Seeing August With A Poet’s Eye

What better way to start August than with “August Again” by Ruth Walters:

We slide into August without realising
though we’ve waited for her to appear
since the beginning of January.

Heat, yellowed grass, rain, muddied boots
are all common during her stay.
Such a mixed cup, fickle as the year.

Then, as we adjust to long, warm summer evenings
they darken again as August
slides away like a slippery girl

sliding out of our lives like a dinner date
climbing out of the ladies room window
when she can’t face desert.

We yearn for her still, but she’s off,
running like the Cheater until next year
when we meet again, blushing

August is just one month away from the season of mellow fruitfulness celebrated by John Keats in his beautiful Ode To Autumn. In our neck of the woods where the seasons are pronounced, August, as the poet Sandra Fowler says in A Call to August, helps us make sense of falling leaves, When death paints a rich picture of itself. Helen Hunt Jackson in A Calendar of Sonnets: August describes how August does this:

Pathetic summer seeks by blazonry / Of color to conceal her swift decrease. / Weak subterfuge! Each mocking day doth fleece / A blossom and lay bare her poverty. / Poor middle-aged summer! Vain this show! / Whole fields of Golden-Rod cannot offset / One meadow with a single violet; / And well the singing thrush and lily know, / Spite of all artifice which her regret / Can deck in splendid guise, their time to go!

Wanda Swim Strunk in August Is The Dying Month describes August this way – August is a butterfly crushed on a roadway / One side dead to the pavement / The other is still vibrantly flutteringly alive / Fighting to fly away but it’s fate is already sealed. Boy is that a melancholy view of August – the warmest and probably, with all the festivals going on,  the most fun-filled month of the year.  James Whitcomb Riley description of August isn’t much better:

A day of torpor in the sullen heat
Of Summer’s passion: In the sluggish stream
The panting cattle lave their lazy feet,
With drowsy eyes, and dream

Long since the winds have died, and in the sky
There lives no cloud to hint of Nature’s grief;
The sun glares ever like an evil eye,
And withers flower and leaf.

Upon the gleaming harvest-field remote
The thresher lies deserted, like some old
Dismantled galleon that hangs afloat
Upon a sea of gold.

Algernon Charles Swinburne on the other hand has a more positive vision in his poem August seeing an August afternoon as a time – Of music in the silver air; / Great pleasure was it to be there / Till green turned duskier and the moon / Coloured the corn-sheaves like gold hair.

Ah yes the moon. We must talk at length about the August moon. Some Native American tribes called it theSturgeon Moon because they knew that the sturgeon of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most readily caught during this Full Moon. Full Green Corn Moon, the Wheat Cut Moon, the Moon When All Things Ripen and the Blueberry Moon were other beautiful Indian names for the August moon.

Here’s how Sara Teasdale in August Moonrise sees the blue Connecticut hills by  August moonlight – And the hazy orange moon grew up / And slowly changed to yellow gold / While the hills were darkened, fold on fold / To a deeper blue than a flower could hold. In the poem, she is willing to trade her life for such brief moments of beauty. In a lovely coming of age sonnet, August Moon Bonnie Collins takes us back to Remembering how to dive, wear lipstick, and / falling in love all in one summer’s august moon. Yes, August is as good a time as any to get romantic and fall in love like Edward Lear’s lovers in The Owl and the Pussy-cat, who go to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat and hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, dance by the light of the moon.

Speaking about spending time at the edge of the sand, Duncan Campbell Scott in Mid-August paints a beautiful picture of what it’s like to spend some magical time in August up by the lake, hopefully one with a sandy beach. Here’s a couple stanzas from that poem to give you an idea what you might see through the poet’s lenses:

Where the pine-linnet lingered
The pale water searches,
The roots of gleaming birches
Draw silver from the lake;
The ripples, liquid-fingered,
Plucking the root-layers,
Fairy like lute players
Lulling music make.

O to lie here brooding
Where the pine-tree column
Rises dark and solemn
To the airy lair,
Where, the day eluding,
Night is couched dream laden,
Like a deep witch-maiden
Hidden in her hair.

And how about this description of life at the lake by Katharine Lee Bates taken from her poem In August that alludes to the King Arthur story.

With Lonely Lake, so crystal clear that one
May see its bottom sparkling in the sun
With many-colored stones. The only stir
On its green banks is of the kingfisher
Dipping for prey, but oft, these haunted nights,
That mirror shivers into dazzling lights,
Cleft by a falling star, a messenger
From some bright battle lost, Excalibur.

What better way to prepare for the mundane busyness of September when the old rat-race routine kicks in again then to get lost in the enchantment of ancient romance. Or if you’re not really the poetic type, follow Paul Laurence Dunbar’s advice In August, When August days are hot an’ dry, / I won’t sit by an’ sigh or die, / I’ll get my bottle (on the sly) / And go ahead, and fish, and lie! Yes, I can  identify with that sentiment. But whatever you do in the August month when Heat still sizzles in the fields, don’t sleep through the month saying LEAVE me alone, for August’s sleepy charm / Is on me, and I will not break the spell. Edith Nesbit in August exhorts us to get a little exercise while enjoying the panorama of beauty that the month stretches before us:

I want to wander over pastures still,
Where sheared white sheep and mild-eyed cattle graze;
To climb the thymy, clover-covered hill,
To look down on the valley’s hot blue haze;
And on the short brown turf for hours to lie
Gazing straight up into the clear, deep sky,

I want to walk through crisp gold harvest fields,
Through meadows yellowed by the August heat;
To loiter through the cool dim wood, that yields
Such perfect flowers and quiet so complete–
The happy woods, where every bud and leaf
Is full of dreams as life is full of grief.

So open your senses to August’s beauty – August incense with fugacious wings / Bounty blooms, butterflies, bees are insane / Birds, crickets sing and the night listens / Summer’s sky, bright burst so clear / It’s the late August in summer’s fair – from Late August by Ency Bearis. Then at the end of August we might be able to say with some conviction:

Maya, you’re here with us,
and it’s like a bird who has just
learned how to sing, and he’s
singing and trilling, racing through
all the notes he knows, and suddenly
he realizes he’s flying! Maya, you showed us
singing and flying are the same,
and we need to do both,
because tonight we’re
losing August.

Losing August In Memoriam: August Wilson 1945-2005 by Daniel Brick

Rod Stone


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