September Summary
by Joanne Kyger

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(Poetry for Students)

"September," by the American poet Joanne Kyger, was first published in Kyger's collection All This Every Day in 1975. It has since been reprinted in Going on: Selected Poems, 1958–1980 (1983) and As Ever: Selected Poems (2002). All three volumes are currently in print.

Kyger began her long poetic career as a young woman who moved to San Francisco in 1957 at the time of the literary movement known as the San Francisco Renaissance. There she was influenced by such poets as Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan and made friends with the "Beat" poets, including Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg. Kyger has continued to publish her poems in a career that spans more than forty-five years.

"September" is an oblique poem; it hints at meanings rather than stating them outright. Kyger is interested in the way the mind connects one thing after another, and she does not feel that all the connections should be spelled out. Like many of her poems, "September" moves from outer to inner realities. It is primarily about spiritual revelation, the moment when perception is lifted above the ordinary, everyday world into some new dimension of life.


(Poetry for Students)

Lines 1–7

"September" begins with the poet's early morning observations of the late summer or autumn landscape. Although no specific location is mentioned, it is probably in California, perhaps in Bolinas, north of San Francisco, where Kyger was living when she wrote this poem. The descriptions are simple: the grass is light brown, the ocean shimmers, and horses graze. A motionless fleet of ships can be seen, tranquil in the morning light.

Lines 8–14

This straightforward scene prompts the poet to reflect on her thoughts. It appears that some time in the recent past she spoke in church, although she does not disclose what she spoke about. She says that it was not because of a desire to be released that she spoke, although she is silent on what she might have wanted to be released from. From burdens? From worries? From her existence in time? She does not say. What prompted her to speak appears to be a memory of childhood, perhaps, or an earlier time in her life: "memory of the way it used to be in / careless and exotic play." This suggests that she is looking back to a freer, happier time. The next line, which offers some kind of description about that careless play, is cryptic: "when characters were promises / then recognitions." This could perhaps refer to a time as a child, when she was just learning to read. Each "character" (that is, letter of the alphabet) seemed to hold a promise to the child, which blossomed into recognition when she learned to put characters together to create or to read words. The poet seems to use that memory as a springboard to hint perhaps at a free-flowing way of being in which the solidity or fixedness of external things is not absolute.

This hint is carried into the line that follows, in which the poet states the first of the two paradoxes around which the poem appears to revolve: "The world of transformation / is real and not real but trusting." The first phrase establishes that the world is not fixed; it is in transformation. At one level, the statement is obvious, since in nature everything is in flux, in process of transformation (which may be particularly noticeable in the autumn, with its sense of the things of nature passing away). At another level, however, the phrase indicates the power of the human mind to transform the world it perceives. This is suggested by the sentence "The world of transformation / is real and not real." In other words, the "real" world that humans perceive is, in a sense, created by the fluid consciousness of the perceiver, and it is therefore not "real" in the sense of permanently existing outside the perceiving self. The poet must trust in the validity of her own perceptions, which create the world anew in each moment. She will return to this idea at the end of the poem.

Lines 15–17

Next, the poet addresses the reader directly, in the form of a question,...

(The entire section is 1,079 words.)