Autumn Poem, written in high school

Lucille Knapp, high school English teacher at Earlham, once assigned us to write a poem about autumn.

We were renting a house a couple of miles away from the big old farmhouse (AKA my childhood castle), which was being torn down. “Six rooms and a path,” as Grandma Leora would have called it, meaning a path to the outhouse. Yes, an outhouse.

This house had running water but no bathroom. The bedrooms were at the top of very steep stairs, and in the winter snow sifted across the bed my sister and I shared.

It was there that we got our first dial phone.

But when the poem was assigned, I’d envisioned pumpkins, russet and golden leaves, crisp blue skies, and the rustle of cornstalks. But it was rainy and chilly, with puddles along the path to you-know-where.

It ended up to be a rather bleak poem, unrhymed, and I sketched the carcass of a tree with it.

I was rather taken aback when Mrs. Knapp made a big deal out of this one gloomy poem out of the passel of cheerful ones.


Autumn Poem

by Joy Neal, 1961

Close, sulfur-grey sky shifting, restless,
Dirty smoke billowing, diffusing, hovering.
Cold stone buildings stretching,

The unfriendly, bare-limbed oak
crouching in an alley, soggy with wet leaves;
so drab, gloomy, desolate.

Small miserable sparrows shiver in the damp air.
Water seeps from low hanging eaves.
Murky darkness closes about rapidly, quietly.
Slow drizzle slinks deep into old wood.

Hard cement for a pillow.
Piercing hunger–
piercing draft through slats.

Peering ahead to winter.
How much worse can it get?
It can’t last forever.

Edited a little in 2021.



  1. The gloomy honesty of your poem was perhaps a welcome respite from the saccharine cheer of your classmates’ poems.

    I love Leora’s “six rooms and a path.” You’re not going to see that on a real estate listing nowadays!

  2. By focusing on the dreariest aspects of autumn, you were sure to stand out. As adults, I think we actually relish those wet, gloomy days, but kids (back then, anyway) want to be able to play outside. I enjoyed your poem.

  3. Wow! This poem conjures up so much feeling…I can see those soggy leaves!! I can see why your English teacher singled this one out. It is very good! 🙂

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