A poem about learning to love those transitional months

November has so much more going for it than that "nothing" month between Autumn and Christmas. For Ella Risbridger it signals time to come home

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By Ella Risbridger on

It can be hard to love November.

The remaining leaves are no longer red and gold, but a weathered battered brown. It rains. Everyone seems to have a cold. It’s always winter, never Christmas. Is it even winter? I’m never sure: it’s part autumn and part winter, all coats and puddles and getting stuff done in drizzle.

I thought, this week, we could do with November, by Maggie Dietz. It’s actually a poem about November as well. A poem that does what it says on the tin.

It’s got real, actual rhymes, in an organised pattern, and I think that helps. It helps give some necessary structure to this damp in-the-middle month.

And the rhyme kind of lingers, too: the middle line of one verse rhymes (or half-rhymes) with the first and last lines of the next. Cries/trees/bees; clusters/plaster/dusters; allure/four/door.

You’re always looking forward, in this poem, to the next thing, the real thing: to “winter’s big excuse”.

Or, alternatively, you’re always looking back to “bang-up” autumn.

Either way, you can’t have one without the other. November bridges the gap between coral and gold October, and dark, lights-out December. You have to have both. It can be hard to love November (always winter but never Christmas) but I think this poem helps. It’s beautiful, too: field mice, reeds “fat as feather dusters”. Even the light of the TV bouncing “behind pulled curtains” is kind of gorgeous here: if you’re out there in the dark, anywhere lit seems lovely.

Anyway, that ringmaster’s voice – “Show’s over, folks!” – talks you into it, I think. Like it rolls in the next act so smoothly you don’t know how you got there, into winter.

This poem makes me sort of homesick. I’ve been away for a bit, getting my head straight, but it might be time to come back soon. I missed most of autumn, but I don’t want to miss it all; November kind of seems like an elegy for autumn, the way Maggie Dietz writes about it. I want to come back: I want “winter’s big excuse”. I want to shut up shop, and fold under a blanket. I’ve been buying jumpers, jeans, having my proper boots mended. I’m thinking about thick socks, and drawing the curtains, and watching a box-set. I want to feel grateful for electricity, for candlelight, for locking the door. I want “a sky like hardened plaster”. Isn’t that just what a November sky is like?

Bill Bryson said once it was like living under Tupperware. I spent part of my childhood abroad out here, under vast foreign skies that went out for miles, where the roads were too wide to cross, where everything was built just a little bigger than scale. Coming back to Britain for Christmas was always a shock to the system: the roads were so small, even the motorways, and grass grew everywhere without anybody making the effort to water it. And the sky was so low! I could never believe that the sky could be so low, so thick, so heavy. But I still longed to come back, every year. There’s a pull about November that’s like that: a gathering in of things that were out in the cold.

The shops are shut and the dark is here: go home, go home, go home.

Maggie Dietz’s Novembers are different from mine: they have field mice, fat squirrels, barns. But they have that sense of homecoming, too. The bees have gone home. The field mice have gone home. Everything is going home, and I find that I want to, too.

I bought a new coat this week. It’s mustard yellow, with brass buttons, and I am thinking about London in November. I find, to my surprise, I can’t think of rain or greyness, only of the gold light of sodium street-lamps, and of the pleasures of hurrying home in the dark.

“Did I love it enough...while it lasted?” Maggie Dietz asks about October’s “full-throttle foliage”. But it’s a good question to ask about anything that’s finite – which is to say, I suppose, it’s a good question to ask about everything.

Did I love it enough while it lasted? Am I loving enough while it lasts? Am I doing my best, always, to appreciate the wonderful things about where I am and what I am? For me, personally, it’s always worth trying a bit harder to love things. Even November.

(Like I say, this poem helps.)


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