The End of August, Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, and Phyllis McGinley’s “Ode to the End of Summer”

resurrection lilies DSCN4534I bicycled past a meadow of Resurrection lilies.

Our own Resurrection lilies are gone.  I regret that I only looked at them once or twice.

I have not spent enough time outdoors this year.  Too many mosquitoes.

I was finally able to sit  in the backyard  and read today.  It was cool and the mosquitoes are gone.  Occasionally while reading one spaces out and is mesmerized by the  sky, the moon in the afternoon, and the birds flying so high.

Tam_Lin_by_Pamela_DeanI was rereading Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin,  a splendid retelling of the “Tam Lin” ballad. It is set at Blackstock College in Minnesota (based on Carleton College) in the 1970s, and takes us through four years of the heroine Janet Carter’s education.

Dean writes of early fall,

The trees and grass were still green as summer, but the air and sky had thinned indefinably, as they did in autumn, and the first few leaves, dropped from what trees you could never tell, were drifting downwards in the sunlit air.

I have also recently discovered the poet Phyllis McGinley, known as a poet of the suburbs.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for her light verse collection, Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades with Seventy New Poems (1960),

I love “Ode to the End of Summer.”

“Ode to the End of Summer” by Phyllis McGinley

Summer, adieu
Adieu gregarious season.
Goodbye, ‘revoir, farewell.
Now day comes late; now chillier blows the breeze on
Forsaken beach and boarded-up hotel.
Now wild geese fly together in thin lines
And Tourist Homes take down their lettered signs.

It fades–this green this lavish interval
This time of flowers and fruits,
Of melon ripe along the orchard wall,
Of sun and sails and wrinkled linen suits;
Time when the world seems rather plus than minus
And pollen tickles the allergic sinus.

Now fugitives to farm and shore and highland
Cancel their brief escape.
The Ferris wheel is quiet at Coney Island
And quaintness trades no longer on the Cape;
While meek-eyed parents hasten down the ramps
To greet their offspring, terrible from camps.

Turn up the steam. The year is growing older.
The maple boughs are red.
Summer, farewell. Farewell the sunburnt shoulder
Farewell the peasant kerchief on the head.
Farewell the thunderstorm, complete with lightning,
And the white shoe that ever needeth whitening.

Farewell, vacation friendships, sweet but tenuous
Ditto to slacks and shorts,
Farewell, O strange compulsion to be strenuous
Which sends us forth to death on tennis courts.
Farewel, Mosquito, horror of our nights;
Clambakes, iced tea, and transatlantic flights.

The zinnia withers, mortal as the tulip.
Now from the dripping glass
I’ll sip no more the amateur mint julep
Nor dine al fresco on the alien grass;
Nor scale the height nor breast the truculent billow
Nor lay my head on any weekend pillow.

Unstintingly I yield myself to Autumn
And Equinoctial sloth.
I hide my swim suit in the bureau’s bottom
Nor fear the fury of the after-moth
Forswearing porch and pool and beetled garden,
My heart shall rest, my arteries shall harden.

Welcome, kind Fall, and every month with ‘r’ in
Whereto my mind is bent.
Come, sedentary season that I star in,
O fire-lit Winter of my deep content!
Amid the snow, the sleet, the blizzard’s raw gust
I shall be cozier than I was in August.

Safe from the picnic sleeps the unlittered dell.
The last Good Humor sounds its final bell
And all is silence.
Summer, farewell, farewell.

4 thoughts on “The End of August, Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, and Phyllis McGinley’s “Ode to the End of Summer”

  1. I’ve decided I’m not sure I like August much – roll on autumn/fall! I have that Tam Lin somewhere – must dig it out!

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  2. I like the sound of the Tam Lin retelling; definitely one to look out for. As a complement to ‘Ode to the End of Summer’ do you know Elizabeth Jennings’ ‘Song at the Beginning of Autumn’? If not, I recommend it.

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    • Oh, you’ll adore Tam Lin. Pages and pages are devoted to Shakespeare (including their reactions to a production of Hamlet). I’ll look for Elizabeth Jennings!

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