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Featured Poem: Summer Tints by John Clare

Written by Rachael Norris, 29th July 2019

This week's Featured Poem is 'Summer Tints' by John Clare, chosen by The Reader's Learning and Quality Leader, Natalie Kaas Pontoppidan.

This week’s poem 'Summer Tints' by John Clare seems just right to read during this heatwave. That being said, the descriptions threw me a bit at first, so, in true Shared Reading style, I had to read it aloud a few times in order to let the image build in my mind.

I love the idea of a wandering ‘bosom-deep in grain’. I can try to imagine what that must feel like, but I am not sure I have ever done it. I wonder what difference it makes that the ‘I’ is wandering – not walking or running? What drew she or he to the field on that particular day?

I’m really intrigued about the middle bit where it says:

‘Light tawny oat-lands with a yellow blade
and bearded corn, like armies on parade
Beans lightly scorch’d, that still preserve their green.’

What’s the feeling here? To me, it seems quite different from the sweetness and delight that are mentioned elsewhere in the poem. ‘Armies on parade’? ‘Scorch’d’? The need to preserve? I can’t help but think that this summer scene is less ‘rosy’ than what I’d normally think of myself.

Again, it makes me want to know more about the ‘I’ in the poem. Why is this place so special to her or him? When reading it with a group, I’d also be interested to hear from my group members which pictures spring to mind when they think about summer. Do they have a special summer scene? Or summer colors even?

In addition to this, there are lots of amazing adjectives to pay attention to in this poem: ‘mellowing pencil?’, ‘nodding lands’ and ‘ling’ring wind’. What do we make of these? What are we picturing here?

Nature has a face in this poem, and is sweeping, preserving, forming and mixing. It makes me think that nature appears quite human. Meanwhile, the ‘I’ is wandering and the shepherds are standing ‘delighted musing o’er the scene.’ I get the same feeling from ‘musing’ as I do from the word ‘wander’. There’s something slow and aimless about both actions – and yet they are indeed actions. I wonder how often we allow ourselves to wander or muse in this way? Perhaps this poem can inspire us to do so a bit more this summer?

Summer Tints

How sweet I've wander'd bosom-deep in grain,
When Summer's mellowing pencil sweeps his shade
Of ripening tinges o'er the checquer'd plain:
Light tawny oat-lands with a yellow blade;
And bearded corn, like armies on parade;
Beans lightly scorch'd, that still preserve their green;
And nodding lands of wheat in bleachy brown;
And streaking banks, where many a maid and clown
Contrast a sweetness to the rural scene,--
Forming the little haycocks up and down:
While o'er the face of nature softly swept
The ling'ring wind, mixing the brown and green
So sweet, that shepherds from their bowers have crept,
And stood delighted musing o'er the scene.

by John Clare

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