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In My Own words

Frostís Depiction when Frost No Longer has Dictation

Katherine Au
MSM English Major - 1998

(June, 2010)

For once, then, Something By Robert Frost

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs,
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing,
Deeper down in the well than where the water,
Gives me back in a shining surface picture,
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike,
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.

Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths Ė and then I lost it.

Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

Summer is the time when we tend to move a little slower, look a little deeper, be more productive. Perhaps it is that there is more natural light to work by, or that it is the time to harvest much of the foods we eat, or perhaps itís just that the heat and humidity sometimes slows us down. We may not even be conscious of what is happening, but when we slow down, we have time to think, to reflect. With Frost, we can "look into the well"; we can see something that is deeper down.

June is the mark of the beginning of Summer, June 21st , to be specific. That is the date of Summer Solstice. It is the day of the year that has the most sunlight, the day of the year that we call the longest. It is a date that oftentimes marks a day of weddings, celebrations, festivals. It is the day when we can all breathe a sigh of relief that summer has officially begun. Symbolically, the date suggests we value light over darkness, warmth over the cold. We turn to the sun as the source of light, the source of warmth, the source of life.

Robert Frost talks about never seeing deeper in the well than beyond the surface. Maybe itís that the light fades too quickly in spring and is shortest in winter. Maybe itís that it seems in summer we can take a breath and find the time to look deeper, delve into more meaningful tasks. Summer is typically the time of vacations for many, and some could say thatís a time of frivolity, but I could argue it actually is a time of meaning. We bond with our families, we rejuvenate ourselves, we take time for ourselves to do what has the most meaning to us in order to recharge our spirits. June 21st marks the beginning of that time.

The Summer Solstice occurs exactly when the Earthís axial tilt is closest to the sun, thus making that day the longest of the year. It is the day with the longest lapse of time between sunrise and sunset. It is the mark of Summer. It is the start of Summer. For some it has been commonly held as the recognition of the signs of fertility which involve festivities, holidays, gatherings, rituals, or celebrations commemorating its start. Beyond recorded time, we find evidence that the solstice occurrence had special significance. For example, the Stonehenge monolithic structure in England was constructed with an awareness of the length of the sunís rays.

The term "solstice" comes from the Latin words of "sun" and "to stand still" and that is the whole of what the day both symbolizes and actualizes. In the Northern Hemisphere the day in June is the longest day of the year. (In the Southern Hemisphere, the yearís longest day is in December, but the significance is the same.)

Some cultures have just called it Summer Solstice or Midsummer (although it is actually the beginning of Summer); other cultures have called it by other names. For instance, the Chinese marked the date by honoring the Chinese Goddess of Light, Li. The Druids marked the day as the Ďwedding of Heaven and Earth,í thus marking it as the lucky wedding day in June Ė a day that one of my cousins chose as his wedding day several years ago; they are still very much in love and happily married, so it seems to have been a good choice of wedding days for them.

In short, the summer solstice means many things to many people, both now and throughout time. Much of that meaning is perhaps lost to us unless we become more conscious, more reflective. The reality of our lives is that life is cyclical; we live our lives from season to season, and each season comes to us with symbolic meaning if we, like Frost, look deeper. Frost tells us that we often have "knelt at well-curbs / Always wrong to the light, so never seeing / Deeper down in the well. . ." Unless we look deeper and from a different perspective, we only see a reflection of ourselves, a reflection of what is on the surface, a reflection of what we have already seen, what we already know. It is when we change our perspective, when we look again from a different and more open mind, that we see something we had not thought was there. That is when we see "for once, then, something." We see "more of the depths." The deeper we look, the more meaning we find. The more meaning we find, the more our lives become enriched.

The summer solstice reminds us to slow down, to look deeper. But it also reminds us that time is fleeting, that in the seasons of the year we move toward the lengthening sun but then just as quickly move away from it. The longest day of the year lasts but one day. The earthís axial move has been moving to that point since December 22; once it arrives, the axial move then begins on June 22 to return toward earthís shortest day on December 21.

For me, June and its Summer Solstice mark when I know I will see fireflies again. Iíve begun to see one or two early risers peeping out here and there at night, but I know I will see multitudes by the end of the month. For their brief time here each Summer they delight me Ė lighting up like no other bug. Itís as if the grass becomes lit with dew drops each night; even on nights when there is no moon or only clouds overhead, they still light. They come and shine and light up the evening ground for their brief time each summer, but almost as quickly as they come, they depart. And with their departure, we witness the transition of summer fading sometime soon into the fall, another movement in the cycles of our lives. Robert Frost also tells us of the fireflies:

Fireflies in the Garden - By Robert Frost

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they canít sustain the part.

Frost knows, as do we, that fireflies "canít sustain the part"; they are not, nor can they be, the stars in the skies because "they were never really stars at heart." What the fireflies do for us, however, is to give us yet another example of seasonal joy, a joy that is a part of summer. That particular joy will not stay, but that makes it all the more important to enjoy it when it lights up our world.

I am reminded of the opening lines of The Byrds classic song (with credit to Ecclesiastes): "To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." The summer solstice marks one of those important seasons--may we all live it, appreciate it, enjoy it.

Read other articles by Katherine R. Au