We in the northern hemisphere may be melting in the July heat, but there are compensations. July poems from poets such as Emily Dickinson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Amy Lowell, and Lewis Carroll remind us that July brings more than sticky heat, hammocks, and the buzz of cicadas.
From A Calendar of Sonnets by Helen Hunt Jackson
Some flowers are withered and some joys have died;
The garden reeks with an East Indian scent
From beds where gillyflowers stand weak and spent;
The white heat pales the skies from side to side;
But in still lakes and rivers, cool, content,
Like starry blooms on a new firmament,
White lilies float and regally abide.
In vain the cruel skies their hot rays shed;
The lily does not feel their brazen glare.
In vain the pallid clouds refuse to share
Their dews, the lily feels no thirst, no dread.
Unharmed she lifts her queenly face and head;
She drinks of living waters and keeps fair.
By George Meredith (1828-1909)
Blue July, bright July,
Month of storms and gorgeous blue;
Violet lightnings o’er thy sky,
Heavy falls of drenching dew;
Summer crown! o’er glen and glade
Shrinking hyacinths in their shade;
I welcome thee with all thy pride,
I love thee like an Eastern bride.
Though all the singing days are done
As in those climes that clasp the sun;
Though the cuckoo in his throat
Leaves to the dove his last twin note;
Come to me with thy lustrous eye,
Come with all thy shining blooms,
Thy rich red rose and rolling glooms.
Though the cuckoo doth but sing ‘cuk, cuk,’
And the dove alone doth coo;
Though the cushat spins her coo-r-roo, r-r-roo –
To the cuckoo’s halting ‘cuk.’
Sweet July, warm July!
Month when mosses near the stream,
Soft green mosses thick and shy,
Are a rapture and a dream.
Summer Queen! whose foot the fern
Fades beneath while chestnuts burn;
I welcome thee with thy fierce love,
Gloom below and gleam above.
Though all the forest trees hang dumb,
With dense leafiness o’ercome;
Though the nightingale and thrush,
Pipe not from the bough or bush;
Come to me with thy lustrous eye,
The raptures of thy face unfold,
And welcome in thy robes of gold!
Tho’ the nightingale broods—’sweet-chuck-sweet’ –
And the ouzel flutes so chill,
Tho’ the throstle gives but one shrilly trill
To the nightingale’s ‘sweet-sweet.’
To Mrs. Will. H. Low
From Underwoods (1913) by Robert Louis Stevenson, (1850–1894)
EVEN in the bluest noonday of July,
There could not run the smallest breath of wind
But all the quarter sounded like a wood;
And in the chequered silence and above
The hum of city cabs that sought the Bois,
Suburban ashes shivered into song.
A patter and a chatter and a chirp
And a long dying hiss—it was as though
Starched old brocaded dames through all the house
Had trailed a strident skirt, or the whole sky
Even in a wink had over-brimmed in rain.
Hark, in these shady parlours, how it talks
Of the near autumn, how the smitten ash
Trembles and augurs floods! O not too long
In these inconstant latitudes delay,
O not too late from the unbeloved north
Trim your escape! For soon shall this low roof
Resound indeed with rain, soon shall your eyes
Search the foul garden, search the darkened rooms,
Nor find one jewel but the blazing log.
12 RUE VERNIER, PARIS.
by Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)
Where is the Bee—
Where is the Blush—
Where is the Hay?
Ah, said July—
Where is the Seed—
Where is the Bud—
Where is the May—
Nay—said the May—
Show me the Snow—
Show me the Bells—
Show me the Jay!
Quibbled the Jay—
Where be the Maize—
Where be the Haze—
Where be the Bur?
Here—said the Year—
A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky
Epilogue To Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)
A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?
by Amy Lowell (1874 – 1925)
The wind is singing through the trees to-night,
A deep-voiced song of rushing cadences
And crashing intervals. No summer breeze
Is this, though hot July is at its height,
Gone is her gentler music; with delight
She listens to this booming like the seas,
These elemental, loud necessities
Which call to her to answer their swift might.
Above the tossing trees shines down a star,
Quietly bright; this wild, tumultuous joy
Quickens nor dims its splendour. And my mind,
O Star! is filled with your white light, from far,
So suffer me this one night to enjoy
The freedom of the onward sweeping wind.
There are July poems that aren’t really about July but are simply using the month as a metaphor or setting for another idea. What do you think this William Carlos Williams poem might be about?
By William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)
In the flashes and black shadows
the days, locked in each other’s arms,
so that squirrels and colored birds
go about at ease over
the branches and through the air.
Where will a shoulder split or
a forehead open and victory be?
Both sides grow older.
And you may be sure
not one leaf will lift itself
from the ground
and become fast to a twig again.
The quote in the image at the top of the page is from the poem “A Corymbus for Autumn” by Francis Thompson (1859 – 1907), an English poet best known for his 182-line poem, The Hound of Heaven. Thompson’s poetry was admired by G. K. Chesterton; claimed as an influence by J. R. R. Tolkien; and had a line from one of his poems used as a book title by Madeleine L’Engle. Thompson’s phrase “with all deliberate speed” was borrowed by the U. S. Supreme Court in its writings on Brown vs. Board of Education.
“The Summer looks out from her brazen tower,
Through the flashing bars of July.”
— Francis Thompson, “A Corymbus for Autumn”