Here in the North Country, October means change: leaves changing from shades of green to shades of gold and red; nights changing from warm to cool and then changing at last to cold. And behind all the change is a waiting… an anticipation for what we know is to come. What comes, of course, every year and yet every year seems to take us by surprise. In this little poem Sandburg captures so well the many complex emotions surrounding the changes inherent in October.
“Falltime” comes from Sandburg’s second collection of poems, Cornhuskers. In it he makes interesting use of repetition: Gold and gold, thistle blue and larkspur blue, shining and shining, and, of course, birds, bird, and birds. It is an interesting way to make sure the emphasis is where he wants it to be.
The more time I spend with Sandburg, the more I appreciate his work, even his lesser known and smaller poems… maybe especially his lesser known and smaller poems.
A poet’s reputation is made on their best work. We know Frost for “Road Not Taken” and “Death of the Hired Man” and we know Eliot for “Prufrock” and “Wasteland.” Yet the more time you spend with poetry the sooner you realize that ultimately you truly love and admire a poet, not for their great works, but for the character and direction of their small and eloquent gestures.
On a transitional October morning, “Falltime” seems like just the right poem.
Gold of a ripe oat straw, gold of a southwest moon,
Canada thistle blue and flimmering larkspur blue,
Tomatoes shining in the October sun with red hearts,
Shining five and six in a row on a wooden fence,
Why do you keep wishes on your faces all day long,
Wishes like women with half-forgotten lovers going to new cities?
What is there for you in the birds, the birds, the birds, crying down on the north wind in September, acres of birds spotting the air going south?
Is there something finished? And some new beginning on the way?