Just say the title of that old Duke Ellington blues classic and it touches, maybe even creates, a mood in the soul.
“That feelin’ goes stealin’ down to my shoes.” Mood November? Same thing!
There’s a kind of “feelin’” about November, at least for me, that’s related to falling leaves and the smell of mulch in the air, evening darkness falling earlier, pumpkins on the lawn and root veggies on the table, putting summer clothes away for warmer ones, a sense of the year growing older.
It’s not a sad or pitiful feeling — there are festival days ahead, and the fall sports season is heating up.
Yet if the November mood were music it would be in a minor key, which is to say more thoughtful, missing the lightness and cheer of summer, but making up for it with a deeper perception, and soulful appreciation, of full life experience. Gain and loss; joy and sorrow.
November is the most contemplative month.
All of this is to say that “Mood November” evokes a kind of feeling closely related to aging.
We’re getting older ourselves, like the year. Things are happening with us analogous to shortening days, falling leaves and saying goodbye to the wilder thrills of summer holidays.
Our bodies, and I daresay our mentalities, are in a November time now.
(Well, early old age — late 60s, early 70s — may feel more like October or even September, and those who have lived beyond 85 may even feel the chill of December. Give me a little poetic license here.)
Shakespeare may not have invented the idea that nature and the soul are sisters, and that the seasons of nature are imaginatively related to the seasons of a person’s life. But he expressed it beautifully in Sonnet 73, when he allows the reader to gaze at his November self:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
Other poets, such as Rilke, speak of falling leaves as “gestures of renunciation," while Jane Kenyon calls us to “let evening come.” We all tell time partly with our bodies, and elders do so with the season. Our daylight is being squeezed between narrowing boundaries; fewer leaves hang on our branches, though they may be brightly colored.
Growing up, and during working years, bound largely to the schedule of schools, I thought summer was the best time of the year. (Lowcountry summers teach you to doubt that!) It was the year we lived in England, freed from old calendars, that I realized the unique beauty of the other seasons, especially fall and winter.
When the leaves fall, the silhouettes of trees can be seen as artistic masterpieces. As the days shorten, the warmth of lighted windows in shops and homes, especially the one to which you are returning, opens the heart.
Nature has the power to connect us with the more essential structures of our own lives. The bare trees of fall nudge our attention to the things that really matter. And the raw nature of November points us elders towards the essential in a powerful way.
May Sarton said it this way in her journal: “It is a mellow day, very gentle. The ash has lost its leaves and when I went out to get the mail and stopped to look up at it, I rejoiced to think that soon everything here will be honed down to structure.”
The poet, her soul touched by the ash, then said to herself, “Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”
The migrating birds and butterflies, the burrowing insects in the forest — don’t they tell us the same thing? November reminds us that the earth itself is in pilgrimage and carries us along in our wild ride around the sun. The year rounds out and we do, too.
November speaks to us of our natural descent into another form of life. It connects us with resources more conducive to soul-making and interior replenishment than to power and publicity. Its softer light is more akin to the soft gaze of a lover than to the spotlight or the neon of public exposure. November has much to teach us that we are now, in mature age, ready to learn. Not of endings, but of transitions, and completeness.
I think the last two lines of Shakespeare’s sonnet, quoted before, sum up the real genius of “mood November.” He may be speaking to someone who loves him, or he may be saying these words to himself in the evening of his life — they work both ways.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.