Skip to main content

Can't it stay summer forever?

By Jay Parini, Special to CNN
updated 10:33 PM EDT, Sun September 1, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • As Labor Day arrives Jay Parini can't help but wish summer weren't ending
  • Parini: What is so wonderful about summer and makes us regret its passing?
  • He says it's not for nothing that we associate summer with childhood play
  • Parini: The summer garden, like Eden, makes us feel that life is full of hope and possibilities

Editor's note: Jay Parini, a professor at Middlebury College, is a poet and novelist. His latest book is "Jesus: The Human Face of God," due out in December.

(CNN) -- I've never liked the end of summer, with the days already growing shorter, with a handful of trees (in Vermont, where I live) beginning to turn red, with my stomach fluttering as I begin to think about the busyness and complications of the fall.

Ever since I was a little boy, I've thought to myself: Can't it stay summer forever?

So what is it, exactly, that seems so wonderful about summer, and makes us so terribly regret its passing?

Jay Parini
Jay Parini

In a climate where four seasons are sharply distinct, it's mostly about the long and lazy days when you can get up early, sit under a tree with a mug of coffee to watch the sun rise, or wander into the garden in bare feet. It's about warm and green-leaved surroundings, and the aura of infinite time. This timelessness may be, of course, an illusion, but there's no doubt that the pressures of everyday life, in summer, seem less pressing.

Even the night takes on a special quality in summer, with the crickets playing on their little musical instruments underneath the bedroom window as breezes push through the screens, offering a form of natural air conditioning. I've even noticed that in summer dreams seem especially vivid, as if the membrane between sleeping and waking were somehow permeable.

It's not for nothing that we associate summer with childhood, as most children like nothing better than the last minute of the last day of the school year, when the bell rings and they are set free for two or three months, to run wild in the neighborhood, ride bikes, swim, play games. None of that boring stuff, such as reading and writing and arithmetic.

Long after our lives are governed by school bells and academic calendars, there is still a feeling of relief when the cold and slantwise rains of spring stop, when we can sit on the steps outside and feel the sun on our faces. In June, the summer stretches before us, tantalizing, full of possibilities. We somehow believe it will continue forever as we walk beside dusty country roads, seeing the corn "knee high at the Fourth of July."

But the corn grows tall, ripening as the days shorten. August arrives too soon, and time rushes to the brink of autumn -- what Robert Frost in his memorable poem called "The Ovenbird" refers to as that "other fall we name the fall." Is this the Fall of Man that he alludes to in this ominous way? Frost tells us that the bird frames for us the essential question that everyone faces at the end of summer: "What to make of a diminished thing?"

Our summer garden, like Eden, can't stay put. It's impossible to sustain the idleness, the hopefulness, the sense of endless options that summer affords, however briefly. We begin to hear the waterfall in the distance as the stream quickens, gliding over the rocks. Too easily we imagine the dying leaves of autumn, the icy winds, a feeling that once again we have entered the stream of life in a big way. Responsibilities begin to weigh.

On the other hand, we also like the fall, don't we? There's a quickening of life as we gather our wits and launch again into life, full tilt. The pleasures of autumn, even its melancholy overtones, have also attracted a fair share of poets. But summer is summer, and it's not easily replaced.

As Labor Day arrives, with its last gasp of summery pleasures -- picnics and boat rides, family reunions, a table groaning with the best that gardens can offer -- I can't help but wish we were at the beginning, not the end, of this loveliest of seasons. I wish it were May, and that we could all join voices with the anonymous medieval English poet, who famously wrote: "Summer is a-coming in! / Loud sing, cuckoo!"

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jay Parini.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:11 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT