Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio Poem by James Wright Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” is written by James Wright. The poem was first published in Wright’s collection, “The Branch Will Not Break” in 1963. The poem is set in the poet’s hometown, Martins Ferry and talks about the post-depression effects on the world. In the poem the speaker is a spectator watching a high school football match in the town.

About the poet

James Wright was born in 1927 in Ohio, America. He was an American postmodern poet. He was part of Deep image poetry. His poems talked about the sorrows of life and salvation. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He published many collections, like “A Blessing” and “The Branch Will Not Break”.


The poem consists of 12 lines written in three stanzas. Every stanza has a different length. The first stanza has five lines. The second stanza consists of only three lines and the last answer consists of four lines.

Stanza 1

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.


In the first stanza, the speaker is in a football stadium watching a high school football match. While he is standing there he thinks about the other people who are still working. He thinks about the Polish people who are all drinking beer in Tiltonsville, the African Americans who are working near the furnaces at Benwood. He also thinks about the night watchman of the Wheeling Steel. He says that all of these people are dreaming about heroes or the American dream.


In the first stanza the poet begins to talk about the state of the world after the great depression of 1921. While looking at the football match in the stadium he thinks of all the people who are still working. He thinks about the working class who work all day and night but they still do not achieve any financial stability or their goals. He uses derogatory terms like and the “Polacks” for people from Poland and “Negroes” for the African Americans. He highlights how all of them are about heroes here dreaming about heroes is a symbol for trying to achieve the American dream. And just like the American dream is unattainable, the heroes are only visible in their dreams.

Stanza 2

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home,

Their women cluck like starved pullets,

Dying for love.


The speaker talks about how the working men who are proud fathers feel shame while going back to their homes. In their house they find their wives trying to make ends meet. The wives are also dying for some love from the men. The speaker talks about the personal lives of the fathers and mothers of the football players. The fathers are ashamed of their jobs and are unable to provide love and comfort to their wives.


In this stanza, the poet brings out two contradictory concepts. He talks about a proud father who is ashamed to go to their homes. This symbolizes that men are ashamed to work minimum wage jobs while they know they are capable of more. The fathers who are supposed to be proud feel a sense of shame about their jobs. Back home the family is under severe financial distress. The last line also highlights how the financial stress is causing stress on their marriage as well.

Stanza 3


Their sons grow suicidally beautiful

At the beginning of October,

And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.


The speaker then talks about the effect it has on the children. Even after all the hardships that the parents go through, the sons are able to grow up beautifully and play football. The fathers watch the match at the beginning of October, their sons running on the field. The sons grow up and run around the field hitting their bodies against each other. The fathers look at their sons and hope to see a better future for the next generation.


The last stanza concludes how all of the hardships braved by the fathers leads to the sons growing up beautifully. The fathers watch their sons playing the football match at the beginning of October. October is when summer ends and autumn begins. It symbolizes a change in the weather. In the same sense, the fathers watch the lives of their sons change while they play in the stadium.