“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 blooms 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, cuckoo; 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.
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”?
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.
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
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””
It is 239,000 miles away and pretty much a wasteland with nothing to breathe in, 243 degrees Fahrenheit days, and 272 degrees below zero nights. And yet, I have always been drawn – like tides – to things lunar. I have no desire to go to the Moon. My fascination with the moon is what it changes about our planet and the people on it. I enjoy reading about gravity, tides and astronomical events, but I am more interested in things like moonshine, honeymoons, and full moon mythologies.
The Moon has its own category on this site and I write something for each Full Moon, but you don’t need the Moon to be “full” in order to see or feel its influence on Earth.
Bird watchers doing their bird counts use the full moon as a backlit point of reference for watching the night sky. The majority of migrating birds (swallows, sparrows, herons, warblers, flycatchers, nuthatches, wrens, orioles and most others) are moving at night.
Another lunar flyer is the moon moth. They are the large, colorful and feathery-antennaed ones. I have seen one live only once when I was quite young and didn’t know what I was seeing. I had to look it up in a big book. (Remember big reference books?)
Most moths and butterflies come out of their dormant stage because the temperatures start to moderate – like plants sensing spring. But luna moths’ pupa have a clear moon roof (really, a cuticle) that lets their brain detect lengthening days through its cocoon. Some natural magic tells them that it is time to leave the cocoon, head up a tree and hang upside down until their wings are ready.
There are also moon fruits, like moonseeds, which are not for us mere humans to eat (dangerous!) but are important for many birds.
Most powerfully and well-known are the ways that the Earth and moon synchrony affects gravity and how those pulls move our oceans. That is a very predictable and precise pull that we call tides. Those twice-a-day highs and lows might also be affecting the water inside you. After all, more than half of your body is liquid.
If lunar cycles affect insects, birds, fish, and other mammals, why not humans? Is it the fluids within us that are affected, or is it the moon’s changing reflected light?
On Earth, there are those not-land-not-sea places called intertidal zones where marine organisms live, reproduce, and die in sync with what the moon controls.
What about human lunacy? Lunacy is that word (from the Latin luna for moon) created to explain the madness that was once thought to be caused by Full Moons.
You have probably heard at least once that crime, emergency room admissions, depression, suicides, road kills, birth rates, stock market performance, dog bites, and medical miracles are affected by the moon. The science behind all those is questionable, but the belief and interest in them is real.
The article mentions that owls are less active when the moon is full and field mice eat more, while badgers mate more often, and those undersea creatures forage more in those darker new-moon periods. Maybe you can explain some of these things by saying that predators are less likely to see you when it is darker, so that’s when you are more active – but that takes the Romance out of it.
The moon phenom I still need to experience is a moonbow. This nighttime rainbow is even more rare than daytime beauty. You need a clear, dark night, heavy mist or raindrops in front of you, and a particularly bright full or near-full moon shining low in the sky behind you. There’s a full moon coming up in a few days – Be Ready.
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly, Asleep on the black trunk, Blowing like a leaf in green shadow. Down the ravine behind the empty house, The cowbells follow one another Into the distances of the afternoon. To my right, In a field of sunlight between two pines, The droppings of last year’s horses Blaze up into golden stones. I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on. A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home. I have wasted my life.
The May 2023 Full Moon made its appearance on May 5. It did not appear to me in Paradelle because it was cloudy and rainy. But the Flower Moon was there and this weekend will be filled with flowers as the temperatures finally climb into the seventies. That was the second Full Moon of this spring and the second after the spring equinox. There was also a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse at the same time as the Full Moon. (Technically 9 minutes before its peak.)
The May Full Moon is in Scorpio. The predictions don’t sound very good for those who believe in such things. One source says, “Scorpio rules the eighth house of sex, death, and transformation as well as the reproductive and excretory systems and the sacral chakra. The focus here is on what is buried, and themes of rot and renewal, endings and beginnings…Scorpio is the patron sign of obsession (sorry, not sorry) and this eclipse points to patterns, compulsions, and behaviors that we repeat but reap no reward from. This eclipse wants you to cut that s–t out. Scorpio is about what we keep hidden from others so these obsessions, underlying energies, personal pains, and anxious attachments are for us to identify, expose, politely thank, and heartily cast out.”
As with all astronomical and celestial events, happenings in nature, and many very human events around us, things go unobserved. Our view of the stars and planets shirt. The sun rises in a slightly different place each morning. Trees, leaf out, bloom, and produce fruits and seeds during spring whether or not you take notes. People you don’t know die. People you know get depressed but for whatever reason you never noticed. People, nature and the universe doesn’t always announce themselves to us. You have to be observant.