August is a unique time in the Northeast. The Golden Rod and Joe-Pye Weed fill the fields with color. Mature apples are becoming noticeable on the trees and the blueberries are abundant and ripe. There is so much growth happening, and yet it is an indicator that we are getting ready to head into autumn.
With all the activity happening, it isn’t surprising that August has promoted many poets to pick up the pen and start writing. Below are two poems that reflect my August experience.
“August” by Lizette Woodworth Reese
Lizette Woodworth Reese (1856-1935) first collection of poetry, A Branch of May, was published in 1887. Over her writing career she published 8 other volumes of poetry, a memoir, and a novel. Reese was named poet laureate of Maryland in 1931 granted an honorary doctorate from Goucher College.
This poem, “August”, was originally published in A Branch of May.
No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass.
On either side, smitten as with a spell
Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass,
Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell
Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush.
But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate,
Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush,
Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late.
Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one
Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there
Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun
A silken web from twig to twig. The air
Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill
Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still.
With this poem, I can feel the heat of a late summer day. The shriveled leaves that are giving way to passage of time, the spiders that seem to be everywhere, and “the hot rank scents” that permeate the air.
I may have chosen a gentler word than “rank” to talk about the smells of August. Mainly because I don’t find the smells offensive. However, the odor of a hot August day is the blend of decaying leaves, fruits, and other organic material. So “rank’ might make sense.
“August Moonrise” by Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale (1884–1933) wrote seven books of poetry and won the Columbia Poetry Prize in 1918 for her book Love Songs. Critics often commented about her lyrical style and said that her poems were “full of musical language and evocative emotion.”(4)
“August Moonrise”, which was published in 1921, shifts us away the hot August days as described by Reese, to the mystery of the August nights. Here is the first part of this poem.
The sun was gone, and the moon was coming
Over the blue Connecticut hills;
The west was rosy, the east was flushed,
And over my head the swallows rushed
This way and that, with changeful wills.
I heard them twitter and watched them dart
Now together and now apart
Like dark petals blown from a tree;
The maples stamped against the west
Were black and stately and full of rest,
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.
Down the hill I went, and then
I forgot the ways of men,
For night-scents, heady, and damp and cool
Wakened ecstasy in me
On the brink of a shining pool.
I really enjoy this part of her poem as it beautifully describes an August night. The flight of the swallows as they chase the evening insects, the hazy orange moon growing out of the horizon, and the mention of the smells of August. The difference here is that Teasdale talks about the scent as “heady” instead of “rank”. I like the heady description a little more.
In the second part of this poem, Teasdale proclaims her love for the beauty of the night.
O Beauty, out of many a cup
You have made me drunk and wild
Ever since I was a child,
But when have I been sure as now
That no bitterness can bend
And no sorrow wholly bow
One who loves you to the end?
And though I must give my breath
And my laughter all to death,
And my eyes through which joy came,
And my heart, a wavering flame;
If all must leave me and go back
Along a blind and fearful track
So that you can make anew,
Fusing with intenser fire,
Something nearer your desire;
If my soul must go alone
Through a cold infinity,
Or even if it vanish, too,
Beauty, I have worshipped you.
Let this single hour atone
For the theft of all of me.
Both of these poems bring attention to the sensory experience of Autumn. We are brought on an immersive journey into the natural world. A journey that celebrates the beauty of the natural world.
Do you have any favorite poems that remind you of August? Please share below.