Sunday, April 13, 2014

November for Beginners - Rita Dove

Snow would be the easy
way out - that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield.  No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won't give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline.  We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool.  Pour,
rain!  Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

November 1981

Full of seasonal images, Dove's poem captures well the feeling of anticipation that we often feel when on the cusp of something new.  Depicting a rainy November, not yet snowy, the narrator of the poem and his or her partner prepare themselves for a winter that has not quite arrived, while holding out for the eventual hope of spring.

November sky here is depicted as being heavy, laden with the weight of eventual snowfall.  It groans under the weight, and snow would be a "softening sigh of relief at finally being allowed to yield."  However, not yet, "no dice."  Stockpiling fuel seems pointless, because it is too wet to use, "the rain won't give."  It's a scene familiar to almost anyone who has lived in New England before, that cold, rainy November.

It's true, we do wait.  I love the idea of sitting down "in the smell of the past."  We all dwell in the past to some extent, and I can see that concept being tied to the seasons quite easily.  Spring very naturally seems a time for new beginnings, for us to "act the fool" and be merry.  Fall, though?  The tipping point between fall and winter, November, doesn't seem the time for that.  We cozy up under blankets, we "ache in secret" for change, but we do not engage in generative activities.  Memorization, like in the poem, seems "gloomy" but it is what we do in November, we deal with that that already is.

The charge at the end of the poem is my favorite bit.  It's like a challenge to nature - bring it on!  The thought of wind sailing, a cargo of zithers, is a really cool aural image.  It's like a whistling or howling, wind rasping along strings, a constant drone.  Try to imagine what a steady wind sounds like to you.


  1. Hi! I am a huge fan of your work! I am taking a poetry course right now and your whole blog is super helpful. I was wondering if you could do your next analyse on "Education" by Peter Boyle.

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I'm delighted to hear you enjoy my blog. I will certainly get around to "Education" eventually, though I have to add it to the list of poems I plan to post and analyse. Thanks very much for reading! I hope both your course and my blog bring you much pleasure.