Selected by Dr Oliver Tearle
What are the best poems about the month of October? It’s proved a surprisingly fruitful source of inspiration for poets, even if it lurks behind the spring months of March and April somewhat. Below, we’ve picked some of the very best poems written about October.
John Clare, ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar: October’.
Nature now spreads around in dreary hue
A pall to cover all that summer knew
Yet in the poets solitary way
Some pleasing objects for his praise delay …
After Edmund Spenser’s Elizabethan Shepheardes Calendar, the most famous ‘shepherd’s calendar’ in English verse is by one of England’s greatest nature poets, John Clare (1793-1864).
Christina Rossetti, ‘An October Garden’.
For Rossetti (1830-94), one of the greatest Victorian poets, the withering of her roses in her garden is a reminder of the fact that, in October, everything is ‘on the wane’.
Helen Hunt Jackson, ‘A Calendar of Sonnets: October’.
The month of carnival of all the year,
When Nature lets the wild earth go its way,
And spend whole seasons on a single day.
The spring-time holds her white and purple dear …
Jackson (1830-85) was a poet, a novelist, and an activist who campaigned on behalf of Native Americans. Her Calendar of Sonnets offered a sonnet for every month of the year, accompanied by related illustrations.
Paul Laurence Dunbar, ‘October’.
October is the treasurer of the year,
And all the months pay bounty to her store;
The fields and orchards still their tribute bear,
And fill her brimming coffers more and more …
For Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), the wonderful African American poet whose work would influence later black American poets, ‘October is the treasurer of the year …’
Robert Frost, ‘October’.
In this poem, the American-born poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) considers the state of nature on an October morning, asking that nature beguile him and his fellow humans into believing things are not hastily moving to a state of waste and ruin by slowing down the process of decay and demise that October brings, with the falling leaves and harsh winds.
Edward Thomas, ‘October’.
The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,
Harebell and scabious and tormentil,
That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,
Bow down to …
Robert Frost was a mentor to the slightly younger Edward Thomas (1878-1917), and Thomas was on his way to visit Frost when his train made its famous stop at the small station at Adlestrop, inspiring Thomas’s most famous poem. Like Frost, Thomas wrote an October poem, which showcases Thomas’s wonderfully close attention to detail.
Dylan Thomas, ‘Poem in October’.
This beautiful October poem was written in 1944 when Thomas turned 30. The poem celebrates his walks in Laugharne, a small Welsh town where Thomas and his wife settled following their marriage in 1937. The poem is unmistakably joyous, with Thomas feeling ‘the summer noon’ even though ‘the town below lay leaved with October blood.’
Sylvia Plath, ‘Poppies in October’.
Like Dylan Thomas, Plath was born in October, and like him, she wrote a poem set in the month of her birth. Although this poem gives a nod to Plath’s own numerous suicide attempts, with its reference to a woman in an ambulance whose heart is likened to the flowering poppies, it is, first and foremost, a poem in celebration of the bright red flowers in the month of October, with the flowers’ ‘late mouths’ opening even after summer is long over.
The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University. He is the author of, among others, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History and The Great War, The Waste Land and the Modernist Long Poem.