November 30, 2020

The Cruelest Month

'November Garden of Melancholy' photo (c) 2009, Hartwig HKD - license:, the wind blew strong from the west, colder and more piercing as the day went by. The sky was a wild migration of stampeding clouds, many dark as slate and angry. Leaves blew everywhere. Color is thinning and soon the treetops will be as bare as an old man’s pate. All will be brown, gray, and chill. Darkness is falling.

This is November.

Here is something I wrote about the final stages of the year’s falling a few years ago.

• • •

the cruelest month…

t. s. eliot was wrong—it is not april, but november.

it is november that sucks the color out of the world.

it is november that brutally strips the brilliant textured sweater off the tree and leaves it naked, shivering against the gray, cold wind.

it is november, when sky becomes steel, earth becomes stone, grass a wire brush, breath fog, each day a more rapidly drawn shade.

it is november, when time changes, and daytime suddenly drops into darkness before our supper is prepared.

it is november, when baseball ends, gloves are oiled, grass is covered, and stadiums sit silent and empty, too bleak even for ghosts to want to have a catch.

it is november, when the porch is stripped of furniture, the hose and bird bath put up lest they crack, the gutters emptied of fallen sky, a stretch of street with yards forsaken like the dormitory hall at lights out.

it is november, all gray and brown.

it is november, hangover after the harvest party, period of mourning after autumn’s exquisite expiration.

it is november, the time between—between the joy of ingathering and the wonder of incarnation—when darkness gathers, unwilling yet to be dispelled.

'November Sky' photo (c) 2006, .:[ Melissa ]:. - license: month, of course, has its joys but they are humble — smell of wood smoke rising, tears for the young gone off to war, college football’s rivalry games and the beginning of basketball, a homely and heartwarming feast of thanksgiving, the quiet inauguration of advent and a new year to live within god’s story.

three of the most wonderful women in my life have birthdays in november—my mother, my wife, and my oldest daughter. this november will mark the final season of watching my children play on sporting fields, as my oldest son completes his college football career. life will move more and more inside closed walls. we’ll begin rehearsing our annual worries about how to keep the heating bill down and what we’re going to do for the holidays.

the shivering begins.

november is the cruelest month. between time, gray and brown, it sucks the color out of the world.

Yea, I have looked, and seen November there;
The changeless seal of change it seemed to be,
Fair death of things that, living once, were fair;
Bright sign of loneliness too great for me,
Strange image of the dread eternity,
In whose void patience how can these have part,
These outstretched feverish hands, this restless heart?

• William Morris, “November


  1. Margaret Catherine says

    No, No, November

    “Thirty days November hath,
    Unfit for human living.
    Including one Election Day,
    And a hide-and-seek Thanksgiving.
    An encouraging month November is
    For burglary and mayhem;
    It’s night for most of the afternoon
    And P.M. most of the A.M.
    There may be virtues in November,
    But if there are I can’t remember.”

    – Ogden Nash

  2. For me, January is the cruelest month, the most dull, grey month of the year when the holidays are over, the decorations are packed away and the place is bare and sad. The world is bare and sad.

    • ditto….and February is the longest month, no matter WHAT the calendar says!

    • I actually like January and February — the holidays are over and things actually slow down for awhile. There’s nowhere to go and nothing that HAS to be done outside the home, so I get to catch up on reading by the fireplace and just enjoying some down time.

  3. November is a great month, at least in the South. The tree colors are really exploding, football is at its best, the holidays are just around the corner etc…

    February, or Februdreary as some call it, is a harsh month.

  4. Go South Young Man!

    Chaplain Mike,

    November here in GA is great. We go from cool 50 degree days to the random 70 degree day. I even have to go home today and cut grass (yes cut grass) b/c some things are still growing.

    About the biggest complaint I have for November are the leaves in the gutter and the early nights. But even thos early nights are kind of nice. The kids (4 and 7) seem to settle down more when it is dark. Try getting a 7 year old to go to bed when it is still light out- not fun.

  5. As an upper midwesterner , I think you’ve forgotten some beauty in poor lowly November.

    It’s when the birdfeeders get filled to help out on the birds’ migratory pathways. And what a pleasing spectacle it is to see hundreds of birds soaring overhead.

    It’s when frost makes random, crystalline patterns on windowpanes.

    It’s when the first, triumphant notes of the holiday season start getting put forth. And the opening shots of the annual War on Christmas start!

    It’s when the gayly patterned sweaters and socks come out of closets and onto their people.


    Heavy casseroles and roast meats that we haven’t wanted all year long start to look real appetizing.

    Finally, the Cubs can rest and we can start saying wait till next year.

  6. I like the sad beauty of November. November is what it is and it doesn’t make any pretenses. April, on the other hand, loves to raise your hopes only to slap them back down again. April is a capricious child, holding out life and warmth one day, then snatching them back with frost and wind the next. November is a staid old man walking slowly and steadily toward a long sleep.

    • The Previous Dan says

      Amen! I have to say that my favorite time of year starts in fall and slips right into the winter. The busyness and heat of summer is over. That oppressive sun begins to wane. The sun that never sets and makes me feel like I should be out doing yard work until 9pm when I just want to relax.

      Then comes fall with its refreshing coolness and burst of color. And then November as nature slowly settles into its peaceful winter sleep. I guess that is what I like about this time of year. Life seems to slow and become more peaceful when we are driven inside for the season. And then add in the holidays… man, I love this time of year!

  7. Richard McNeeley says

    it is november, when baseball ends, gloves are oiled, grass is covered, and stadiums sit silent and empty, too bleak even for ghosts to want to have a catch.

    The saddest part of November.

  8. I walked out of my house today into a rather subdued but startlingly beautiful November day – the sky grey and overcast with almost no hint of blue, but a bright band of sunlit clouds along the horizon. The weather was warm enough, and I’ve been starved enough for sunlight lately, that I walked along the subway tracks for the first two miles of my commute instead of getting on the train. We’ve had some bitter cold already, but every snow flurry carries hints of Advent approaching, and all that’s connected with Advent in my memory – candlelight, caroling, churches decorated with evergreen branches and smelling of pine, walking step by step into a deep darkness where we find ourselves intimately vulnerable to God.

    So, it’s really all in how you choose to perceive things. I understand your grief at the end of the baseball season , but there’s plenty to be thankful for, as well!

  9. November in England is wonderful. Windy, dark, misty – sometimes windy and misty at the same time, which takes some doing. Makes for great atmosphere on long walks under yew woods and between the barrows of the cold kings.

  10. sorry for no caps using left arm right arm not working today….just want to tell you, chaplain mike, what you wrote is beautiful poetry ! i love it.
    was like spring here in nh yesterday. one suggestion… take your camera and go out side u may be surprised the hidden beauty this month can hold. go out in a canoe like this woman did….

  11. I think my favourite month is October, but I don’t mind November so much either. I agree with Marc that January is more depressing; it’s the new year but it’s still dark, cold and wet.

    Actually, it’s the wet that’s the worst of winter over here. The dry, cold, crisp mornings when the frost is on the grass but the sky is a pale blue and the thin but bright sunshine lies on every surface, as your breath puffs out before you and you can feel your blood moving to warm your chilled extremities – that’s not so bad!

  12. No dark, depressing, or cruel November down here….in the sky island country of the southwest, we just had our first brief frost earlier this week, and the very tops of the mountains are dusted with snow, but the sun is strong and bright, and skies are clear blue, and the highs this week will be in the upper 60s….the once-verdant grasses are dry and golden, the leaves of trees –just beginning to show some color — still flutter mostly green in the light winds, and birds are busy everywhere some seeds (or sluggish bugs) can be found. Wish I could send some of this beautiful, intense, purifying weather your way.

  13. Randy Thompson says

    Here in New Hampshire, the past two days have been sunny and over 60 degrees, and, according to my niece in Southern California, nicer here than there.


  14. My least favorite month is December because I’m a Scrooge/Charlie Brown who hates Christmas.

  15. My favorite Shakespearean Sonnet, especially as I get older. It’s been noted that Shakespeare was probably in his mid 30’s when he wrote this.

    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.
    In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
    As after sunset fadeth in the west;
    Which by and by black night doth take away,
    Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
    In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
    That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
    As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
    Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
    This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

  16. This is our first November here in S. Korea. Being in the middle of the city we don’t see the large amounts of trees and fields that we saw in NE Ohio. And the leaves don’t seem as bright, nor do the colors last as long. But the sight of an almost bare tree behind a fence covered with boughs of red roses stops me in my tracks. And walking through a tiny park kicking leaves that have fallen to the ground brings me childlike joy. When I see pots of mums in front of restaurants or standing one above the other on the stairs I rejoice that someone is sharing beauty with all of us. I must be more intentional about finding the beauty of nature, but I realize, it’s there for the enjoying if I just stop and look.

  17. And now for those of us in Pennsylvania classic football rivalries have taken an ugly, surreal, tragic twist.

  18. “It is the time of year when all the harvest has been gathered; we enjoy its fruits, we prepare rich foods, the stuff of feasts. Bakers make cakes and breads full of fruit, brewers take up grain and water and make the best ale of the year. They will not touch it till the spring. The wind is cold and all cheeks are rosy, all appetites satisfied. Everyone gathers together and dances in the cool evening. The clouds hang near the ground, the earth is brown, shadows long. Leaves show their true colors, and for a moment they seem born of fire. The songs of few birds are heard; they are passing by, passing away, and their cries are sad. I walk by a pond; a duck flies up above the reeds, alone now; the other birds have gone south and away, perhaps never to return. Its feathers are grey-green like the reeds, water, sky.
    Everything is in stillness. Everything is in anticipation. Anticipation for what? All work lies behind us. The long winter lies ahead. We wait for silence. We wait for the snows.
    Have you ever looked at the snow? It is a starfall. A shivering, laughing descent of glory. At other times, the lances of heaven. Stand beneath them if you dare! You may find yourself transfixed, frozen, or dead. The snows are too pure for us. Too long exposed, we die an incorrupt death. No death is quite so much like a sleep. Caught in the snow-madness, many disgarb and lay down to rest. The very skies provide a funeral shroud, a blanket of white down. They remains so long as the snow remains.”

    If I may shamelessly self-quote.

    I suppose it seems kind of morbid out of context. The ‘sleeper’ imagery is closely tied to the idea of resurrection in the original, but I don’t want to quote too much.

    Anyways, just because something isn’t bright and joyful doesn’t mean it can’t be happy. November is sad, but it is good. Like Mara in MacDonald’s ‘Lillith,’ or Nienna from the Silmarillion.

  19. I hate the drear and cold dark night that Winter brings to stave the light
    Still I embrace it for I know, without it Spring would never glow. :~)