Silver Changes in Summer

There are things we learn in the summer that we don’t learn in other seasons. In warm climes, we learn and relearn the intensity of heat, the places where sweat pools on our bodies, the way that one cool breeze can redeem a whole day. Poems about summer validate these lessons.

In Darcy Cummings’ “Alice at Seventeen: Like a Blind Child,”Alice opens to the world of the senses:

One summer afternoon, I learned my body
like a blind child leaving a walled
school for the first time, stumbling
from cool hallways to a world
dense with scent and sound,
pines roaring in the sudden wind
like a huge chorus of insects.

Read the whole poem—it has a wonderful ending.

In my top three of all-time favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, who can write so elegantly and simply about nature, speaks to the moon in “Summer Song”:

Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
sky-blue
where would they carry me?

Carl Sandburg also addresses the summer moon in “Back Yard”:

Shine on, O moon of summer.
Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak,
All silver under your rain to-night.  

Here’s the deal: Take those three things: summer, moon, rain, and you’ve got nirvana. The poem ends:

The clocks say I must go—I stay here sitting on the back porch drinking
     white thoughts you rain down.
     Shine on, O moon,
Shake out more and more silver changes.

To Edna St. Vincent Millay, the summer is the woman growing in her lover’s heart.

I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year;
And you must welcome from another part
Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear.
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;
And I have loved you all too long and well
To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring.
Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes,
I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums,
That you may hail anew the bird and rose
When I come back to you, as summer comes.
Else will you seek, at some not distant time,
Even your summer in another clime.

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “In Summer” gives us summer dressing the world:

Oh, summer has clothed the earth
In a cloak from the loom of the sun!
 
Not known for poetry, Mark Twain still wrote a lovely, quiet little piece about summer.:

Warm summer sun,
    Shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind,
    Blow softly here.
Green sod above,
    Lie light, lie light.
Good night, dear heart,

    Good night, good night.


Many poets write of summer, but my absolute favorite summer poem is by May Swenson, which I have to include in its entirely, and please read it all! It is a poem of fancy and childhood movement, of imagination and of the blissful abandon that we knew so ignorantly as children and forever strive to recapture.


The Centaur


The summer that I was ten —
Can it be there was only one
summer that I was ten?

It must have been a long one then —
each day I’d go out to choose
a fresh horse from my stable

which was a willow grove
down by the old canal.
I’d go on my two bare feet.

But when, with my brother’s jack-knife,
I had cut me a long limber horse
with a good thick knob for a head,

and peeled him slick and clean
except a few leaves for the tail,
and cinched my brother’s belt

around his head for a rein,
I’d straddle and canter him fast
up the grass bank to the path,

trot along in the lovely dust
that talcumed over his hoofs,
hiding my toes, and turning

his feet to swift half-moons.
The willow knob with the strap
jouncing between my thighs

was the pommel and yet the poll
of my nickering pony’s head.
My head and my neck were mine,

yet they were shaped like a horse.
My hair flopped to the side
like the mane of a horse in the wind.

My forelock swung in my eyes,
my neck arched and I snorted.
I shied and skittered and reared,

stopped and raised my knees,
pawed at the ground and quivered.
My teeth bared as we wheeled

and swished through the dust again.
I was the horse and the rider,
and the leather I slapped to his rump

spanked my own behind.
Doubled, my two hoofs beat
a gallop along the bank,

the wind twanged in my mane,
my mouth squared to the bit.
And yet I sat on my steed

quiet, negligent riding,
my toes standing the stirrups,
my thighs hugging his ribs.

At a walk we drew up to the porch.
I tethered him to a paling.
Dismounting, I smoothed my skirt

and entered the dusky hall.
My feet on the clean linoleum
left ghostly toes in the hall.

Where have you been? said my mother.
Been riding, I said from the sink,
and filled me a glass of water.

What’s that in your pocket? she said.
Just my knife. It weighted my pocket
and stretched my dress awry.

Go tie back your hair, said my mother,
and Why Is your mouth all green?
Rob Roy, he pulled some clover
as we crossed the field, I told her.

 

–Shaun Perkins

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