Observations on Hughes’ Poem November

Observations on Hughes’ poem November


What follows in Observations on Hughes’ poem November is an abridged extract from one of my A* Way Series study guides: A Close Reading of Ted Hughes’ November (forthcoming).

Drawing 'Sowing in the Rain' by Vincent van Gogh 1853 - 1890 for the article Observations on Hughes' poem November
This beautiful drawing of rain by Vincent van Gogh (1853 -1890) captures some of the movement and texture of rain as described in Hughes’ poem ‘November’.

In Observations on Hughes’ poem November, I make several general comments about what has emerged during my detailed analysis of the poem. I am now so familiar with the poem’s intricacies that it is a little difficult for me to determine whether the points I have made (below) will make sense to readers who haven’t yet gone through the poem carefully. If that is the case, I do apologise, but would urge you to do your own close reading and that should help clarify things somewhat.

  • November in Britain is a very cold, windy and wet month. It is the month when winter finally settles in good and proper and when all memory/evidence of the other, more salubrious seasons seems to have gone for good.
  •   In the poem, Hughes does not limit himself to constructing a static picture of the situation, a bit like a still-life of the scene. Rather, he constructs a vivid, multi-layered, dynamic experience of what the speaker encounters on his walk in a particular place, on a particular day in November. The dynamic construct also includes the speaker’s attempts to make sense of the two distressing things he comes across on his walk. Initially, I thought comparing what happens in the poem to what a video recording of it would be like, but that, too, proved too small a concept to hold and express the depth and range of what the poem entails.
  • This dynamic complexity involves not only sensory information – movement, vivid visuals, sound, colour, texture – of the shifting interaction between the weather and the landscape as observed by the speaker, but also occasionally includes his perceptions, that is, his attempts to grasp at a fundamental level both the tramp and the keeper’s gibbet situation.
  • The structuring/organising principle of the poem is the walk and the things that the speaker encounters as he makes his way along the familiar ‘sunk lane’.
  •  We can say that the poem is to a limited extent narrative in form in the sense that there is some plot development – plot development that is dictated by the order in which things appear during the walk, as in the rain, the land, the lane, the ditch, the tramp, the wind, the wood, the keeper’s gibbet.
  • The cumulative effect of the myriad of concrete images and sensory information makes the poem vivid, evocative, multi-layered in meaning and form.
  • November also raises several important questions around issues of what the ‘strong trust’ is that he has attributed to both the tramp and several elements in the landscape. It also brings vividly into view the whole ugly, violent business of the keeper’s gibbet and what it signifies.
  • There is also a very interesting thing happening with regards to time: the immediacy of experience in the here-and-now of human time and the wider, bigger time frame of the natural order of things. This contrast involves the speaker and his moment now in the month of November, the more generalised expectations for the month of November as a whole (month of the drowned dog) and also the even wider time frame expressed in ‘the ancient land’, ‘mist silvering the droplets … slower than the change of daylight’, ‘buried stones, taking the weight of winter’, ‘patient to outwait these worst days’, and so on.


These ideas will be explored in detail in the study guide ‘A Close Reading of Ted Hughes’ November’ which is due out towards the end of April in both print and ebook format. I will keep you informed.


For other posts on Ted Hughes and his poetry, click HERE.

I hope you have enjoyed this article: Observations on Hughes’ poem November.



This is an abridged extract from one of my study guide: A Close Reading of Ted Hughes’ November .



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