In this post I would like to invite you to read and ponder on a poem by one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, Robert Frost. It is titled “October”, first published in England in 1913, in a largely autobiographical collection of poems called A Boy’s Will.
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
NOTES & REFLECTIONS
This poem is usually classified as one of Frost’s pastoral ones, and his use of the theme of nature is in many ways typical of his later works. Frost originally came from New England, a region famous for exceptionally beautiful autumns, a glimpse of which we can catch here. Those who love autumn and appreciate its wonders will easily form a mental picture of the setting.
October is the month of harvest festivals in many places; the weather is still relatively warm, mild and pleasant (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is), and we enjoy the earth’s bountiful gifts. But there is the other side to it: colder days are fast approaching and the beautiful foliage will soon be replaced by naked branches. Frost encapsulates this dual, liminal and fleeting character of October very well, but the poem is not simply about the seasonal changes: it serves as an allegory of human life.
Frost wrote this poem in his late 30s, but it could easily express the feelings of a much older person – someone in the proverbial autumn years of life. Things are still well and fine, one rejoices in the fruits of one’s labour and wishes to enjoy that pleasant, restful state for as much as possible. But life is already precarious – it is like a ripened leaf, ready to fall at a touch of wind. One is reminded of a verse from Psalm 103, expressing a similar sentiment: “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.”
Another Psalm-like characteristic is the use of o and thy which sets a solemn and prayerful tone right from the beginning. Frost addresses the season with reverence, almost as if he were addressing a deity – one that has the power to slow down time, beguile human hearts, enchant the land with beauty and bounty. There is pleading urgency in the poet’s address (Slow! Slow!), but death still inexorably approaches, as sure as autumn is followed by winter.
If you want to learn more about Robert Frost, you will find some useful resources on my Pinterest board dedicated to him and his works.
As always, your thoughts and interpretations are most welcome. Please share them in the comments section below.