It is that time of year when extreme weather conditions in some parts of the world make us all wish for our favorite season. What is it about the weather and how it has so much influence on our sense of wellbeing and emotional moods? Beyond vitamin D and seasonal affective disorder, there is just something about the regenerative effect of a change in the season that alters our outlooks too.
So here are a few poems I had shared in the past for various times of the year. We have winter by Timothy Steele; spring by Horace; summer by Mary Oliver and Kamala Das; and autumn by Carl Sandburg. Pick your favorite or read them all. Let them transport you to another time/place or deepen your enjoyment of the current weather you are experiencing.
As usual: click on the link to read both the background/context (non-academic, I promise) as well as the poem.
The poem is about the narrator/poet decorating a birch tree in his yard for Christmas. And, as with most of his poems, Steele uses this act of doing something very regular and normal to explore what this time of year means to all of us. With, I might add, an acute sympathy that never degenerates into sentimentality or nostalgia (which happens so often with poems about Christmas, don’t you think?) And, while there are Biblical images or allusions here, it is not a religious poem, as you will soon see.
Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree’s elegant design.
Today’s poem, by lyric poet, Horace, of ancient Rome, is an ode to his friend, Sestius. And, while it celebrates the coming of Spring with its vivid imagery, it also calls Sestius’ attention to the things in life that really matter. More than 2000 years old, the poem still speaks charmingly to us today with its pleasing invocation of the awakening of Spring, eloquent references to Greco-Roman mythology and, finally, compassionate counsel of a loving friend to enjoy and accept life in the here and now.
Now the hard winter is breaking up with the welcome coming
Of spring and the spring winds; some fishermen,
Under a sky that looks changed, are hauling their caulked boats
Down to the water; in the winter stables the cattle
Are restless; so is the farmer sitting in front of his fire;
They want to be out of doors in field or pasture;
The frost is gone from the meadow grass in the early mornings.
This particular poem is about how the act of attention is like a prayer. And, the descriptions of animals in nature as well as herself, the poet, spending the day walking through fields, is a way of reminding us of how to be more attentive, more prayerful. The grasshopper, with its complete attentiveness to the act of eating and just being, is possibly an example to say: be fully attentive and focus on the things that you’re doing in the moment and enjoy them; what else are you going to do with your life? Indeed.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Summer, or, rather, the heat of summer, is a recurring motif in Das’ works. It represents different things depending on the poem or story, but, for the most part, it stands for the inner fires or desires of the narrator or character. That is also the case here. A South Indian summer, just before the monsoons, can be the most oppressive kind. The heat rises thickly like some kind of ethereal presence as the day dawns and, by noon, it has penetrated every available corner and crevice and enveloped every surface.
This is a noon for beggars with whining
Voices, a noon for men who come from hills
With parrots in a cage and fortune cards,
All stained with time, for brown kurava girls
With old eyes, who read palms in light singsong
Voices, for bangle-sellers who spread
On the cool black floor those red and green and blue
Bangles, all covered with the dust of the roads,
Today’s poem is a short one and centers on the passing of time theme— how nothing lasts, to be more precise. Yet there is a hopefulness at the end as the speaker remarks how, even as old things of beauty are lost, new beautiful things come to take their place.
I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.