‘I love to see the summer beaming forth’ is a poem by the Romantic poet John Clare (1793-1864), although it’s not as famous as, say, ‘I Am’. But it’s a glorious evocation of the summertime, and deserves sharing here, with some notes towards an analysis. For a good edition of John Clare’s poetry, we recommend John Clare: Major Works from Oxford University Press.
I love to see the summer beaming forth
And white wool sack clouds sailing to the north
I love to see the wild flowers come again
And mare blobs stain with gold the meadow drain
And water lilies whiten on the floods
Where reed clumps rustle like a wind shook wood
Where from her hiding place the Moor Hen pushes
And seeks her flag nest floating in bull rushes
I like the willow leaning half way o’er
The clear deep lake to stand upon its shore
I love the hay grass when the flower head swings
To summer winds and insects happy wings
That sport about the meadow the bright day
And see bright beetles in the clear lake play
‘I love to see the summer beaming forth’: what a joyous opening line for a poem, with ‘beaming’ sending out to both brightness (the bright beams or rays of sunlight) and happiness (a beaming smile etc.). Few English poets have captured the joys of the natural world with such delirious invention and skill as John Clare; Gerard Manley Hopkins springs to mind as his nearest rival.
‘I love to see the summer beaming forth’ is written in heroic couplets: that is, iambic pentameter rhyming couplets. Iambic pentameter, famously, is close to the patterns and rhythms of English speech, and the rhyming couplets, as the alternative name ‘heroic couplets’ implies, lend the summer scene being described an august and dignified quality. Not that Clare sticks too rigidly to his rhymes: ‘floods’ and ‘wood’, and ‘pushes’ and ‘rushes’, are examples of eye-rhyme, where the words look as though they will sound exactly the same but don’t. Such moments of slippage or looseness nicely underscore nature’s own tendency to break free from our expectations and act in surprising or new ways: the reeds on those floods, for instance, or the wind shaking a wood.
And then the ultimate break with expected confines: John Clare’s trademark refusal to end the poem with a full stop, as if the punctuation would impose an artificial conclusion on a process that is, in truth, never finished. Summer may fade, but it will return year on year, and nature will continue to act in unexpected and thrilling ways.