Study Guide

The Summer I Was Sixteen

by Geraldine Connolly

The Summer I Was Sixteen Summary

Summary and Analysis

“The Summer I Was Sixteen,” by the American poet Geraldine Connolly, can be read as a work designed to present a “slice of life”—an actual experience to which many other people can relate. Most adult readers will have pleasant memories of their earlier years, and young people in their teens can particularly feel the relevance of Connolly’s poem to their own lives. The poem seems designed to re-create some real events and experiences as vividly as possible. It tries to retrieve them from the past and make them “present” once again.

Part of the effectiveness of Connolly’s poem lies in its vivid imagery and evocative sound effects. In line 1, for instance, the image of the “turquoise pool” evokes the pleasures of swimming in clean, clear water in an environment specifically designed for human comfort. (Swimming in a muddy pond or river, for example, would have significantly different connotations.) Meanwhile, the juxtaposition of “slide” and “silver” (2) uses two consonants (s and l) to create a sense of smooth movement that seems appropriate to the action being described, and the juxtaposition of two heavily accented syllables in line 3 (“plunged” and “scream”) gives that line unusual weight that is emphasized by the absence of punctuation at the end of line 2 (a technique known as “enjambment”). Finally, the fact that line 4 consists of a single, short sentence and that it ends with the crucial word “boy” gives both the line and the word unusual force. This brief, one-line sentence, after all, follows a much longer sentence consisting of three lines. It thus achieves a forceful impact.

The fact that the poem is written in the past tense, along with its use of such sophisticated phrasing as “a silver afterthought” (2), immediately implies that the speaker is now at a point in her life different from the earlier phase so memorably described in the poem. In other words, this is a poem designed to create a sense of immediacy while also keeping some distance from the experience it depicts. We quickly sense that the speaker is looking back on her youth with a mixture of both pleasure and irony. The reference to “the gaze of the boy” (4), for instance, carries some real ironic force: surely the speaker is gently mocking her earlier self for being so concerned with a boy’s gaze. Presumably such gazes no...

(The entire section is 984 words.)