This month has long provided a source of literary inspiration, from shorter days and fallen leaves, to thoughts of liberty during times of war. Tell us what impressions it makes on you
And so we come to the 10th month, October, whose name means "eighth", of course; those Romans were out to confuse us all. In the northern hemisphere, the month of October is high autumn, which means that in the southern hemisphere it's high spring. Confused yet? I am.
In The Shepheardes Calender: October, Spenser, through the character of the pastoral piper Cuddie, sings a theme that may be near to many of our hearts, the neglect of poetry and the poverty of poets, who "little good hath got, and much lesse gayne" on account of their art. Piers, his audience of one, tries to console him with the thoughts of the praise he will receive for his singing, but Cuddie points out that you can't eat praise. In the coda, the poet is promised a gift of a kid from one of Piers's goats, which is, I suppose, a happy ending.
One poet who did manage to make a living of sorts from his pen and who certainly found recognition, and even a degree of fame, was Dylan Thomas. His 30th birthday, on 27 October 1944, was the occasion of his very fine Poem in October. It's perhaps the best of all poems celebrating this month, full of the changing weather, fruitful bounty and general sense of plenty of autumn in full flow.
Something of the same richness can be found in Lyn Hejinian's Come October, it's the lake not the border, an extract from the long poem The Fatalist. Hejinian's autumn is less lyrical, more American, perhaps, than Thomas's version, but underneath the surface many of the concerns being voiced are remarkably similar.
Ted Kooser's A Letter in October depicts another American autumn, this time a distinctly New England one. Kooser marks one of the defining characteristics of the month for those of us who live at more northerly latitudes, the sudden onset of very short days and increasingly late sunrises. As this is the norm for us, we shouldn't be taken by surprise, and yet I, for one, am every year. Kooser manages to capture this sense of slow, predictable suddenness extremely neatly.
If the sunrise grows later in October, the sunset grows correspondingly earlier, and it was in an early Galway October twilight that WB Yeats experienced a different kind of sudden shock when "nine-and-fifty swans" took flight from the lake at Coole Park in the poet's memory and settled in an enduring corner of the history of Irish literature, in the shade of the golden autumn leaves.
Although all the poems so far this month have had rural settings, October has been known to visit the city on occasions. In Anne Stevenson's To My Daughter in a Red Coat it arrives in a public park, and although the poem doesn't actually mention it, you can almost hear the satisfying dry crunch of leaves underfoot as the child runs and skips through them, snug in her warm red cocoon.
Perhaps the best urban October poem of all is TS Eliot's The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, with its dark evening, yellow fog and overall air of the fall of the year and of man in equal measure. Eliot only mentions the month once, but that one naming is enough to place the poem irrevocably in the time of the year most suited to its tone of disjointed unbelonging. Prufrock is, perhaps, the October poem par excellence.
Of course, October isn't all short days, yellow trees and fog; important events can occur then, too. In October 1803, Britain and France were newly at war, and William Wordsworth, erstwhile admirer of the French Revolution, was moved to write a number of sonnets dedicated to the subject of British liberty that had that month and year in their titles. In a sense these poems mark the transition from the young radical poet of the Lyrical Ballads to the more conservative establishment figure that he was to become.
And so this month I invite you all to post your poems of October. You might sit in the window and watch the evenings drawing in. Or maybe you'd prefer to wrap up, go out, crunch some fallen leaves and breathe in the fog. Wherever you draw your inspiration from, just be sure to come back and share the results here.