It seems like only five minutes ago that I was greeting the Winter Solstice, and with it the arrival of a particularly harsh winter season, made a little softer by wrapping ourselves around the words of Christina Rossetti. How time flies…here we are now at its parallel, the Summer Solstice (or Midsummer, or Litha to give it its Neo-Pagan name). A time of spiritual significance and much celebration – especially if you’re around Stonehenge today – but perhaps more commonly known by most of us as ‘the longest day of the year’, when it’s still light outside at way past ten o’ clock at night.
Also, for however many days – or if you’re feeling especially optimistic to measure the time in weeks – of sunshine and slightly sticky weather we’ve experienced in any given year prior to this date, June 21st seems to truly usher in the start of summer. Anything before then is surely too premature; given our especially unpredictable and all too often unseasonly climate, to proclaim the beginning of the summertime anywhere before mid-June would be to rush away all the joys of Spring. But now it’s appropriate to look towards – hopefully – a long hot summer (or perhaps not hot, but pleasantly and bearably warm; we are British after all, and run the risk of melting if the temperature exceeds the late ‘20s in Celsius). It’s time to dig out the shades and suncream, and look forwards to days spent doing summery things, such as going to the beach or having lots of picnics (of course, you can combine the two…although it runs the risk of putting actual sand into sandwiches, and that’s not a fate I wish to experience).
Giving it some thought however, it does appear rather peculiar that the festival that for all intents and purposes marks the start of the summer is actually referred to as ‘midsummer’, as if half the summer has already disappeared before our eyes. I suppose if you choose to be technical, then it already has. After today the days will get progressively shorter and just as we hardly had time to notice the ‘summer’ coming and going, winter will be amongst us again and summer will be consigned as a fading and hopefully well-held memory.
We should also bear in mind that summer isn’t the season for everyone, and while many of us welcome the feeling the sun on our skin and spend any free time outside there are an equal number of people who dread the days of summer, be it due to hayfever, swarms of insects or just because they prefer the other seasons. A reverse seasonal affective disorder, if you will. So this week’s featured poem by Amy Lowell, despite its title, isn’t a straightforward celebration of all things related to summer or a doing-down of the winter months. Neither is it a rejection of the sultry season – summertime is described as ‘the very crown of nature’s changing year’ – although Lowell’s own reflections on what summer means to her are perhaps not what you would typically expect. But that’s the beauty of it; that everyone has different opinions, and experiences the seasons in different ways. It is testament to ‘the very human heart of man’. Some people rejoice when summer arrives, some wish for a retreat; a great number of us like Lowell (and me included) can appreciate the best in all of the seasons, and just welcome the changes.
Some men there are who find in nature all
Their inspiration, hers the sympathy
Which spurs them on to any great endeavor,
To them the fields and woods are closest friends,
And they hold dear communion with the hills;
The voice of waters soothes them with its fall,
And the great winds bring healing in their sound.
To them a city is a prison house
Where pent up human forces labour and strive,
Where beauty dwells not, driven forth by man;
But where in winter they must live until
Summer gives back the spaces of the hills.
To me it is not so. I love the earth
And all the gifts of her so lavish hand:
Sunshine and flowers, rivers and rushing winds,
Thick branches swaying in a winter storm,
And moonlight playing in a boat’s wide wake;
But more than these, and much, ah, how much more,
I love the very human heart of man.
Above me spreads the hot, blue mid-day sky,
Far down the hillside lies the sleeping lake
Lazily reflecting back the sun,
And scarcely ruffled by the little breeze
Which wanders idly through the nodding ferns.
The blue crest of the distant mountain, tops
The green crest of the hill on which I sit;
And it is summer, glorious, deep-toned summer,
The very crown of nature’s changing year
When all her surging life is at its full.
To me alone it is a time of pause,
A void and silent space between two worlds,
When inspiration lags, and feeling sleeps,
Gathering strength for efforts yet to come.
For life alone is creator of life,
And closest contact with the human world
Is like a lantern shining in the night
To light me to a knowledge of myself.
I love the vivid life of winter months
In constant intercourse with human minds,
When every new experience is gain
And on all sides we feel the great world’s heart;
The pulse and throb of life which makes us men!
Amy Lowell ( 1874-1925)