The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Summer Night” is a lyric of ninety-six lines, divided equally into sixteen stanzas (a later version has only twelve). On a June evening, the poet-speaker lies on the lawn, looking at the constellation Vega and aware of the moon beginning to rise. He feels fortunate to be here: a place and time of erotic happiness and fertile friendships. He is an equal lying here each evening with his friends; enchanted, each is called forth, as flowers are drawn by light into fullness of blossom.

These are experiences that will later be recalled when the friends are separated. These evenings, when beastly emotions are tame and there is no consciousness of death, will be important to remember when emotions may be violent and times are chaotic. There is one friend among these others whom the speaker regards as his beloved; their eyes exchange affection, and each is present for the other through the passing of each day.

The second phase of the poem (stanzas 6 through 12) begins when the poet becomes aware of outside pressures threatening to destroy his happiness. He considers the larger world, that part which lies under the light of the rising moon. There, many others in all their variety are also lying at rest. The moon, however, looks down impersonally upon all objects, not discriminating between “churches and power stations,” not capable of enjoying the art that its light illuminates in the great galleries of Europe. Indeed, the moon is unable to respond to anything except gravity.

Somewhat like the moon itself, the poet and his friends look out from their island of happy contentment as if from a garden secure against the pains and...

(The entire section is 680 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The short lines, repeated rhyme scheme, and brief stanzas of “A Summer Night” are appropriate for the meditative mood of carelessness that governs this poem. Despite the brief interruption of imagining apocalyptic events, the poem is a sustained reflection upon the virtues of friendship, simplicity, and provincial tranquillity. The lyric is therefore like the ode practiced by the Roman poet Horace (65-68 b.c.e.), who sang his songs of happiness in rural retreats to his farm, where he could put great historical events into controlled perspective. Such a lyric may therefore be called a Horatian ode, with its repeated brief stanzas moving through a landscape of tranquil emotion and considered thought.

The devices employed to move the poem in this way are shifts in meter to mark changes in feeling and perspective, variations in the rhymes, and links of sound by alliteration and assonance. The first stanza, to illustrate the shifts of meter, contains two strong pauses and one weak pause before stopping with the period at the end. The first strong pause, a semicolon, occurs at the end of a line, while the second occurs in the middle of a line. The second stanza offers one strong pause and four weak pauses to balance the rhythm of the first stanza. Within the simple and uniform stanzas, thus, are shifts of feeling conveyed by shifts of rhythm.

There are subtleties of rhyming to complicate the appearance of uniformity...

(The entire section is 454 words.)