October has come again

October 1, 2011 • 3:51 am

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) is an acquired taste.  Most cognoscenti of literature scorn him for overwriting, and yes, he had a heavy hand with the pencil (he wrote in pencil on yellow legal pads, often—because he was so tall—on top of his refrigerator).  I do love much of his writing, though, and when he was “on,” he perfectly captured the feel, look, and smell of America.  William Faulkner rated Wolfe as the best writer of his generation (and remember, that includes, among Americans, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Faulkner himself).

Look Homeward, Angel is an American classic, and at least two excerpts from his books, chapters called “I have a thing to tell you” (about Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany) and “The child by tiger” (about a black man in the South who can no longer stand his degradation) are among the most moving things I’ve read in English.

Wolfe died at only 38, the victim of tuberculosis that spread to his brain.

This passage about October, which I’ve posted before but is also appropriate today, is from Of Time and the River:

Now October has come again which in our land is different from October in the other lands.  The ripe, the golden month has come again, and in Virginia the chinkapins are falling.  Frost sharps the middle music of the seasons, and all things living on the earth turn home again. The country is so big that you cannot say that the country has the same October. In Maine, the frost comes sharp and quick as driven nails, just for a week or so the woods, all of the bright and bitter leaves, flare up; the maples turn a blazing bitter red, and other leaves turn yellow like a living light, falling upon you as you walk the woods, falling about you like small pieces of the sun so that you cannot say where that sunlight shakes and flutters on the ground, and where the leaves. . .

October is the richest of the seasons: the fields are cut, the granaries are full, the bins are loaded to the brim with fatness, and from the cider-press the rich brown oozings of the York Imperials run.  The bee bores to the belly of the yellowed grape, the fly gets old and fat and blue, he buzzes loud, crawls slow, creeps heavily to death on sill and ceiling, the sun goes down in blood and pollen across the bronzed and mown fields of old October.

The corn is shocked: it sticks out in hard yellow rows upon dried ears, fit now for great red barns in Pennsylvania, and the big stained teeth of crunching horses. The indolent hooves kick swiftly at the boards, the barn is sweet with hay and leather, wood and apples—this, and the clean dry crunching of the teeth is all:  the sweat, the labor, and the plow is over. The late pears mellow on a sunny shelf, smoked hams hang to the warped barn rafters; the pantry shelves are loaded with 300 jars of fruit. Meanwhile the leaves are turning, turning up in Maine, the chestnut burrs plop thickly to the earth in gusts of wind, and in Virginia the chinkapins are falling.

Wolfe with some of his manuscripts. He’d deliver them in crates like this to his editor at Scribner’s, Max Perkins, and the two of them would then have epic battles about cutting the material down to book size.

16 thoughts on “October has come again

  1. Jerry,
    How do I unsubscribe from the email list? I follow the site daily and no need for it. Yet there’s no contact info here, nor do I have a WordPress account for the ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom of each email. Thanks.

    1. I called the catalickers one day to find out their policy for becoming a non-member (I was comparing the policy of different christian cults). The catalicker offical stated that catalickerism was forever. But, what about excommunication, says I. The catalicker offical says that, excommunication is very rarely used anymore, nope says he, there isn’t really any way to become a non-member, once you are a catalicker you are a catalicker for life. Aaaack!, says I.

      1. You can request to “leave the church by a formal act”, by contacting the archdiocese where you were baptized. You have to fill out a form explaining why you’re leaving and get it notarized, and then they attach a little notice to your baptismal record and you lose the right to participate in Catholic sacraments or be buried in a Catholic cemetery. So it’s totally worth it.

        1. Oh, but of course you still are stuck with the indelible baptismal mark, of course. So they still think they have some claim on you or other. I presume if you change your mind and want to be Catholic again you have to repent and grovel a bit but they’ll take you back without making you go through the dunking and so forth. But it’s not something I lie awake at nights worrying about. I’m just happy to have found a way to flip them the bird and have it in their files that I’ve done so.

  2. Here in the Valley of the Sun, October is midsummer — when the high temperatures merely flirt with the triple digits, rather than remain perpetually above them. Why, the overnight low was only 84°F! The exciting bit is that that might be the high temperature a week from now, if the forecast holds true.

    With luck, October will be a pleasant and mild end to the summer, which should be followed by a lovely fall from November through mid-January and an equally-lovely spring from mid-January through March, just in time for summer to start up again in April. Hell, of course, runs from June through August.

    Anybody feel like placing bets on what day winter will fall on this year?



    1. Well away from proper autumnal weather in England, though leaves have been falling for weeks – record October temperatures after a dry September in the South East. About 29 C today – that is 84 F. Horrible – I am dreaming of Norway in winter.

      But the Wolfe – I must read – thanks Jerry. Not overwritten in my book!

    2. Here in the Antipodes October is spring, and it’s been unusually warm. In fact spring started apparently in the middle of winter! We’ve even had thunderstorms and currently the sun is shining brightly. Weird, really really weird.

  3. Chestnut burrs may once again plop thickly to the earth in gusts of wind, with help from the American Chestnut Foundation.

  4. Wolfe perfectly described as an “acquired taste” – and I’m grateful I acquired him over 40 years ago thanks to a high school English teacher who’d read us excerpts…including the one you posted. Good job…and thanks!

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