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Four Poems That Embrace the Heat

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It's only just turned June and we've already had our first taste of summer weather. For most of us, that means skulking about from one air conditioner to the next (for our cat, it means lying the middle of doorways), but poets have found all kinds of meaning in hot weather. Many, not surprisingly, have found it oppressive, but others have found it inspirational. Eliot, for example, used heat to help conjure up a sense of spiritual barrenness in "The Waste Land," and Liam Rector used it to get at a piece of his Southern identity.

I'm not sure any poet has captured the oppressiveness of heat as well as Hilda Doolittle (or H.D.). In her poem "Heat," the air takes on real mass, real force, pushing against everything it contains.

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air--
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut through the heat--
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

In his own poem entitled "Heat," Archibald Lampman, by contrast, finds the weather invigorating.

From plains that reel to southward, dim,
The road runs by me white and bare;
Up the steep hill it seems to swim
Beyond, and melt into the glare.
Upward half-way, or it may be
Nearer the summit, slowly steals
A hay-cart, moving dustily
With idly clacking wheels.

...

In the sloped shadow of my hat
I lean at rest, and drain the heat;
Nay more, I think some blessèd power
Hath brought me wandering idly here:
In the full furnace of this hour
My thoughts grow keen and clear.


The final section in T.S. Eliot's landmark poem "The Waste Land" takes place in a blistering landscape. While Eliot's focus is on creating a sense of desiccation, he also conjures up some serious heat:

Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses

Finally, Liam Rector's Poem "Fat Southern Men in Summer Suits" recalls an amusing and oddly admirable code that men adopted his hometown. He describes how well-dressed men,

Usually with suspenders, love to sweat
Into and even through their coats,
Taking it as a matter of honor to do so

You can read the rest of Rector's great poem here. Here's hoping you find your own meaning in the heat this summer, whether you're out sweating through your own clothes, or sitting at home with the AC cranked on high just thinking about it.