Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio by James Wright

A Pulitzer-winning American poet James Wright had an unhappy childhood and “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” gives us an insight into the lives of the blue-collar workers there. As the speaker in his own poem, he gives us the visuals of the creeping alienation and the destruction of dreams that became a ritual there for generations.

Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio


In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.

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Analysis of Wright’s “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio”

Published in 1963 in “The Branch Will Not Break”, “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” is a poem by the American Pulitzer-winning poet James Wright. As the title dictates, the setting of the poem is the poet’s hometown Martins Ferry, Ohio.

The poem is set in a high school football game. The beaten working-class fathers watch their sons as if their heroes who will live the fantasy of their fathers. However, the fathers are embarrassed to go home to their wives who are dying to be in their arms. Instead, they are engrossed in watching their “suicidally beautiful” sons as they violently play in “the beginning of October”.

The speaker does not partake in what is going on in the stadium himself. However, it is only through his eyes that we see and his commentaries that we gain an insight into the barren lives of the working-class Americans. The speaker refers to the ethnic groups and the outcasts using derogatory terms like “Negros” and “Polacks”.

However, the line “… gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace…” alludes to not only the hellish surroundings they work with but also to the alienation they are subjected to by others.

Although to the men present in the stadium, their sons are rugged, powerful and virile, they cannot think of themselves in the same way – their lives have gone past them, and now all they can do is look at their sons as they “gallop terribly against each other’s bodies”.

Their sons are “suicidally” beautiful’- the speaker creates his own adverb to accommodate the idea that the sons are fighting to live their fathers’ dreams of being “heroes”. The wives of these men are described as “starved pullets” – such an analogy indirectly refers to the inability or the lack of interest of the husbands to satisfy their wives.

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