Scorching Summer

By Akrita Reyar | Last Updated: Sep 25, 2014, 15:20 PM IST

Akrita Reyar When the infernal wind begins to sweep lowlands, and the foliage wilts under the treacherous clime; when mothers lull children to sleep in the after of noon so that they don’t play under the blistering Sun, when the long distance traveler, weary from exertion, looks for the munificent shade of a Banyan tree; when there is general languor in movement and yawn in conversation…we know it is summer.

While the sun-baked clay, torn apart from lack of moisture, the shriveled vegetation and the tormented body are all the hallmarks of the sizzling Indian summer, the season in the West, though warm, is less insufferable. On the contrary, it is perhaps that part of the year when there is excitement at the prospect of a sabbatical at the seaside or a sunny countryside. Interestingly enough, summer in English literature, is more often than not, not purely seen as a season, but dwelt at a more psychological level. One need not thus necessarily read elaborate imageries of nature’s hues about this time of the year, but instead it could easily be used to connote intensity or severity of an emotion. One such obvious instance is of love. In ‘The Indian Summer of Dry Valley Johnson’, O Henry writes about a middle aged well-off American, who is a bachelor and quite set in his regular ways till one day his eyes suddenly fall upon a half-Spanish teenager. “Dry Valley had no youth. Even his childhood had been one of dignity and seriousness. At six he had viewed the frivolous gambols of the lambs on his father`s ranch with silent disapproval. His life as a young man had been wasted. The divine fires and impulses, the glorious exaltations and despairs, the glow and enchantment of youth had passed above his head. Never a thrill of Romeo had he known; he was but a melancholy Jaques of the forest with a ruder philosophy, lacking the bitter-sweet flavour of experience that tempered the veteran years of the rugged ranger of Arden. And now in his sere and yellow leaf one scornful look from the eyes of Panchita O`Brien had flooded the autumnal landscape with a tardy and delusive summer heat.” Meanwhile, Edith Wharton in ‘Summer’, published in 1917, explores openly the sexual awakening of a young woman, something considered quite sensational in those times. Set in the English rural countryside, the book revolves around the protagonist Charity Royall and her relationship with a man whom she happens to meet, for the first time, in a library and at the end marries. Besides the fervour of the story, some scenes of summer are beautifully depicted. “It was the beginning of a June afternoon. The springlike transparent sky shed a rain of silver sunshine on the roofs of the village, and on the pastures and larchwoods surrounding it… ..She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly knew it; but to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.” Nights in summer can be of particular interest. When the sun sets, the seared grass drinks lustily the evening dew, the tress and flowers grow radiant again, and inhabitants cautiously venture out. Just gazing out of a window onto the dark woods that contrast splendidly against the sky that dazzles can be a surreal experience. It is in this background that William Shakespeare sketched the plot of the satirical comedy ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. The play considered to be written by him ahead of his own wedding, inspired many musical compositions, especially owing to its lyrical narrative. The masterpiece composed by great classical musician Felix Mendelsson is worth a mention for many a bride have walked down the aisle with its piece ‘Wedding March’ being played in the background. Listen to Felix Mendelsson’s composition These hours of darkness can be equally oppressive and humid, as enjoyable on other days. Similarly our life can, at times, feel like an unending agony. Kate Chopin in ‘La Belle Zoraïde’ ponders over the complexities of her times, where she touches upon unpleasant subjects like slavery and racial prejudices. Her story deals with a young woman who falls in love with a Black man, much to the horror of her mistress, who immediately sends away the man to a foreign land to prevent a marriage. She further declares the illegitimate child born as dead to her unsuspecting mother. The miserable young woman eventually goes insane and is better thought to be dead. This heart wrenching story is also set against a Summer night. “The summer night was hot and still; not a ripple of air swept over the marais. Yonder, across Bayou St. John, lights twinkled here and there in the darkness, and in the dark sky above a few stars were blinking. A lugger that had come out of the lake was moving with slow, lazy motion down the bayou. A man in the boat was singing a song.” Christina Georgina Rossetti has used Summer as a simile to describe the feelings of outcast and friendless women, and their cold and lonely lives in ‘From Sunset to Star Rise.’ The poem is believed to have been inspired by her own work at a welfare institution set up “for the reception and reformation of penitent fallen women”:

“Go from me, summer friends, and tarry not: I am no summer friend, but wintry cold, A silly sheep benighted from the fold, A sluggard with a thorn-choked garden plot. Take counsel, sever from my lot your lot, Dwell in your pleasant places, hoard your gold; Lest you with me should shiver on the wold, Athirst and hungering on a barren spot. For I have hedged me with a thorny hedge, I live alone, I look to die alone..” Not everything about Summer is morbid and severe. One theme that comes up repeatedly is the fashion of hiring a country villa or a holiday home near the sea. Clear blue skies, endless sunbathing, water sports, long walks into the dusk, are all familiar pastimes. It naturally follows that these holidays should be full of frolic, humour and liveliness. One of the funniest accounts is of a mysterious note in ‘At a Summer Villa’ by Anton Chekhov: "I love you. You are my life, my happiness -- everything to me! Forgive the avowal, but I have not the strength to suffer and be silent. I ask not for love in return, but for sympathy. Be at the old arbour at eight o`clock this evening.... To sign my name is unnecessary I think, but do not be uneasy at my being anonymous. I am young, nice-looking... what more do you want?” Not written by a love-sick maiden to a married man, but simply a trick pulled by a woman on her husband and brother to keep them outdoors in search of the elusive admirer, so that she might have the villa to herself to clean; it makes for one of most hilarious reads. Summer vacations can also prove to be an opportune time to observe life pass by in its leisurely pace. In the ‘The Country of the Pointed Firs’, Sarah Orne Jewett writes about a nameless author who rents a room in the hot months, in a fictional town and goes on to pen a descriptive account of elderly men and women of a shipping community who have hit rough days. “After a first brief visit made two or three summers before in the course of a yachting cruise, a lover of Dunnet Landing returned to find the unchanged shores of the pointed firs, the same quaintness of the village with its elaborate conventionalities; all that mixture of remoteness, and childish certainty of being the centre of civilization of which her affectionate dreams had told.” Unfolding the various realms of life, ‘The Ugly Duckling’ by Hans Christian Andersen uses Summer to narrate a story of evolution, revelation and exultation. Its main character is drawn from the animal kingdom, but holds a message for us all. The unattractive hatchling is morose for not being “pretty” and is butt of joke and ridicule till it discovers its own beauty as it grows into white swan. Easily, one of the most popular stories of all times, it has been celebrated through songs, plays, musicals and movies. “In the midst of the sunshine there lay an old farm, with deep canals about it, and from the wall down to the water grew great burdocks, so high that little children could stand upright under the loftiest of them. It was just as wild there as in the deepest wood, and here sat a Duck upon her nest; she had to hatch her ducklings; but she was almost tired out before the little ones came; and then she so seldom had visitors. The other ducks liked better to swim about in the canals than to run up to sit down under a burdock, and cackle with her.” At a physical level, Summer, most simply, is used to depict the soaring Celsius and sweltering heat that one has to endure. One of the fieriest descriptions is offered by William Blake in ‘To Summer’: “O thou who passest thro` our valleys in Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer, Oft pitched`st here thy golden tent, and oft Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair” Finally, on a crystal clear day, Summer can be a canvas full of colour. There is cheer in the verdant gardens and full blossoms. It is a season when creepers are full of feathery leaves and fruits on trees have grown warm, sweet and juicy under the gaze of the benevolent sun. Emily Dickinson encapsulates the captivating scene about how butterflies and bees suddenly seem busy in ‘Summer Armies’. Listen to Antonio Vivaldi ‘Summer’ from Four Seasons The dreamy butterflies bestir, Lethargic pools resume the whir Of last year`s sundered tune. From some old fortress on the sun Baronial bees march, one by one, In murmuring platoon! The robins stand as thick to-day As flakes of snow stood yesterday, On fence and roof and twig. The orchis binds her feather on For her old lover, Don the Sun, Revisiting the bog!