William Stafford

‘November’ by William Stafford is a heart-wrenching and important poem that was inspired by the WWII bombing of Hiroshima. 


William Stafford

Nationality: American

William Stafford was an American poet known for writing on themes, such as nature.

Stafford's best-known poem is 'Traveling Through the Dark.'

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Forgiveness is always possible

Speaker: Likely William Stafford

Emotions Evoked: Compassion, Hope

Poetic Form: Cinquain

Time Period: 20th Century

This is a complex and incredibly thoughtful poem that was inspired by the events around the bombing of Hiroshima.

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Not well-known today, William Stafford was a conscientious objector during World War II who taught at Lewis and Clark College. During his career, he published an impressive 65 poem collections. He also served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position known today as the Poet Laureate of the United States). 


November’ by William Stafford is a powerful poem that uses snow as a symbol to discuss the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. 

This poem begins with the poet describing the transformative power of snowfall and its symbolic significance. It falls over the land and evokes a feeling of safety and clarity. 

The speaker muses about the possibility of being called upon by the sky to deliver a pure and cleansing message. They express their willingness to volunteer for such a task, suggesting their readiness to be a bearer of this profound message of forgiveness. Despite the continuous movement of the world and the presence of friends around them, the speaker reaffirms their commitment to answering this call.

What’s not clearly defined in the lines of the poem is the fact that the poet penned this piece as a reaction to the Hiroshima bombing. This adds an intense layer of meaning to the text (while making it harder to analyze). 

Structure and Form 

November’ by William Stafford is a two-stanza poem that is divided into sets of five lines, known as cinquains or quintains. The poet does not use a specific rhyme scheme in this text, but there are examples of half-rhyme that help provide the text with some degree of rhyme and rhythm

For example, “one” and “home” in stanza one. There is also “come,” which appears at the end of lines three and five in the stanza (creating a perfect rhyme). One full rhyme is seen with “one” and “come” in line four of stanza one and lines three and five of stanza two. 

Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

From the sky in the form of snow
comes the great forgiveness.
Rain grown soft, the flakes descend
and rest; they nestle close, each one
arrived, welcomed and then at home.

In the first stanza of this poem, the poet begins with a description of snowfall. The stanza begins with the phrase “From the sky in the form of snow,” immediately setting the scene and establishing the source of the transformative element to be discussed.

The next line: “comes the great forgiveness,” suggests that snow, in its pure form, represents a profound sense of absolution. The use of the word “great” emphasizes the magnitude and significance of this forgiveness, hinting at its transformative power. Snow, often associated with purity and tranquility, becomes a metaphorical embodiment of the act of forgiving and being forgiven.

When one considers how this poem relates to Hiroshima, it’s easy to imagine this clear, clean snow falling over the brutalized landscape. It brings cool air and water, two things that stand in stark contrast to what the city was like after the bombing. The rain is described as “grown soft,” implying a gentle transformation that brings about the delicate snowflakes. 

This shift in weather conditions mirrors the shift in emotional states, from the potential harshness of rain to the softness and gentleness of snow. This transformation also implies a shift from turmoil or chaos to a state of calmness and serenity in the city.

The next lines focus on the tranquil nature of the snowflakes. The snowflakes find their place and settle down, evoking a sense of contentment and belonging. This image of the snowflakes nestling close together also suggests unity and harmony, as if each individual snowflake has found its purpose and connection within the larger whole.

The snowflakes, upon reaching their destination, are not only greeted but also made to feel at home. This line suggests an embrace, one that is both physical and metaphorical, symbolizing the act of forgiveness as a welcoming and comforting experience. Readers might interpret this in different ways when it comes to Hiroshima and WWII. 

Stanza Two 

If the sky lets go some day and I’m
beside me, I too will come.

Stanza two is somewhat more complicated than stanza one. It continues to focus on the sky imagery but brings the speaker’s personal experience into play. It uses first-person pronouns like “I” and “I’m,” indicating the poet’s presence in the scene and interaction with “friends” and snow. 

In these lines, the speaker contemplates the possibility of being called upon by the sky to deliver a pure and significant message. The stanza opens with an “if” statement, creating a hypothetical scenario where the sky releases such a message, and the speaker is requested to volunteer for its delivery.

The poet suggests that the speaker is open to the idea of being chosen for this task. The use of the word “volunteering” implies a willingness on the part of the speaker, indicating their readiness to embrace this opportunity. It also suggests that delivering such a message is not an obligation but rather a choice, further emphasizing the speaker’s commitment.

The term “clean” implies a message that is free from impurities, complications, or hidden agendas. It suggests a message of truth, honesty, and possibly reconciliation in the face of suffering and despair. The speaker affirms their willingness to come forward and be a messenger of this pure and transformative communication.

The poem ends with the speaker acknowledging that the world continues to move forward and that friends touch down beside them. This line could be interpreted in a literal sense, referring to friends arriving in physical proximity. However, it can also be seen metaphorically, representing the constant interactions and relationships in the speaker’s life. To a degree, the poem’s central meaning is open for interpretation. 


What is the tone of ‘November’ by William Stafford? 

The tone of this poem is contemplative and reflective. It’s also distinctly hopeful in nature. The speaker focuses on introspective musings about forgiveness and change, depicted through natural imagery

What is the theme of ‘November’ by William Stafford? 

The theme of this poem is forgiveness and acceptance. Transformation is also important in the text. This is seen through the clean and cleansing image of the snow transforming from rain. 

What is the purpose of ‘November’ by William Stafford? 

The purpose of this poem is to reflect on the ideas of forgiveness and the impact that individuals can have on the world as a whole. This becomes far more complicated when readers consider that this poem was written as a response to the bombing of Hiroshima. 

Who was William Stafford? 

William Stafford was a 20th-century American poet who is best known for serving as the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress. He published over 65 poetic collections in his life, and his poetry is known for its discussion of the human experience and profound insights. 

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example: 

  • Snow Vision’ by Rita Reed –  is a beautiful short poem that uses natural images, such as that of a tree, the snow, the wind, and the sun, to craft a fleeting scene.
  • Change Upon Change’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning – is a poem about lost love and change. The poet depicts her internal changes through images of the changing seasons.
  • Snow’ by Louis MacNeice – initially appears like a discussion of a peaceful winter scene, but the truth is much more complex.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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