Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Summer Solstice

I thought I would post this, the first known poem in English about summer today, since it is the Summer Solstice, or the First Day of Summer. No doubt you have seen it before, as I have, but I enjoy it each time for its simplicity and brevity.

Cuckoo Song

Summer is y-comen in, 
  Loude sing, cuckoo!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed
  And spring'th the woode now--
                         Sing cuckoo!

Ewe' bleateth after lamb,
  Low'th after calfe cow;
Bullock starteth, bucke farteth.
  Merry sing cuckoo!

  Cuckoo, cuckoo!
Well sing'st  thou, cuckoo:
  Ne swike thou never now!

Sing cuckoo, now!  Sing cuckoo!
Sing cuckoo!  Sing, cuckoo, now!
                          -- Anon --


from the Wikipedia entry;
"The song is composed in the  Wessex dialect of Middle English.  Although the composer's identity is unknown today, it may have been  W. de Wycombe.  The manuscript in which it is preserved was copied between 1261 and 1264."

Here is one from the other side of the world--China--a poem by T'ao Chien (365-427 AD).

Reading the Book of Hills and Seas

In the month of June the grass grows high
And round my cottage thick-leaved branches sway.
There is not a bird but delights in the place where it rests:
And I too--love my thatched cottage.
I have done my ploughing: 
I have sown my seed.
Again I have time to sit and read my books.
In the narrow lane there are no deep ruts:
Often my friends' carriages turn back.
In high spirits I pour out my spring wine
And pluck the lettuce growing in my garden.
A gentle rain comes stealing up from the east
And a sweet wind bears it company.
My thoughts float idly over the Story of King Chou
My eyes wander over the pictures of Hills and Seas.
At a single glance I survey the whole Universe.
He will never be happy whom such pleasures fail to please.
-- T'ai Ch'ien --
from Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
Edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch

 This is a repeat for I had posted this about three years ago, but I thought it captures the sense of summer--paradoxically a time of work and also play or rest or meditation or just being.

#172  Solstice

"The summer solstice is the time of greatest light.  It is a day of enormous power.  The whole planet is turned fully to the brilliance of the sun.

This great culmination is not static or permanent.  Indeed, solstice as a time of culmination is only a barely perceptible point.  The sun appears to stand still.  Its diurnal motion seems to nearly cease.  Yesterday, it was still reaching this point; tomorrow, it will begin a new phase of its cycle.

Those who follow Tao celebrate this day to remind themselves of the cycles of existence.  They remember that all cycles have a left and a right, an up side and a down side, a zenith and a nadir.  Today, day far surpasses night, and night will gradually begin to reassert itself.  All of life is cycles.  All of life is balance."
-- Deng Ming-Dao --
from 365 Tao

While the Summer Solstice inevitably brings to mind the Winter Solstice, the time of the longest night, we shouldn't let that thought spoil our enjoyment of the present.  Good times will be followed by sad times, but those sad times are no more permanent than are the good times. The wisest know that nothing is permanent: even the mountains will eventually erode away, and then, in some far distant future, will be raised up once again.


  1. Hooray for T'ao Chien for mentioning reading after the ploughing and sowing are done.

  2. I live where there is no sense of the seasons but a wet season and a dry one. I think this lack of seasons is reflected in literary works from the Philippines

    1. mel u,

      I live in Tucson and we also have two seasons, hot and warm, and two types of rainy weather. During the "winter" we get day long misty soaking rains, usually fairly gentle, what I learned growing up in the MidWest to call a farmer's rain.

      During the summer we get short violent thunderstorms which cover only a limited area.

  3. Summer is a cumen in is also a choral work. I love early chamber music and there are some nice arrangements of this work.
    Here's one on youtube.

    1. Sharon,

      Thanks for the link. I wasn't aware that it became a choral work, although I should have guessed some one would put music to the words.

  4. Nothing is permanent? Eternity and infinity and death seem rather permanent. Summer and the sun's cycles remind us that change is a permanent condition. Ironies abound.

  5. R.T.,

    Ah, but there are those who say eternity and infinity do not exist but are only errors created by our limitations. Is eternity or infinity a thing that can be pointed to, weighed and measured?

    On the other hand, there are those who claim that death is only a temporary condition.

    If those who say that heat death is the ultimate fate of the universe are right, then even change will disappear.

  6. Consider the plane of the mobius.

  7. R. T.,

    The mobius strip is a physical object and it will not last for eternity nor can one go an infinite distance on it. It is an inherent property of a finite and time bound object, and its existence depends upon that object.

    Infinity and eternity, as far as I can understand the terms, are mental constructs.