1 February 2021 Susannah

John Freeman & November Skies

Cloud Study Stormy Sunset by John Constable

I recently read and was hugely impressed by Alexandra Harris’s book Weatherland about the ways in which the English weather has influenced and inspired painters and writers. So here’s a lovely poem about English weather in the, often dark and dreary, month of November.

November Skies by John Freeman

Than these November skies
Is no sky lovelier. The clouds are deep;
Into their grey the subtle spies
Of colour creep,
Changing that high austerity to delight,
Till ev’n the leaden interfolds are bright.
And, where the cloud breaks, faint far azure peers
Ere a thin flushing cloud again
Shuts up that loveliness, or shares.
The huge great clouds move slowly, gently, as
Reluctant the quick sun should shine in vain,
Holding in bright caprice their rain.
And when of colours none,
Not rose, nor amber, nor the scarce late green,
Is truly seen, —
In all the myriad grey,
In silver height and dusky deep, remain
The loveliest,
Faint purple flushes of the unvanquished sun.

John Freeman (1880 – 1929) worked in insurance in London, until giving up that job to be a full-time writer. He published volumes of poetry and essays and was a close friend of poet Walter de la Mare.

Freeman was described by someone who knew him as “tall, gangling, ugly and solemn”. In 1920 he won the Hawthornden Prize for Poetry.

I think this is a beautiful poem, with its rather unusual word order and wonderful musicality in its varied rhythm and rhyme. And even though it is describing grey weather, it is such a wonderfully positive poem ending as it does with the words “unvanquished sun”.

November in the northern hemisphere can be a challenging month. It is not cheered by the festivities of December, and because it is early winter, the months of cold and darkness seem to stretch on forever. But Freeman finds a beauty in the season and notes the way colour creeps into the “leaden interfolds” of the clouds and captures the movement of the “huge great clouds” before rain. He makes us see the varied tones of grey – leaden, silver, deep grey – and makes us feel that they can be perhaps even more beautiful than the brighter rose and amber of a sunnier day.

Sadly, I cannot find a Youtube recording of it to share with you. You will just have to read it aloud to yourself.

Do you share my enjoyment of this poem? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Cloud Study Stormy Sunset by John Constable – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50821758
Body image credit- Image of John Freeman in The Bookman Vol. 57 (December 1919, p. 104). Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67257676

Comments (6)

  1. Colin Stapleton

    Always remembered this poem from school,walking across the desolate winter playing fields-the words a great comfort and companion.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it a gorgeous poem. I only came across it for the first time recently and had not even heard of the poet, but I just loved it.

  2. Ann Davison

    Loved it as it reminds me of days when I lived in England and I would walk along the beach when the tide was out. The bird life on the mud and sand were prolific prodding and poking – looking for food. The air was neither cold nor warm, the sea grey as well and I would feel I could wander along that beach for hours.The poem almost made me homesick.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so glad you liked the poem. I’d never come across it before and thought it wqas just wonderful. I am currently feeling very homesick for Britain – it is not my actual home (though I lived there for 5 years) but it is in so many ways my spiritual home.

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