What is So Rare As a Day in June?

AND what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;

Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;

Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;

Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;

The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;

The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there’s never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature’s palace;

The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o’errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;

His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;

He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;

Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;

No matter how barren the past may have been,
‘Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;

We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;

We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;

The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;

And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;

We could guess it all by yon heifer’s lowing,
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,

Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!

Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;

Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;

‘Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,
‘Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?

In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;

The soul partakes the season’s youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep ‘neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.

James Russell Lowell, age 29, 1848

James Russell Lowell (1819 – 1891) was an American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside Poets who used conventional forms and meters in their poetry, making them suitable for families entertaining at their fireside. [before radio, TV or Facebook]

Lowell was admittedly depressed and often had suicidal thoughts. He once confided to a friend that he held a cocked pistol to his forehead and considered killing himself at the age of 20.

He gained notoriety in 1848 with the publication of A Fable for Critics, a book-length poem satirizing contemporary critics and poets. Lowell became editor of The Atlantic Monthly. And served as ambassador to Spain and, later, to England.

Lowell believed that the poet played an important role as a prophet and critic of society. He used poetry for reform, particularly in abolitionism.. Lowell attempted to emulate the true Yankee accent in the dialogue of his characters, particularly in The Biglow Papers. This depiction of the dialect, as well as Lowell’s many satires, were an inspiration to writers like Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken.

Dedicated to Mr Landrigan, my English teacher at Boston Latin School who for years regaled his classes with a recitation of this poem from memory on the first of June.  A tradition I now humbly continue.

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