Tag Archives: summer

“Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

This poem marks the transition from the procreation sonnets to the romantic sonnets, and since this is still considered one of the “fair youth” sonnets, there is a strong belief that this poem and the rest of the fair youth sonnets that follow express homo-erotic passion. And while you could debate this topic extensively, I choose to focus this post on the main theme of the poem, which is immortality through verse.

The poem begins by comparing the youth’s beauty to the beauty of nature. But as Shakespeare points out, nature’s beauty is temporary. The beauty in nature fades, dies, is clouded over, and you get a sense that Shakespeare fears that the youth’s beauty will also fade. Which is why he is inspired to compose the “eternal lines,” the verse which will capture the youth’s beauty and preserve it for all eternity, for as “long as men can breathe or eyes can see.”

Art as a means of making beauty or deeds immortal is nothing new. But there is something about this sonnet that really resonates with a person’s soul. Maybe it’s the cadence, or the images with which we can all relate. It seems to tap into something universal within us all. Without a doubt, one of Shakespeare’s most memorable sonnets.

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“The School-Boy” by William Blake

SchoolBoy

I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me:
O what sweet company!

But to go to school in a summer morn, –
O it drives all joy away!
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.

Ah then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour;
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning’s bower,
Worn through with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring!

O father and mother if buds are nipped,
And blossoms blown away;
And if the tender plants are stripped
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay, –

How shall the summer arise in joy,
Or the summer fruits appear?
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear?

As spring gets ready to move into summer, this poem came to life for me as I read it, and I connected with it on a deep level. My garden is alive and flourishing; there is a bird’s nest with baby birds woven into the vines of my front stoop; the kids in the neighborhood are outside playing. This all brings back the joy and excitement that was summer in my youth.

In this poem, Blake addresses the tendency of educational systems during his time to crush a child’s spirit of joy, wonder, and creativity, preparing that child for a life of conformity and the mundane. The image that comes to mind is from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” I would like to think that this is just a dark page from our past, but that is not the case. When I read about cuts to funding of the arts in schools, the banning of books from school libraries, the tendency to impose constant structure on children as opposed to allowing them to explore through play, I am sadly reminded that society is still attempting to impose conformity on the young.

The other night, I watched “Dead Man” with my daughter (if you are a fan of William Blake and have not seen this film, I recommend watching it). She said she liked the film but felt she didn’t get a lot of the references because she was not familiar with Blake’s poems. I’ll have to share this one with her. I suspect she will relate to it.

Thanks for reading, and here are a couple short videos that you might enjoy.


 

Pink Floyd: Another Brick in the Wall

Scene from the film “Dead Man”

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“Sonnet 5: Those hours that with gentle work did frame” by William Shakespeare

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

Those hours that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel.
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there,
Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’ersnowed and bareness everywhere:
Then were not summer’s distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was.
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show. Their substance still lives sweet.

This is another sonnet that falls into the fair youth category that deals with procreation. The essence is that one should bear and raise children so that they will provide comfort in one’s later years.

Shakespeare uses seasonal metaphors to represent the stages of life: spring as the time of birth, summer as the period of early adulthood, and winter as old age. Personally, I find the symbols associated with old age to be the strongest in this poem; for example, line 7: “Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone.” If one considers a tree to be the symbol of the person to whom the poem is addressed, then the sap would represent the person’s blood, which has thickened and slowed as old age sets in, causing one’s energy to be “sapped.” The leaves would symbolize the person’s hair, which has fallen off and left the top bare.

I confess in my younger days I was not sure I wanted children. Now, as a father, I cannot imagine a life without my kids in it. When the winter of my days arrives, I look forward to spending that time with my children and reflecting back on my life with them. Yes, this poem has certainly struck a chord in me.

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“To Summer” by William Blake

Claude Monet: Green Garden

Claude Monet: Green Garden

O thou who passest thro’ our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitched’st here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o’er the deep of heaven; beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are fam’d who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

Sometimes, you read a poem and it just speaks directly to your soul. I experienced that feeling today when I read this poem. I live in the southern Appalachian Mountains and this poem captures the feeling I get when I sit outside under my large oak tree, or go for a hike along a mountain trail and rest beside a stream, smelling the rich moss and decomposing leaves that fell to the earth the previous autumn. As I read Blake’s words, I could feel the humid warmth that is a part of my summer.

This poem also stirred memories of my childhood summers. There was an excitement associated with summer that is difficult to express in words. The sensation of running barefoot through the grass, of climbing trees, lush with green foliage, of lying about, lazy, basking in the long days. I sometimes forget how much I loved summer as a child.

There is a sense of abundance in this poem, as well as celebration and inspiration. The third stanza makes me want to invite all my friends over to cook out in the backyard, then take out our instruments and play music until long after the sun sets.

I hope you found this poem as inspiring as I did, and may you enjoy your summer.

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