Ever since even before William Shakespeare's famous "shall I compare thee to a summer's day" everyone's (well, should be everyone's) favorite season has gone together with poetry like peanut butter and jelly. Poems about summer have the ability to make you feel the hazy heat, the sand between your toes, the smell of the chlorine in the city pool, and the strip of sunburn across your racer back tank like no other manner of writing can.
And let's face it: In summertime you have no time to waste. You're on the go from a beach day to a barbecue night (OK, fine, maybe from work to sitting in front of your perfectly cross-breezed fans eating a Popsicle to stay cool.) But in case you are having trouble keeping up with your summer reading, poetry can be a perfect way to get your reading in. So much is packed into these poems about summer that you'll get a full, magical education in just a few lines.
There are contemporary poems and classics, all expressing the unique mood and hot, hot heat of the summertime, whether they're in the city, up atop a mountain, or on a remote beach. Trust me, some of these you're going to want to cut out and stick up on your mirror.
1. "Summer Stars" by Carl Sandburg
Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.
2. "Before Summer Rain" by Rainer Maria Rilke
Suddenly, from all the green around you,
something-you don't know what-has disappeared;
you feel it creeping closer to the window,
in total silence. From the nearby wood
you hear the urgent whistling of a plover,
reminding you of someone's Saint Jerome:
so much solitude and passion come
from that one voice, whose fierce request the downpour
will grant. The walls, with their ancient portraits, glide
away from us, cautiously, as though
they weren't supposed to hear what we are saying.
And reflected on the faded tapestries now;
the chill, uncertain sunlight of those long
childhood hours when you were so afraid.
3. "In The Summer" by Nizar Qabbani
In the summer
I stretch out on the shore
And think of you
Had I told the sea
What I felt for you,
It would have left its shores,
And followed me.
4. "Summer" by Louise Gluck
Remember the days of our first happiness,
how strong we were, how dazed by passion,
lying all day, then all night in the narrow bed,
sleeping there, eating there too: it was summer,
it seemed everything had ripened
at once. And so hot we lay completely uncovered.
Sometimes the wind rose; a willow brushed the window.
But we were lost in a way, didn't you feel that?
The bed was like a raft; I felt us drifting
far from our natures, toward a place where we'd discover nothing.
First the sun, then the moon, in fragments,
stone through the willow.
Things anyone could see.
Then the circles closed. Slowly the nights grew cool;
the pendant leaves of the willow
yellowed and fell. And in each of us began
a deep isolation, though we never spoke of this,
of the absence of regret.
We were artists again, my husband.
We could resume the journey.
5. "Morningside Heights, July" by William Matthews
Haze. Three student violists boarding
a bus. A clatter of jackhammers.
Granular light. A film of sweat for primer
and the heat for a coat of paint.
A man and a woman on a bench:
she tells him he must be psychic,
for how else could he sense, even before she knew,
that she’d need to call it off? A bicyclist
fumes by with a coach’s whistle clamped
hard between his teeth, shrilling like a teakettle
on the boil. I never meant, she says.
But I thought, he replies. Two cabs almost
collide; someone yells fuck in Farsi.
I’m sorry, she says. The comforts
of loneliness fall in like a bad platoon.
The sky blurs—there’s a storm coming
up or down. A lank cat slinks liquidly
around a corner. How familiar
it feels to feel strange, hollower
than a bassoon. A rill of chill air
in the leaves. A car alarm. Hail.
6. "Sonnet 18" by William Shakespeare
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
7. "Summer Night, Riverside" by Sara Teasdale
In the wild soft summer darkness
How many and many a night we two together
Sat in the park and watched the Hudson
Wearing her lights like golden spangles
Glinting on black satin.
The rail along the curving pathway
Was low in a happy place to let us cross,
And down the hill a tree that dripped with bloom
While your kisses and the flowers,
Tangled in my hair....
The frail white stars moved slowly over the sky.
And now, far off
In the fragrant darkness
The tree is tremulous again with bloom
For June comes back.
To-night what girl
Dreamily before her mirror shakes from her hair
This year’s blossoms, clinging to its coils?
8. "Moths" by Jennifer O'Grady
Adrift in the liberating, late light
of August, delicate, frivolous,
they make their way to my front porch
and flutter near the glassed-in bulb,
translucent as a thought suddenly
wondered aloud, illumining the air
that's thick with honeysuckle and dusk.
You and I are doing our best
at conversation, keeping it light, steering clear
of what we'd like to say.
You leave, and the night becomes
cluttered with moths, some tattered,
their dumbly curious filaments
startling against my cheek. How quickly,
instinctively, I brush them away.
Dazed, they cling to the outer darkness
like pale reminders of ourselves.
Others seem to want so desperately
to get inside. Months later, I'll find
the woolens, snug in their resting places,
full of missing pieces.
9. "Night Swims" by Marcia LeBeau
All the kids went to the community pool every summer day. Mom made us wait
for evening so she could swim her laps in peace. Sunlight skimmed
the water, dropped too low to filter down, but the night breeze warmed our plunges
then chilled our towel-wrapped bodies. Mom’s blue terrycloth cover-up barely covered
her thighs as she shifted the car home. I would shiver upstairs to the shower
and jump in with her. Unnerved by the curves and hair of her body
I didn’t possess. When would I turn this strange looking? We were ravenous
on those nights. Always a quick salad, cherry tomatoes squirting seeds
inside our cheeks, lettuce, peppers, corn on the cob, green beans, the navy blue pitcher
with white corn flowers full of ice tea. My friends called later. Their fingers sticking
to the phone from bomb pops in the afternoon, told me what I had missed
at the pool during the day. Now, when I go to the gym pool I choose a lane
by the window graced with patches of sunlight, even when the lifeguard
points to a darker one that’s open. I sit at the edge, dangle my feet and wait.
10. "In the Mountains on a Summer Day" by Li Po
Gently I stir a white feather fan,
With open shirt sitting in a green wood.
I take off my cap and hang it on a jutting stone;
A wind from the pine-trees trickles on my bare head.
11. "The Summer I Was Sixteen" by Geraldine Connolly
The turquoise pool rose up to meet us,
its slide a silver afterthought down which
we plunged, screaming, into a mirage of bubbles.
We did not exist beyond the gaze of a boy.
Shaking water off our limbs, we lifted
up from ladder rungs across the fern-cool
lip of rim. Afternoon. Oiled and sated,
we sunbathed, rose and paraded the concrete,
danced to the low beat of "Duke of Earl".
Past cherry colas, hot-dogs, Dreamsicles,
we came to the counter where bees staggered
into root beer cups and drowned. We gobbled
cotton candy torches, sweet as furtive kisses,
shared on benches beneath summer shadows.
Cherry. Elm. Sycamore. We spread our chenille
blankets across grass, pressed radios to our ears,
mouthing the old words, then loosened
thin bikini straps and rubbed baby oil with iodine
across sunburned shoulders, tossing a glance
through the chain link at an improbable world.