Humanist Voices in Verse: “October Spring” by Philip Appleman

This week’s poem “October Spring” is by humanist poet Philip Appleman.

Philip D. Appleman is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Indiana University-Bloomington. He has published eight volumes of poetry, three novels, and half a dozen nonfiction books, including the widely used Norton Critical Edition, Darwin. His poetry and fiction have won many awards including a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Humanist Arts Award of the American Humanist Association, and have appeared in Harper’s, The Nation, New York Times, and Yale Review.

If you’d like to contribute original poetry to Humanist Voices in Verse, write to with “Poetry” in the subject line.

Please send no more than three poems for consideration per week.



October Spring

When crisp catalpa leaves

come tumbling down the frosty morning air

like tarpaulins for tulips,

it’s spring again in little college towns,

October snipping at our brave beginnings,

the new year pruned away to nine lean months

of three-day weeks and fifty-

minute hours. This new year lights

no dogwood, no magnolia to find us

limping through our shrunken moments or

calling courage from our stubborn past,

the long pilgrimage of algae,

sponges, reptiles, flowers,

men. No robins linger

in the haze of this late spring

to whistle, in our fifty-minute hours,

the miracles to come: birds

of brighter plumage, richer songs,

flowers in subtler shades, men and women

walking together in peace.

But the big catalpa leaves

float crippled down the slanting sun,

brown nourishment to our long

hope, and we are clinging to

our thinning years because brown leaves

are clumsy promises: because it’s

spring again.


—Philip D. Appleman