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Narrative of a Season: William Cullen Bryant’s “November”


Cedarmere: the Estate of William Cullen Bryant

A pillar of American Romanticism, William Cullen Bryant’s greatest muse was the beauty of the natural world. His idyllic verse of nature-centric imagery contains majesty and realism in equal share. As November 3rd, 2021, marks the 227th birthday of our library’s namesake, we would like to share his poem “November”. Written in 1824 at the age of 30, Bryant's poem deftly imparts the sights and senses that herald winter’s onset.


Taking a pensive view of fleeting summer days, the splendor of this particular work is evident in its well-crafted visuals and malleable approach to form. Though Bryant leaves its would-be quatrains ungrouped, the poem’s rhyme scheme follows that of the classic Elizabethan sonnet. This includes an ending couplet as seen in the 13th and 14th lines: Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear/The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air.

The rich, sensory language found in each line of the poem cultivates a scenic landscape with skillful and soulful ease. Bryant's rhetorical observations draw the reader into his transitioning environment, imprinting a melancholy sense of departure as the seasons change.


Much like the described forces of nature, the poem breaks free in several places from its structural pentameter, letting certain lines stretch while pulling others into a tighter syllable count. As a poetic device, this gentle volatility seems to suit the theme of wistful decline as the “departing, distant sun” gives way to “darkened air”.


November


Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun!

One mellow smile through the soft vapoury air,

Ere, o'er the frozen earth, the loud winds ran,

Or snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare.

One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,

And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast,

And the blue Gentian flower, that, in the breeze,

Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.

Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee

Shall murmur by the hedge that skim the way,

The cricket chirp upon the russet lea,

And man delight to linger in thy ray.

Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear

The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air.


In addition to Bryant’s birthday, November brings the 143rd anniversary of the Bryant Circulating Library Association which was established on November 18th, 1878, the year of Bryant’s death. This is effectively the birthday of our institution, which we celebrate as a monument to learning, knowledge, and cultural enrichment. Almost a century-and-a-half after its establishment, The Bryant Library continues to support and provide a positive influence for the entire Roslyn community.

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