Summer Solstice

Midsummer is almost upon us.  And there is nowhere more solstiliceous than the Callanish stones.  But it doesn’t really feel like summer here so let’s take a respectful look and then scamper off to warmer climes. Much warmer for our first poem as Tess Taylor is a Californian poet—though Solstice is actually set in Massachusetts (and it makes me think of Hertfordshire).  It is reproduced by kind permission:

Solstice by Tess Taylor

How again today our patron star
whose ancient vista is the long view

turns its wide brightness now and here:
Below, we loll outdoors, sing & make fire.

We build no henge
but after our swim, linger

by the pond. Dapples flicker
pine trunks by the water.

Buzz & hum & wing & song combine.
Light builds a monument to its passing.

Frogs content themselves in bullish chirps,
hoopskirt blossoms

on thimbleberries fall, peeper toads
hop, lazy—

            Apex. The throaty world sings ripen.
Our grove slips past the sun’s long kiss.

We dress.
We head home in other starlight. 

Our earthly time is sweetening from this.

Copyright © 2015 by Tess Taylor. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Tess’s own website with details of her books is here:

Back over the pond to England. Edward Thomas has been cropping up a lot recently as a friend or supporter of other poets. Time to look at his own work:

Adlestrop by Edward Thomas

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Again this conjures memories of Hertfordshire for me. Specifically a station just before Hertford called Bayford.  There was nothing there. Not even a house. I could jump on a train at Finsbury Park in the middle of London and step off it and into countryside.

That feeling of longing for the country when in the summer city brings us to a paired poem and song.

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester by Rupert Brooke, surprised me, in my ignorance.

I was aware of it, and of the famous last line: ‘and is there honey still for tea.’ But like many, I suspect, led astray by its misuse and Brooke’s fatuous jingoism in The Soldier, I imagined it to be a straightforward paean to bucolic England. Actually reading it (generally a good plan when forming opinions about literature!) I discovered that it is a much more complex and interesting beast.

The poet is in Berlin and being nostalgic for Grantchester. There is real longing there. But there is also a sly critique of his own nostalgia. And  if he sounds a little xenophobic about Germany this is rendered absurd when he castigates the inhabitants of villages and towns around his glorified Grantchester (one of which is less than a mile away!)

It’s a long poem so I have reproduced it overleaf, but here is a taste:

And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

It’s companion is the entirely unironic Grantchester Meadows by Pink Floyd (actually by Roger Waters). It must be a direct reference as, apart from being about the same place it is also about thinking about the river and meadows when stuck in the city:

“Bringing sounds of yesterday into my city room”

What might be ironic is that hearing it for the first time in many years was almost unbearably nostalgic for me!

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester by Rupert Brooke
(Cafe des Westens, Berlin, May 1912)

Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow . . .
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
— Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe . . .
                                 ‘Du lieber Gott!’

Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; — and THERE the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten’s not verboten.

 . . . would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! —
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low: . . .
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester. . . .
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes, with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by . . .
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean . . .
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird’s drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.

God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there’s none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.

But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told) . . .

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

5 thoughts on “Summer Solstice

  1. Summer Solstice

    Summer has not come this year
    It came in April: a few weeks of sunny
    And warm weather walks without a coat
    Now I hear from relatives down south
    Tell me it’s twenty eight degrees
    Whilst up here in the northwest barely touch fourteen

    I remember in my youth
    Family picnics outings to the golf course
    Down to the river bank in Chorlton cum Hardy
    In summer and hot weather
    Feeling hot with burnt shoulders and next day
    Being told off by the teacher in junior four
    “You should cover yourself and shield from the sun”
    Years before sunscreen factor fifty

    Going to camp as girl guides and
    Looking after the cubs

    Then the hot long summer of nineteen seventy six
    Water shortages and illegal to use hosepipes
    Having to water the cauliflowers
    With used bath water and
    Sit for a while by the pond

    Is summer a season or is it just warm weather
    Meteorological summer starts first June
    Whereas Astronomical summer solstice is the twenty first
    But we have been having rather cold and windy weather this June
    What will the the weather be like on the summer solstice night?

    People in the Shetlands and Norway
    Will celebrate it with singing and dancing
    Round large bonfires through the night
    Here in Callanish some pagan groups
    Will be celebrating it in their way too



    • Summer Solstice: it’s raining again!

      I miss the thrill of living outside for a couple of days. The damp grass. The smell of the sea. And the loch. The rivers, the song of the birds, the cooking on camp fires and the closeness of strangers.
      I don’t miss the cold, the sore knees caused by crawling in and out of tents, the wet clothes, the rain and the midges and the drunken oiks that come to laugh at the little folk.

      Cathy x


      • Summer Solstice Nostslgia

        Stones see
        Misty dreich raindrops
        Tiny magical see through pearls
        Cloak the eclectic
        Swirl of people
        Drawn to the pool, the centre.
        The troubadour, on his motorbike, has ridden hundreds of miles to get there.
        His ragged scarlet robe flying, mirroring his wise, mischievous, weathered face.
        The air fresh, refreshing, rejuvenating.
        Meeting wood and peat smoke.
        A dull afternoon, grey and chilled.
        Leads into a brighter, warmer night.
        Black silhouette standing on rock
        The King approaches
        Searching for his Queen
        As the stones stand
        Silently singing
        Never letting go of the sun.

        Cathy Macleod


  2. Summer Solstice

    So its June 21st,
    And the first day of summer,
    Its the longest day of the year.
    Its a mystical time so Astrologers say,
    And the farmers are also out cutting their hay.

    The visitors arrive,
    With camper vans and back packs,
    To dance round the Callanish stones again,
    To see if it brings them luck all year,
    They arrive here in droves ,
    And is good for the economy.,
    No doubt they see anomalies.

    Its said the locals cast spells at the stones,
    And now its the done thing to go with the flow ,
    Its time for the tourists and locals to mingle ,
    Its not been allowed since the lockdown,
    But now we can as our island has been granted ground zero.

    By Donna keenan

    Liked by 1 person

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