This week I need to cut back the wiry ornamental grasses along the back fence and pull out the last brave zinnias. The time has come; the gardens hunker down to wait out winter.

For folks who love the feeling of dirt beneath their fingernails, November is a month of melancholy. And yet there’s a reassuring cyclicality to it all. I once interviewed for a pastoral call in Florida, and when the search committee chair called to tell me I didn’t get it, he started out by asking, I thought wistfully, “Are the leaves falling yet?” The seasons get inside you.

 

Here’s an amazing poem that speaks to this turn of seasons, by the wonderful Howard Nemerov, who taught at Washington University in St. Louis. It’s called “The Dying Garden,” and boy, I wish I could write like this.

The Dying Garden

The flowers get a darkening brilliance now,
And in the still sun-heated air stand out
As stars and soloists where they had been before
Choruses and choirs; at the equinox,
I mean, when the great gyroscope begins
To spin the sun under the line and do
Harvest together with fall: the time that trees
Crimp in their steepled shapes, the hand of leaf
Becomes a claw; when wealth and death are one,
When moth and wasp and mouse come in the house
For comfort if they can; the deepening time
When sketchy

Orion begins his slow cartwheel
About the southern sky, the time of turn
When moth and wasp and mouse come in the house
To die there as they may; and there will be,
You know, All Saints, All Souls, and Halloween,
The killing frost, the end of Daylight Time,
Sudden the nightfall on the afternoon
And on children scuffling home through drifts of leaf;
Till you drop the pumpkins on the compost heap,
The blackened jack-o-lanterns with their candled eyes,
And in the darkening garden turn for home
Through summer’s flowers now all gone, withdrawn,
The four o’clocks, the phlox, the hollyhocks,
Somber November in amber and umber embering out.

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