by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
The waning of summer is a theme which has inspired many poets.
Helios, Greek god-charioteer of the Sun, a beautiful youth who crosses the sky each day in his golden chariot drawn by four “fire-darting steeds,” must vanish in Oceanus each night, to rise anew each dawn. In the days of summer, his journey is long, but the time of his crossing grows shorter with the passing of the season, and shorter still as autumn days slip into winter. So even if he burns us now, we must still celebrate his glorious rays before the long nights come upon us once more.
Those dwelling below the Earth’s Equator are of course poised to celebrate the renewal of the Charioteer’s full strength in the skies of the South.
Jennifer Grotz perfectly captures a late summer afternoon in the city.
Before the moths have even appeared
to orbit around them, the streetlamps come on,
a long row of them glowing uselessly
along the ring of garden that circles the city center,
where your steps count down the dulling of daylight.
At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.
Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle
mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when
city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.
Sunglasses! the man softly exclaims
while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
huddled around a dropped piece of bread.
“Late Summer” from The Needle, © 2011 by Jennifer Grotz – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Jennifer Grotz (1971 – ), American poet and translator, grew up in small-town Texas, but has lived in France and Poland. She teaches English and creative writing at the University of Rochester. In 2017 she was named as the seventh director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
- Window Left Open (Graywolf Press, 2016)
- The Needle, poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)
- Cusp, poems (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner Books, 2003)
- Not Body, limited-edition letterpress poetry chapbook (Urban Editions, 2001)
Les Murray’s poem is about a wildfire in Australia, but it is eerily similar to the fires here in drought-plagued California
Late Summer Fires
The paddocks shave black
with a foam of smoke that stays,
welling out of red-black wounds.
In the white of a drought
this happens. The hardcourt game.
Logs that fume are mostly cattle,
inverted, stubby. Tree stumps are kilns.
Walloped, wiped, hand-pumped,
even this day rolls over, slowly.
At dusk, a family drives sheep
out through the yellow
of the Aboriginal flag.
“Late Summer Fires” from Late Summer Fires, © 1996 by Les Murray – Carcanet Press
Les Murray (1938 – ) is an Australian poet, anthologist and critic, author of nearly 30 volumes of poetry and two verse novels. The National Trust of Australia has honored him as one of the 100 Australian Living Treasures.
- The Weatherboard Cathedral (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1969)
- Selected Poems: The Vernacular Republic (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1976)
- The Daylight Moon (Carcanet Press, 1988)
- Late Summer Fires (Carcanet Press, 1996)
- Waiting for the Past (Carcanet Press, 2015)
Seamus Heaney shares the fleeting joy and frustration of a summer memory from his Irish childhood.
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.
“Blackberry Picking” from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996, © 1999 by Seamus Heaney – Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), one of the major poets of the 20th century, was born in Northern Ireland, and later lived in Dublin for many years. He was the author of over 20 volumes of poetry and criticism, and won the 1955 Nobel Prize for Literature. Heaney taught at Harvard University (1985-2006) and served as the Oxford Professor of Poetry (1989-1994).
- Death of a Naturalist (Faber & Faber, 1966)
- Wintering Out (Faber & Faber, 1972)
- Station Island (Faber & Faber, 1984)
- The Spirit Level (Faber & Faber, 1996)
- Human Chain (Faber & Faber, 2010)
James Brasfield finds a bit of spring in a late summer evening.
Now cosmos in bloom and snow-in-summer
opening along the garden’s stone borders,
a moment toward a little good fortune,
water from the watering can,
to blossom, so natural, it seems, and still
the oldest blooms outside my door are flourishing
according to their seedtime.
They have lived as in trust
of tended ground, not of many seasons
as the lingering bud in late summer,
when leaves have reached their greenest,
when a chill enters the nights,
when a star I’ve turned to, night after night,
vanished in the shift of constellations.
But when on a bare branch,
even in August, a sprig starts,
sprig to stem—as if to say, See,
there’s kinship with the perennials
you think so hardy—voice
the moment among the oaks, toast
the spring in summer, as once each May
a shot of vodka is poured on bare dirt
among gravestones to quench the dead,
among the first stars of this new evening.
“Late Summer” © 2017 by James Brasfield
James Brasfield (1952– ) is an American poet and translator. He was born in Savannah, Georgia.He was a Fulbright Scholar at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine (1993-1994), and returned in 1999 to the Ukraine to teach at Yuri Fedkovych State University. He won the 2000 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.
- Inheritance and Other Poems (Armstrong College Press)
- Ledger of Crossroads (Louisiana State University Press, 2009)
- Infinite Altars (Louisiana State University Press, 2016)
Peter Crowther sees the annual migrations of birds and people away the seashore as a sure sign of the end of summer.
Late Summer Migrants
You see them in all seaside towns
Late summer, say, around the time
The schools go back. They congregate
Like swallows do on lines and wires
To rest before that long hard journey
From these shores, or like late autumn
Butterflies that find a warm
And sheltered spot late in the day
Before the sun goes down.
Basking there in the still warm air
It seems as if these too prepare
This afternoon for their long journey
To another shore. They softly twitter,
Snooze, recline in peaceful rows
On hired deckchairs in the sun
And like the swallows, in their bones
They know that winter soon will come.
“Late Summer Migrants” from Calling the Moon, © 2006 by Peter Crowther
Peter Crowther was born in Hull in East Yorkshire into a seafaring family, and spent some time in the Royal Navy after completing his education. Before retiring, he was the chief cataloguer at the universities of Birmingham and Hull, where he served under the poet and librarian, Philip Larkin
- Calling the Moon (online, 2006)
- Dancing in the Wind (online, 2011)
Few poets can capture a moment in time as well as Emily Dickinson.
As Imperceptibly as Grief
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.
“As Imperceptibly as Grief” from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) American’s best-known woman poet and one of the nation’s greatest and most original authors. She lived the life of a recluse in Amherst MA
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, 2005
Luo Zhihai is a contemporary Chinese poet who draws on the rich traditions of China’s past for inspiration, covering the four seasons in just four lines.
In the spring river, bamboo rhyme and pink clouds drunk
On the autumn ridge, red maples and concupiscence burnt
Wind drove off heat of late summer at midnight
Frost fell into the cold of nine heavens at the late night
“Late Summer” © by Luo Zhihai
Luo Zhihai (1954 – ) is a middle school teacher, poet, lyricist and translator in China
In Southern California, our summer heat lives on well into September, but farther north, the nights will soon begin to cool, and the summer afternoon light will soften.
Each season brings change, always different yet somehow the same. And bright Helios makes his never-ending round through sky and sea.
- Australian wildfire
- Snow-in-Summer flowers
- Summer at the beach
- Sunset at the Santa Monica Pier, Southern California
- Beach bonfire
Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud