Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Summer Is Ended"

I have long felt that autumn properly begins -- as an emotional, sensual, and aesthetic matter -- in late August.  Yes, I am aware of the autumnal equinox and of the tilting paths of heavenly bodies, et cetera.  That is all well and good.

But there is something about late August that bespeaks autumn:  the yellow and angled light; a sky that seems a deeper blue at the edge of a solitary cloud; a rivulet of coolness thridding its way through the otherwise warm afternoon breeze . . .

        George Price Boyce, "Landscape at Wotton, Surrey: Autumn" (1864)

               "Summer Is Ended"

To think that this meaningless thing was ever a rose,
            Scentless, colourless, this!
     Will it ever be thus (who knows?)
                 Thus with our bliss,
         If we wait till the close?

Tho' we care not to wait for the end, there comes the end
            Sooner, later, at last,
     Which nothing can mar, nothing mend:
                 An end locked fast,
         Bent we cannot re-bend.

Christina Rossetti, A Pageant and Other Poems (1881).

Rossetti placed the title of the poem in quotation marks because it has its source in the Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 8, Verse 20 (King James Version): "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems (notes by Betty Flowers) (Penguin 2001), page 960.

                             Ford Madox Brown, "Carrying Corn" (1854)


Bruce Floyd said...

In his poem "The Rabbit As King Of the Ghosts" Stevens calls August "the most peaceful month." The entire poem speaks of the long torpid summer settling into a soft serenity, twilight coming earlier now, light more muted. It's a minor point to make about a poem dealing, as many Stevens poem do: the power of the imagination.

Fred said...


I've always felt that Summer ended around Labor Day, especially when I lived in Chicago which had four real seasons.

I now live in Tucson, Arizona, which has maybe two seasons or perhaps three. With temperatures still around triple digits or at least in the high 90s well into mid September, Summer's ending is much closer to the calendar, to the movements of those astral bodies.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Floyd: thank you for the connection to Stevens's "Rabbit" -- one of my favorite Stevens poems. (For what it is worth, I talked about it back on January 6, 2011. If you're interested, you can find it at :

Your description of "August the most peaceful month" fits in well with the feelings this time of year evokes.

Thank you for your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: I know what you mean, having been born in Minnesota and then transplanted to Southern California at a young age: the loss of seasons was disconcerting. Up here in Seattle, the difference in seasons is not as pronounced as in the Midwest, but the changes are still always nice.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Pentz,

One of Faulker's great novels is titled "Light in August." Many have speculated about the title, but Faulkner himself, the man Miss Welty called "the Dixie express, said, ". . .in August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and—from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then it’s gone. . .the title reminded me of that time, of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization."

August, it seems, is the most ensorceling of months.Here's what Emily Dickinson says about the month:

Further in summer than the birds
Pathetic from the grass
A minor nation celebrates
It's unobtrusive mass

No ordinance be seen
So gradual the grace
A pensive custom it becomes
Enlarging loneliness

Antiquest felt at noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral canticle
Response to typify

Remit as yet no grace
No furrow on the glow
Yet a Druidic difference
Enhances nature now.

Ah, a "druidic difference." Sounds apt to me.

George said...

Somewhere or other I read an essay by Geoffrey Hartman comparing Keats's "Ode to Autumn" with Rilke's "Herbsttag".

Some school years spent in Denver ruined my sense of seasons. One could apply Graves's "Winter would be known by his cutting snow/If June did not borrow his armour also." Yet there are mild days in February, suitable for shirt sleeves, at least until the sun goes down.

August in Washington, DC, can be very hot and humid, though this one has been mild. Yet one can learn to enjoy it, if not for the experience of the weather itself, then for the produce it makes possible, the birds, the crickets at night, and so on.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you very much for the wonderful contributions from Faulkner and Dickinson. I particularly like Faulkner's description: it evokes infinitely better than I ever could what I was inadequately trying to say about August. (It also brings back fond memories of the years -- too long ago! -- when I immersed myself in Faulkner's world -- Light in August was one of my favorites.)

It is interesting that both of them reach back to ancient times -- the Greeks and the Druids -- to describe the feeling of August.

Thank you very much for visiting, and for your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

George: thank you stopping by again, and for your thoughts.

Thank you for the reference to Hartman's essay on Keats and Rilke: I wasn't aware of it, and it sounds interesting. (Although I confess that Hartman's theoretical jargon can try my patience.)

Thanks again.

Bob said...

Here's a lovely one by Elizabeth Jennings that I came across a while ago:

Song at the Beginning of Autumn

Now watch this autumn that arrives
In smells. All looks like summer still;
Colours are quite unchanged, the air
On green and white serenely thrives.
Heavy the trees with growth and full
The fields. Flowers flourish everywhere.

Proust who collected time within
A child’s cake would understand
The ambiguity of this—
Summer still raging while a thin
Column of smoke stirs from the land
Proving that autumn gropes for us.

But every season is a kind
Of rich nostalgia. We give names—
Autumn and summer, winter, spring—
As though to unfasten from the mind
Our moods and give them outward forms.
We want the certain, solid thing.

But I am carried back against
My will into a childhood where
Autumn is bonfires, marbles, smoke;
I lean against my window fenced
From evocations in the air.
When I said autumn, autumn broke.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bob: thank you very much for visiting, and for the lovely poem by Elizabeth Jennings. As it happens, we may be on the same wavelength: I previously posted the poem here back on October 4, 2010. I am always happy to have it brought back to mind!

Thank you again.