Spring officially left us this past Tuesday, and this last week in New York reminded me that summer has its trials, particularly for those of us without central air conditioning. So to help us get off on the right foot with the season, I've collected some great poems that celebrate the joys of summer.
The delight underlying this anonymous 13th-century Middle English lyric still resonates today. The language may be difficult to understand but the sentiment is timeless. You might be surprised at what you can glean from reading it aloud (or for those less enterprising, a translation is here):
Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu.
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
lhouþ after calue cu,
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ.
Murie sing cuccu!
Wel singes þu cuccu.
ne swik þu nauer nu!
Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!
John Keats reputedly wrote his sonnet "On the Grasshopper and the Cricket" as part of a timed sonnet-writing competition with his friend Leigh Hunt (which Keats apparently won). He starts with the premise that the "poetry of earth" exists, even during the extremes of the seasons, embodied in the form of the grasshopper in summer and the cricket in winter.
The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper's -- he takes the lead
In summer luxury, -- he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket's song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper's among some grassy hills.
This excerpt from Walt Whitman's "Miracles" celebrates the joys of summer in the city with his relentless sense of wonderment.
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright.
Early 20th-century American poet Sara Teasdale invokes the season's passionate side in "Summer Night, Riverside." Notice how deftly Teasdale develops the tension in the first stanza by describing the landscape with the language of romance. She ends the poem by musing on summer's timelessness and renewal, and the passion that it inspires.
In the wild soft summer darkness
How many and many a night we two together
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson
Wearing her lights like golden spangles
Glinting on black satin.
The rail along the curving pathway
Was low in a happy place to let us cross,
And down the hill a tree that dripped with bloom
While your kisses and the flowers,
Tangled in my hair....
The frail white stars moved slowly over the sky.
And now, far off
In the fragrant darkness
The tree is tremulous again with bloom
For June comes back.
To-night what girl
Dreamily before her mirror shakes from her hair
This year's blossoms, clinging to its coils?
Contrast Teasdale's rich lines with the sparse lines of William Carlos Williams' whimsical "Summer Song," which focus the reader's attention on its powerful description of a moon on a summer morning.
faintly ironical smile
summer morning, --
wanderer's smile, --
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
where would they carry me?
Enjoy the season and feel free to add your favorite summer poem in the comments section below.