By Robert Frost – 1874-1963
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow 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.
In “October,” Robert Frost urges nature to slow down—before the leaves fall and the chilly weather begins. Frost has been hailed, and quite correctly in my opinion, as the “the poet of New England.” Like in many of his nature poems, Frost was inspired by New England’s beautiful scenery.
As with many of Frost’s poems, it is a simple and elegant poem which in this case describes a beautiful crisp October morning. With his usual graceful prose, Frost sets the scene of a quiet morning in early October, much like this morning was (though it was chilly at 27 degrees here). The air is silent but for the distant sound of crows. He speaks of the ripened leaves of fall with their multitude of colors-green, red, gold, and brown. It is a simple scene rendered instantly familiar to anyone whose experienced New England in the fall. You don’t have to look any further than that, but like all of Frost’s poems, it is more complex than simply setting a scene.
In truth, October is a grimly solemn poem, dealing with topics far heavier than a mere fall morning. Simply put, October is about death, a fact that becomes uneasily apparent upon closer inspection. Frost offers us the first hint of this within the first few lines when he references the crows that may “form and go” tomorrow. This works in two different ways. First and foremost, it must be noted that the crows are specifically brought up in order to point out their oncoming departure. However, just as significant is the fact that Frost particularly noted that they were crows, birds that are associated with death.
This said, Frost primarily relies on the oncoming winter to represent death, something he then contrasts with day, which serves to represent life. Rather than setting the two as enemies, he is content to ask only that the morning “Begin the hours of this day slow” allowing him as much time as possible before the cold finality of winter sets in.
The Native American poet Evalyn Callahan Shaw wrote a poem with the same title. It’s a popular name for poems. There is one by the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar; another by Massachusetts native Helen Hunt Jackson who wrote a poem for each month; and Louise Glück, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2003-2004 also wrote a poem titled “October.” I am not going to use the ones by Dunbar, Jackson, or Glück, but I do want to include the one by Shaw. Evalyn (sometimes listed as Eva, Evelyn, or Jane Evylin) Callahan Shaw was born around 1861 and lived in Wagoner, Indian Territory. She was the daughter of Samuel Benton Callahan of the Creek Nation.
By Evalyn Callahan Shaw
October is the month that seems
All woven with midsummer dreams;
She brings for us the golden days
That fill the air with smoky haze,
She brings for us the lisping breeze
And wakes the gossips in the trees,
Who whisper near the vacant nest
Forsaken by its feathered guest.
Now half the birds forget to sing,
And half of them have taken wing,
Before their pathway shall be lost
Beneath the gossamer of frost.
Zigzag across the yellow sky,
They rustle here and flutter there,
Until the boughs hang chill and bare,
What joy for us—what happiness
Shall cheer the day the night shall bless?
‘Tis hallowe’en, the very last
Shall keep for us remembrance fast,
When every child shall duck the head
To find the precious pippin red.
In Shaw’s “October,” she presents the month of October as “woven with midsummer dreams.” She says the month brings us “golden days,” “smoky haze,” the “lisping breeze,” and “gossips in the trees.” Shaw talks about how half of the birds have left while the other half forget to sing. For Shaw, October also represents the coming death of the year. The golden days of October give way to the boughs that “hang chill and bare.” But instead of ending with the death of the year, she speaks of the joy of Halloween with children bobbing for apples (the precious pippin red). For me, Shaw’s October is as beautifully written as Frost’s, but where Frost ends with him asking nature to slow down its march to the death of the year, Shaw ends with the joyous festivities of Halloween and children playing. Personally, I like them both. I love a melodic poem that rhymes, and both of these do that, but Shaw’s seem a bit more optimistic in its ending.
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