Poems for the End of Summer

Dedicated to our friends and loved ones in Maui and throughout Hawai’i. Our hearts and spirits are with you in your time of fire.

We have not posted often this summer. Like many of you, we are living in the moment, glad for the pause that summer often provides, reveling in nature, and also, at times, mourning the destruction of our natural world at a pace almost no one saw coming. 

The question often is now: how to hold two true things equally balanced in our minds and hearts? On the one hand, there’s the ease and freedom and beauty of the world in full bloom and the long sweet days, on the other there is the ever-present sorrow of burning, flooding, the heartbroken awareness of the millions of species of plants, animals, insects who still inhabit the world with us but soon may no longer, and our knowledge of the species whose time has already passed in what we’re now calling the Anthropocene. Where are the raucous frogs? Where are the endless, undulating flocks of butterflies?

During this beautiful, difficult summer, we’ve come back again and again to the poetry of the poets we love, some of whom we have had the honor of meeting and interviewing, who address this conundrum with tenderness and clarity. Often, our favorite poets celebrate the profound intelligence of the natural world, as in this poem by Anne Waldman entitledDevotee,” dedicated to the wisdom of the Rocky Mountains: 

what to call wild use

of nature

to the human

where character

is centered

entering like a devotee,

genuflecting, vast space

what to call drama

of containment edging

unknown? tundra’s


front to the stars,

above all tree-lines

can you breathe?

Other poems that we love investigate beautiful uses of the gifts that nature gives us, as in this fragment of Diane di Prima’s beautiful poem about “Paracelsus“: 

Extract the juice which is itself a Light.

Pulp,   manna,   gentle

                    Theriasin, ergot

like mold on flame, these red leaves


                    from mesquite by the side

of dry creekbed.         Extract

the tar, the sticky



                                of things

Yet another of our favorite poet’s poems delves into nature’s fundamental indifference to the wants of human existence, reminding us that the world is our home, not our servant, and that we disrespect this at our own peril: 

The locusts’ hum, at first, was like a line of flame;

then the air burst into reds, silver-edged

and filled with mouths like snapping scissors.

They ate our wheat, blacked out the skies

until the falling bodies settled like a fog

over Great Salt Lake, the carcasses brined

to a black and growing wall. We thought

the soil here was rich. But who knew how

rare rich was, how terribly fragile, and how

temperamental we’d become

trying to sustain these plots too alkaline

to keep a crop alive. 

 — from “Soil”, by Paisley Rekdal

Of course, we also turn to poems that celebrate the way that nature generously allows us to see our own lives and loves reflected in her:

So much like sequins

the sunlight on this river.

Something like that kiss—


Fourth of July, with the moon

down early the air moved

as if it were thinking,

as if it had begun

to understand

how hard it is 

to feel at home

in the world,

but that night

she found a place

just above your shoulder

and pressed her lips


— From “Unmarked” by Tim Seibles

Or this poem, “Wild Geese,” written and narrated by that great poet of nature, Mary Oliver, which reminds us that:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Some poems observe the world with great care and precision, revealing something we might never have understood before in just this way, something that we will now observe for ourselves with new-born eyes:

After the Spring

The first hay is in and all at once

in the silent evening summer has come

knowing the place wholly the green skin

of its hidden slopes where the shadows will

never reach so far again and a few

gray hairs motionless high in the late

sunlight tell of rain before morning

and of finding the daybreak under green

water with no shadows but all still the same

still known still the known faces of summer

faces of water turning into themselves

changing without a word into themselves

— W.S. Merwin

And sometimes we rest inside poems that simply bring us back from daily distraction into the sense of indivisibility with the Now that poetry, the natural world, and meditation can mindfully bring us to, as in these poems by Jane Hirshfield:


The Earth today tilts one way, then another.

And yes, though all things change,

this night again will watch its fireflies,

then go in to a bed with sheets,

to lights, a beloved.

To running water cold and hot.

Take nothing for granted,

you who were also opulent, a stung cosmos.

Birds sang, frogs sang, their sufficient unto.

The late-night rain-bringing thunder.

And if days grew ordinarily shorter,

the dark’s mirror lengthened,

and one’s gain was not the other lessened.

 I asked to be lush, to be green.

I pressed myself to the clear glass
between wanting and world.

I wanted to be lush, tropical,
excessive. To be green.

On the glass that does not exist,
small breath-clouds rose, dissolved.

A creature of water, I found myself.
Tender, still also of air.

The dry bark of trees
sequestered its hidden rising.

I told my want: patience.
I offered my want the old promise—

a tree not wet to the touch is wet to the living.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, if you’re reading this, we invite you to take a pause in nature simply to breathe and be. And we remind you to turn to the poets and painters and artists who reflect and honor the natural world in their work, underscoring that now, in the moment, we are here, part of everything, the great whole, blessed and challenged and present.