At the end of a busy week, sometime all I can do is see the wheel of time turning and be glad it rolls only one direction—forward. With that in mind, let’s turn our minds to the road ahead, to the promise implicit in this Midsummer’s Eve that summer is upon us with all its heat and light, and to the hope that the future tense brings with it—the delightful recklessness of verbs like “shall” and “will”. Our guide tonight is Siegfried Sassoon, a poet you may know from his grisly World War I poems (about which more next weekend, on the centennial of the war’s beginnings), but who tonight is nothing but romance and confidence. This is “Idyll”, by Siegfried Sassoon:
“In the grey summer garden I shall find you
With day-break and the morning hills behind you.
There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings;
And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings.
Not from the past you’ll come, but from that deep
Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep:
And I shall know the sense of life re-born
From dreams into the mystery of morn
Where gloom and brightness meet. And standing there
Till that calm song is done, at last we’ll share
The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are
Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star.”
Sassoon’s couplet rhyme may be cloying to some of you, but in the exuberance of a summer evening it’s hard for me to resist him. Who does he await—a lover surely, but one dead? one long since married to another? one who sits beside him even now as he writes and who is reforged by his words? Love is more than this poem knows, of course—darker, stranger, much more complicated and much heavier as a burden—but it is also all that this poem promises, the days when everything about the world seems to hum with the tune you have been singing. When no thing flies or walks or creeps past you but you see some beauty in it.
Can we find Sassoon’s joy in the world? Perhaps we can tonight, and perhaps not. But on this warm Friday evening, poised on the brink of summer, I think there are grey summer gardens ahead for us all, sooner or later, and maybe Sassoon wrote this poem to remind us to look for them. Regardless, I hope some turn of phrase here catches your eye and turns up a smile in you this weekend.