By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
Previously, we offered some of the finest Maytime poems, so now it’s the turn of June – that glorious summer month. Below are some of the best and most famous poems about June, including a few ‘wild cards’ which we’d especially recommend.
Edmund Spenser, ‘The Shepheardes Calendar: June’.
Inspired by the Roman poet Virgil’s Eclogues, Spenser (c. 1552-99) wrote this long pastoral work about a year in the life of the English countryside. In June, we find the ‘Colin Clout’ shepherd figure of the poem talking to Hobbinoll, his friend: ‘Colin, to heare thy rymes and roundelayes, / Which thou were wont on wastfull hylls to singe, / I more delight, then larke in Sommer dayes’. A window onto a different age.
John Clare, ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar: June’.
After Spenser’s Elizabethan calendar, the most famous ‘shepherd’s calendar’ in English verse is by one of England’s greatest nature poets, John Clare (1793-1864): ‘Now summer is in flower and natures hum / Is never silent round her sultry bloom / Insects as small as dust are never done / Wi’ glittering dance and reeling in the sun / And green wood fly and blossom haunting bee / Are never weary of their melody…’
Emma Lazarus, ‘A June Night’.
Lazarus (1849-87) is best-known for her sonnet ‘The New Colossus’, celebrating the arrival of the Statue of Liberty in the United States; but this lesser-known poem shows she wasn’t exactly a one-poem wonder. It sees her paying tribute to the ‘dewy air’ of a June night: ‘Ten o’clock: the broken moon / Hangs not yet a half hour high, / Yellow as a shield of brass, / In the dewy air of June …’
W. H. Davies, ‘All in June’.
The Welsh poet W. H. Davies (1871-1940) is best-known for his short poem ‘Leisure’, but this poem, describing the natural world in June, is also captivating: ‘Today the fields are rich in grass, / And buttercups in thousands grow; / I’ll show the world where I have been – / With gold-dust seen on either shoe.’
Edward Thomas, ‘Adlestrop’.
The origins of this poem lie in an event that took place on 24 June 1914, while the English poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) was on the Oxford to Worcester express train. The train made an unscheduled stop at Adlestrop (formerly Titlestrop) in Gloucestershire, a tiny village in the Cotswolds with a population of just over 100.
Thomas took the opportunity to fill his notebook with his observations of the place before the train started up again. The poem, then, had its origins in an unexpected event, a chance occurrence, that occurred one June day in 1914. Thomas would later write up his observations into this fine, understated poem, which has since become a national favourite.
Sara Teasdale, ‘June Night’.
‘Oh Earth, you are too dear to-night, / How can I sleep while all around / Floats rainy fragrance and the far / Deep voice of the ocean that talks to the ground?’ So asks the American poet Sara Teasdale in this short poem.
Richard Aldington, ‘June Rain’.
Aldington was one of the leading imagist poets in the second decade of the twentieth century, and this poem about rain falling in London in the month of June dates from his imagist period.
Louis MacNeice, ‘June Thunder’.
This poem, from MacNeice’s 1938 collection The Earth Compels, sees the poet contrasting Junes from his idyllic past with the June of the present, which is full of ominous thunder.