Summer Is Coming


“Sumer Is Icumen In” is a traditional English round, and possibly the oldest such example of counterpoint in existence. The song’s title might is usually translated as “Summer has come in” or “Summer has arrived” – but I kind of like “Summer is coming in” since summer and the solstice is not until the 21st. But it does feel like summer is coming and some days it feels like it has already arrived.

I remember musical rounds from elementary school music classes. It is a musical composition in which two or more voices sing exactly the same melody but with each voice beginning at different times so that different parts of the melody coincide in the different voices. If done correctly, it fits harmoniously together. Maybe you sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in some childhood music class.

Summer is coming in so you might want to sing today, so sing out loud! here is the modern English version.

Summer is a-coming in,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the stag farts,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing,
Don’t you ever stop now,
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

For a challenge, feel free to try singing the original Middle English lyrics. You might be surprised that “bucke uerteþ” is translated as “the stag farts.” I had to research that one but the current consensus gives that translation rather than “the buck-goat turns.” Stag farting is supposed to be a sign of virility indicating the stag’s potential for creating new life, echoing the rebirth of Nature from the barren period of winter. The wife doesn’t buy that explanation and wants no stag farting this summer unless the stag is outside.

Stag (perhaps farting) via

The Rhyming Full Moon of June

The June 2023 Full Moon, popularly called the Strawberry Moon, will be on tonight, June 3 at 11:42 PM EDT or June 4 at 3:42 AM UTC. Okay, it will look very full even on the 3rd no matter what time zone you’re in. This third Full Moon of spring occurs about two weeks before the Summer Solstice. It is the Full Moon in Sagittarius.

“June” and “Moon” is a simple rhyme and there is no lack of poems about the Moon, and poems in which the Moon makes an appearance in its full or other phases. In an essay on “Poetry and the Moon” by Mary Ruefle, she says:

I am convinced that the first lyric poem was written at night, and that the moon was witness to the event and that the event was witness to the moon. For me, the moon has always been the very embodiment of lyric poetry. In the West, lyric poetry begins with a woman on an island in the seventh or sixth century BC, and I say now: lyric poetry begins with a woman on an island on a moonlit night, when the moon is nearing full or just the other side of it, or on the dot… Let’s call her Sappho. One can hardly say these little songs have survived—for we have only fragments—but even this seems fitting, for what is the moment but a fragment of greater time?

Tonight I’ve watched
the moon and then
the Pleiades
go down

The night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am

in bed alone

Sappho sees the Moon and the Pleiades which is a group of more than 800 stars located about 410 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus. But they would have been known for far fewer stars that can be seen by the naked eye which we call the “Seven Sisters” (and the less poetic Messier 45). The name comes from a Greek legend. The Pleiades are the seven daughters of the Titan god Atlas and the ocean nymph Pleione. During an ancient war, Atlas rebelled against Zeus, the king of the gods, who sentenced his foe to forever hold up the heavens on his shoulders. The sisters were so sad that Zeus allowed them a place in the sky in order to be close to their father.

There is a section of the poem “To the Moon” by Percy Bysshe Shelley that is often shown as its own short poem.

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing Heaven, and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,—
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy

Shelley asks the Moon why it is pale and answers for the satellite.

Emily Dickinson has several lunar poems. In this one, he sees a Full Moon (maybe not exactly full since it looks that way for several days) that had looked different just a few nights ago. When do you think the Moon has phase with a “Chin of Gold”?

The Moon was but a Chin of Gold
A Night or two ago—
And now she turns Her perfect Face
Upon the World below—

If we keep reading Emily’s poem, we start to wonder if she is really writing about the Moon at all.

Her Forehead is of Amplest Blonde—
Her Cheek—a Beryl hewn—
Her Eye unto the Summer Dew
The likest I have known—

Her Lips of Amber never part—
But what must be the smile
Upon Her Friend she could confer
Were such Her Silver Will …

Carl Sandburg’s “Moonset” is an odd one and not what I would think is typical for him.

Leaves of poplars pick Japanese prints against the west
Moon sand on the canal doubles the changing pictures.
The moon’s good-by ends pictures.
The west is empty. All else is empty. No moon-talk at all now.
Only dark listening to dark.

It’s not very surprising that Sylvia Plath sees the Moon a bit differently in “The Moon And The Yew Tree.”

The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness –

And to end my Moon gazing, a haiku.

The moon glows the same:
it is the drifting cloud forms
make it seem to change.
_ Basho

On a River

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
– Thoreau, Walden

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on

May 30, 1849: Henry David Thoreau self-published A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, his first book that was about a boating trip he had taken with his brother, John. The trip had been 10 years earlier. They had gone from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and back.

I spent most of Memorial Day weekend in my garden. Sort of in nature but not the “wildness” Thoreau wrote about.

“Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw. There may be an excess of cultivation as well as of anything else, until civilization becomes pathetic.”
― Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

If you know Thoreau, it is probably for his book Walden. That comes later and in fact, it took him almost 10 years after his living-in-the-woods experiment to write that book. While he was in that little cabin by Walden Pond, he did the first draft of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. The journal he kept while in the woods would form the basis of the Walden book.

That is a book I believe I read – or was assigned to read – many years ago in college. I barely remember it, but I saw a blog post this week about it. Maybe I should give it another try.

John died of tetanus in 1842 and Thoreau wrote A Week… at least partly as a tribute to his brother. Some critics have thought that living alone in the woods was a way of reacting to losing John.

The brothers were quite different. Henry was introverted and studious. John was gregarious and fun-loving. But they were close; John helped pay Henry’s tuition to Harvard. John helped Henry open his own school when he got fired from his teaching job over his objection to corporal punishment.

It was only a few years after their boat trip that John died in his brother’s arms, unexpectedly, from tetanus.

His manuscript of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was initially rejected by publishers, so Thoreau was only able to publish it by paying for its printing. Four years later, after paying off the printing debt, Thoreau wrote in his journal that his publisher had delivered the remaining unsold copies to his home. He wrote, “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes – over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”

Advice From a Sundial

The sundial, is the earliest type of timekeeping device, which indicates the time of day by the position of the shadow of some object exposed to the sun’s rays. As the day progresses, the sun moves across the sky, causing the shadow of the object to move and indicating the passage of time. The earliest sundials were inscribed with inscriptions and aphorisms. Some were practical, some philosophical and a few are just strange.

In 1737, a book about how to build a sundial included a selection of three hundred mottos that might be used on sundials. Several books were ultimately published, among them Alfred H. Hyatt’s 1903 A Book of Sundial Mottoes. It’s a small gift-type book, geared toward gardeners as sundials had by then become part of English country garden design. Since a sundial is about Time many of the mottoes were about our use of time.

“This Dial Says Die”
“Either Learn or Go”
“Do Today’s Work Today”
“Learn to Value Your Time”
“The Time Thou Killest Will in Time Kill Thee”
“Opportunity has Locks in Front and is Bald Behind” (This odd one has been explained as alluding to a longer proverb – “Opportunity has hair in front, behind she is bald; if you seize her by the forelock, you may hold her, but, if suffered to escape, not Jupiter himself can catch her again.”) “Remove Not the Ancient Landmark which Thy Father Hath Set Up.”
“Look Upon Me. Though Silent, I Speak. For the Happy and the Sad, I Mark the House Alike. I Warn as I Move. I Steal Upon You. I Wait for None.”
“Begone About Your Business.”
“I mark time from morning ’til moonlight””


Dreams Are Poems. Dreams Are Time Travel.

Photo by Andrey Grushnikov on

In Alan Lightman’s first novel, Einstein’s Dreams, he imagines what Einstein may have been dreaming about in Bern, Switzerland before he published his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905. I have had a fascination with Einstein ever since I was a teenager. I first came to him because he seemed connected to an earlier fascination with the possibility of time travel.

The 26-year-old Albert Einstein in the novel is in an unhappy marriage. He has a job as a patent clerk that he dislikes and that is far below his abilities. In his head are dreamscapes of theoretical realms of time. Alan Lightman describes the dreams which occur between April 14, 1905, and June 28, 1905.  Of course, all of it is pure imagination.  There is science in the imagined worlds. People’s lives are based on time being circular or flowing backward, or slowing down. The project Einstein was working on concerned electricity and magnetism, but the solution required a reconception of time. When the book opens, Einstein has finished with his new theory of time and, while he waits a few hours for a typist in his patent office, he thinks of his dreams.

To me, many of the dreams seem in their language very much like poems. That makes sense because dreams do seem poetic to me. At least, the dreams I remember and am able to record. If I take some of Einstein’s dreams and do some line breaks, they look and sound more like poems. Found poetry.
For example:

14 April 1905

time is a circle,
the world repeats
births, deaths, a glass falls and breaks,
all is repeated
and then again
nothing is temporary
or permanent.
Some people know
all this has happened before.
They walk the night streets
and cannot unbreak the glass,
prevent the death,
erase one unkind word.

16 April 1905

Time flows like a stream here
and when some rivulet
turns away and connects backstream,
it carries the people back.
Do you see them?
They are the fearful ones.
They know that any change they make
in the past,
will change the future.

Okay, let’s move from dreams and poem and on to that fact that I have wanted to build a time machine ever since I saw the movie version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. I probably read the Classics Illustrated comics version before I read the novel. I had boxes of discarded electronics and machines in my basement that I had culled on garbage collection days. I loved playing with the gears, knobs, and circuit boards. I learned some things along the way, got some nasty shocks, and burned myself on my soldering iron, but I never did get a working time machine. Many years later, watching the movie E.T., I watched that alien build his communicator using kids’ toys in that same ridiculously easy way I had hoped would work.

I have read that Wells wrote his novel partially in response to Charles Darwin publishing his theory of evolution which was the big scientific news of the time. His novel can be seen as a story about evolution, as he tells how we will evolve in the future. It’s not a pretty, but a cautionary, tale.

Can we go back in time? Einstein was not much fun for time travel enthusiasts.  Though we might imagine going back in time and righting wrongs (small ones of our own or large historical ones), he pretty much concluded that if we were to travel back, we would be who we were and do what we had done again. It’s an infinite loop. It doesn’t make for a good story or film. (So much for Back to the Future.) We couldn’t go back before our birth because we didn’t exist.

Simplified, Einstein said that by traveling at the speed of light, you would force time to slow down, then to stop, and finally to go backward. Of course, even if we could go faster than the speed of light, none of us could survive the speedy journey. (Though Superman did in a film in order to save Lois Lane.) Special relativity states that your mass would become infinite in the process. Some proponents of time travel point out that Einstein’s equations for general relativity do allow some forms of time travel, but then we are into science that is not for this post.

If you do want to still pursue some time travel, check into the ten-dimensional hyperspace theory, wormholes, and dimensional windows.

Time travel is a risky business. Personally, I am not a fan of blasting into some other time and finding myself binding into some substance in the space which I or the machine now occupies.

Einstein also warned of paradoxes. Meeting your parents before you are born is a popular one.  (See the first Back to the Future film) But then, that couldn’t happen because you didn’t exist then. Of course, you could go back to when you were 15 and get killed in an accident. Then what? Paradox.

4th May 1905

Time passes
but little happens.
Year to year,
month to month,
day to day,
the passage of events
are the same.
If you have no ambitions
you are unaware of your suffering,
the ambitious ones
know and suffer
but very slowly.

8th May 1905

The world will end
on the 26th of September 1907.
Everyone knows it.
Schools close the year before.
Businesses close the month before.
People are surprisingly unafraid.
They think over their coffee that
now there is nothing to really fear.
On September 25th
there is laughter on the streets,
neighbors who never spoke
greet each other as friends.
We are all equal in the world of one day.
One minute before the end
everyone in Berne gathers together.
No one moves or speaks.
It is like leaping off a mountain.
They hold hands as the end approaches.
They are weightless,
cool air rushes by,
the whiteness
of snow fills their vision.

Read On:
The Time Machine
Einstein’s Dreams
Back to the Future – The Complete Trilogy
The Time Machine