“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?"
As far as I can tell, October is the grandest of the three siblings of autumn – September and November huddling round it to protect this exuberant middle-child. It is the one most associated with all that makes autumn good in my mind: the ‘dying splendour of the woods’, Hallowe’en, harvest, equinox. I’ve been surprised, however, at how November’s skeletal beauty has struck me this year. My life is trips to and from campus now, it seems, and these podcast-fuelled trips are almost always done in the dark. London has enclosed around me and the world has steadily become an L.S. Lowry painting of greys, blacks, and the occasional splash of warm colours in deep tones. I hurtle through the ground in the tube, spit out onto wet pavement. I rush with my scarf bundled around my neck to lighted windows and heated doorways. A murder of crows wouldn’t seem amiss amongst the heady mixture of gothic and brutalist architecture of Temple and the Strand at dusk.
It seems a time for Hamlet, for brooding Danes, deeds done in the dark, madness and murder. I’ve found myself drawn back to Hamlet this year in a way I have never been before. Ruth Negga’s run as Hamlet at the Gate Theatre in Dublin even in a minute-long trailer form has made me pine for a trip across the Irish Sea more than ever. It seems the perfect answer to her performance as Ophelia opposite Rory Kinnear in the National Theatre’s 2010 production. This review that details Negga’s expressive eyes as she shoulders the increasing burden of the role will have to tide me over before they invent some kind of time travel and I can revel in another female Hamlet.
Hamlet’s grand melancholy echoes the soaring voice of Hozier’s new music, another knife that seems to cut to the soul of November. His latest release is called ‘Movement’ and it’s a soaring and strange love song that relies, as Hozier often does, on a gorgeous tapestry of the classical, the biblical, folklore, and the language of love. It’s almost like T.S. Eliot’s poetry – another of November’s brothers in arms – that beats the drum of oddities, quiet mourning, and giddy observances of the world. If you haven’t seen it already, I wholly recommend watching the music video in which dancer Sergei Polunin twirls and spins through what looks like an abandoned power factory in the most agonised and beautiful way.
November is a time for the strange, for the quietening of the landscape before the festivities of Christmas begin and inject purpose into the darkest months again. I’m enjoying it in a quiet way, attached as I am to the library and my books on sonnets, plays, and Danes other than Hamlet (I’m translating sections of Beowulf). I wish you a happy few weeks as we round out autumn and head into winter. I will leave you with this section of The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot that captures the energy I feel from this peculiar month.
I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
“What is that noise?”
The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
Nothing again nothing.
The Wasteland (II. A Game of Chess), T.S. Eliot.