Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In “Summer Night,” Harjo talks of loneliness and anticipation in such a way that the reader is lulled into this sadness by the sleepy rhythms and sprawled lines that propel attention into the middle of the poem and, metaphorically, into the speaker’s darkest, most secret private places. It is in the middle of the poem that the speaker confesses her loneliness. Because she says that this waiting “happens all the time, waiting for you/ to come home,” she reveals that the loneliness is deep and of long duration. This mood of waiting and watchfulness is intensified by the placement of line 16 (“to come home”) on a separate line far to the right of the page.

Harjo calls the narrator’s loneliness an “ache” that starts in a blues song. By mentioning this particular type of music, Harjo enables the reader to draw on all the associations that contribute to the power of the blues. Traditional blues is itself a cry for a lost love, a plea for a lover’s return, a lament for ill treatment; “Summer Night” is Harjo’s blues. In her essay from I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Writers (1987), Harjo says that she wanted “to sustain a blues mood, pay homage to the blues” and that she hears “the sound of a sensuous tenor saxophone beneath the whole poem.” Thus, the theme of loneliness is reinforced and its poignancy heightened by the one-time mention of blues in line 18. The poem is a lament, the blues; it...

(The entire section is 503 words.)