. . . .
How still you are! Have you been hard at work
And are you tired to-night? It is so long
Since I have seen you — four whole days, I think.
In the first lines of the first stanza, the speaker begins by pointing out the “line of lights” that’s there on either side of the street. She asks her listener, someone whose relationship to the speaker is yet to be revealed, to pick up the lights and make them into a chain necklace. She’d wear it around her through, and they could “play with it.” This is a wonderful example of imagery to start the poem with.
As the poem progresses, the speaker alludes to a romantic relationship between herself and her listener. She refers to them as “a king and queen” who roll along in their “motor bus” that’s really a “royal carriage.” They have a peaceful and loving connection with one another.
Lines 15- 29
My heart is crowded full of foolish thoughts
Like early flowers in an April meadow,
And I must give them to you, all of them,
Before they fade. The people I have met,
The play I saw, the trivial, shifting things
That loom too big or shrink too little, shadows
That hurry, gesturing along a wall,
Haunting or gay — and yet they all grow real
And take their proper size here in my heart
When you have seen them. . . . There’s the Plaza now,
A lake of light! To-night it almost seems
That all the lights are gathered in your eyes,
Drawn somehow toward you. See the open park
Lying below us with a million lamps
Scattered in wise disorder like the stars.
In the following lines, the speaker makes her lighthearted mood clear as she teases and suggests games of make-believe with this person. Her thoughts are “like early flowers,” she says, and she wants to “give them to you.” Her thoughts feel precious at that moment, and she wants to share this intimate part of herself with her partner before they disappear out of the moment forever. The poet uses a technique known as accumulation in the next lines as she piles on allusions to experiences that are making up her thoughts at this time. The play she saw and the gestures of shadows along the wall.
The darkness of the shadows in these lines is juxtaposed against the light in the “Plaza.” She calls her listener’s attention to it once more and lets her attachment to the light grow as she suggests that all the light is “gathered” in this person’s eyes. It’s drawn towards them, as the speaker is. From where they are, they can look down and see the lights in the park, which the poet uses a simile to compare to “stars.”
Readers should also take note of the use of caesurae throughout this piece—for example, line twenty-seven.
We look down on them as God must look down
On constellations floating under Him
Tangled in clouds. . . . Come, then, and let us walk
Since we have reached the park. It is our garden,
All black and blossomless this winter night,
But we bring April with us, you and I;
We set the whole world on the trail of spring.
I think that every path we ever took
Has marked our footprints in mysterious fire,
Delicate gold that only fairies see.
When they wake up at dawn in hollow tree-trunks
And come out on the drowsy park, they look
Along the empty paths and say, “Oh, here
They went, and here, and here, and here! Come, see,
Here is their bench, take hands and let us dance
About it in a windy ring and make
A circle round it only they can cross
When they come back again!” . . . Look at the lake —
From their slightly elevated position, they can see the stars/lights as the poet’s speaker believes God would. God’s above the stars, looking down at the constellations as they are now. Their walk takes them into the park where it’s “black and blossomless.” This doesn’t matter to the speaker, though, as she knows the two have enough light in between them to be lively as “April.”
Their movements through the landscape help bring about the same light that exists in her lover’s eyes. It’s a delicate gold they leave behind them, the kind only fairies can see. It’s clear that the poet is quite interested in bringing images of light and darkness together, along with a bit of whimsy as well. The idea of fairies living in the park continues into the next lines. The speaker suggests that this is where they live, “here, and here!” she exclaims. Her excited attitude has continued through these lines.
Do you remember how we watched the swans
That night in late October while they slept?
Swans must have stately dreams, I think. But now
The lake bears only thin reflected lights
That shake a little. How I long to take
One from the cold black water — new-made gold
To give you in your hand! And see, and see,
There is a star, deep in the lake, a star!
Oh, dimmer than a pearl — if you stoop down
Your hand could almost reach it up to me. . . .
In the last lines of the long first stanza, the speaker starts by asking her partner a question if they remember watching the swans in October while they slept. This leads her to consider what they dream and the possibility of reaching down into the water and scooping up “a star.”
There was a new frail yellow moon to-night —
I wish you could have had it for a cup
With stars like dew to fill it to the brim. . . .
The three lines of the second stanza continue the star and night imagery. She expresses a desire that her partner could’ve drunk from a cup like the moon filled with stars. This suggests that she wishes this person were a part of the night, experiencing it deeply and fully as she’d like to be. This would elevate them to a worldly status that likely already exists in her mind.
How cold it is! Even the lights are cold;
They have put shawls of fog around them, see!
What if the air should grow so dimly white
That we would lose our way along the paths
Made new by walls of moving mist receding
The more we follow. . . . What a silver night!
That was our bench the time you said to me
The long new poem — but how different now,
How eerie with the curtain of the fog
Making it strange to all the friendly trees!
There is no wind, and yet great curving scrolls
Carve themselves, ever changing, in the mist.
The third stanza is twenty-one lines long. It starts with another exclamation. She notes the cool air that evening and suggests that rather than warm and inviting, the stars are, in fact, “cold.” They’re disappearing. She personifies them, describing them as putting on shawls of fog, obscuring them from the sight of those walking the earth. She wonders what would happen if the whole world became obscured in this same fog. What would happen, she wonders, if new walls popped up of mist.
As she considers this and they walk, she notes some scenes from their past. There’s a bench on which the listener “said to” her “The long new poem.” It appears different now, under the veil of mist and at night under the cold stars. Despite the fact that there’s no wind, the mist moves all on its own. This mysterious, somewhat magical image fits right in with what the poet included in the previous lines.
Lines 13- 21
Walk on a little, let me stand here watching
To see you, too, grown strange to me and far. . . .
I used to wonder how the park would be
If one night we could have it all alone —
No lovers with close arm-encircled waists
To whisper and break in upon our dreams.
And now we have it! Every wish comes true!
We are alone now in a fleecy world;
Even the stars have gone. We two alone!
In the final lines of ‘A November Night,’ the speaker asks that her partner walks on while she stands and watches. She wants to see this person as part of the landscape and watch them become as strange as the rest of the landscape is at that moment. It’s this moment that she’s been thinking about for a while, what the park would be like if they could have it to themselves with no lovers around. Now she knows. Now, every “wish comes true,” and she feels the strangeness, coolness, and unsettling nature of the scene. This isolation makes for a haunting ending to a poem that started out much more lightheartedly. The two alone in an obscuring and strange landscape of mist, with the light of stars blocked out, is the last image the reader is left with.
Readers who enjoyed ‘A November Night’ should also consider reading some of Sara Teasdale’s other best-known poems. For example,
- ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ – a beautiful poem in which Teasdale’s speaker describes the lack of impact humanity has on the world. All other living things would not miss humanity if everyone were to suddenly disappear off the planet.
- ‘The Long Hill’ – uses an extended metaphor, that of climbing a hill, to describe one’s journey through life.
- ‘The Answer’ – a lyric poem that’s characteristic of Teasdale’s work. It describes the respect a speaker is hoping to receive from others after her death.