The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Auroras of Autumn” contains 240 lines, divided into ten sections with 24 lines each. The title refers to the northern lights in autumn. The speaker first sees them as a serpent winding upwards, hungry to find a form for itself. The scene changes in the next section to a deserted, white beach cabin. Its whiteness is a memory, like clouds in winter. Autumn is a time for change, warning of winter. A man “turns blankly” as the sky makes change seem larger. The speaker feels utterly alone.

Section 3 begins, like section 2, with a farewell. Memory is focused on “mother’s face,” filling a room at evening. The aurora’s lights are reflected from the windows, and the wind knocks at the door, “like a rifle-butt.” The “farewell” continues, now focusing on the father, who is agreeable to everything. He enjoys change. He hears things that are not there, and he sees drama everywhere.

Section 5 examines the father’s talent for imagining: He could fetch “pageants out of air”; and he made poems, though they were works “of barbarous tongue.” These poems were the work of a man like Chatillon, an obscure sixteenth century writer who also said “yes” to everything. In the real world, the speaker objects, there is “no play” apart from mere existence.

In the next section, the poet, like his father, imagines nature’s lights as a “theatre floating through the clouds”: They become birds, volcanic smoke, floating in the sky’s corridor. The “denouement” of this...

(The entire section is 624 words.)