Monday, June 30, 2008

Emblems of Perfect Happiness

Well, here it is the last day of June, and the kids and I are feeling that summer has just begun. Eleanor is finished with her summer school class. Walker and I are finished with Peter Pan, which played to sellout crowds every night and got Walker a mention in the local paper for being a "memorably chipper" Tootles. I just turned in my annual report for the Writing Center, due every year by the end of June. So we're ready for days without deadlines. Summer days. For me, emblems of perfect happiness.

Trouble is, the newspaper confirmed this morning that this has been a record-breaking June for rainfall, and today it's raining again. So we can't really do happy summer things, despite our new feeling of freedom. It makes me think of a poem I have a love/hate relationship with. I memorized the first stanza of this poem long ago, because I love it so much. But I hate the second stanza. I'd like to do like Emily Dickinson's sister, who blacked out an entire stanza of the poem "wedded" that talked about how Emily didn't want to be wedded.

It may seem premature to think of August thunderstorms right now, but we feel thunderstorm-scarred already this summer, having just replaced all of the electronics that fell prey to our own personal lightning strike. Anyway, this is Philip Larkin's Mother, Summer, I:

My mother, who hates thunderstorms,
Holds up each summer day and shakes
It out suspiciously, let swarms
Of grape-dark clouds are lurking there;
But when the August weather breaks
And rains begin, and brittle frost
Sharpens the bird-abandoned air,
Her worried summer look is lost.

And I her son, though summer-born
And summer-loving, none the less
Am easier when the leaves are gone;
Too often summer days appear
Emblems of perfect happiness
I can't confront: I must await
A time less bold, less rich, less clear:
An autumn more appropriate.

Maybe it's because Larkin was a Brit that he felt he couldn't confront those emblems of perfect happiness. The British have a peculiar attitude about things being too much--it's like the line in Peter Pan about the cake being "much too damp and rich for you." I always feel quite ready to enjoy the perfect happiness of summer days. July 4-8 is my absolute favorite time of the year, between parades and fireworks and picnics and my birthday (the 8th), when I almost always persuade someone to spend the day swimming with me. And the weather almost always cooperates.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love it when teh "August weather breaks" and that first bit of fall is lovely. The "cold November in my soul" - Larkin is welcome to it.

-lemming

KD said...

I must be British at my soul as well as in my genealogy, then. One of my favorite seasonal snatches of poetry comes from Elinor Wylie:

Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones
There's something in this richness that I hate.
I love the look , austere, immaculate,
Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.
There's something in my very blood that owns
Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate,
A thread of water, churned to milky spate
Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.

I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray.
Those fields, sparse planted, rendering meager sheaves;
That spring, briefer than the apple-blossom's breath,
Summer, so much too beautiful to stay,
Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves,
And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death.


I remember thinking, my first year at college, how I loved the look of the winter sky when it appeared as the rinsings of someone's watercolor brushes.