Home  »  The World’s Best Poetry  »  Summer Storm

Bliss Carman, et al., eds. The World’s Best Poetry. 1904.

III. The Seasons

Summer Storm

James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

UNTREMULOUS in the river clear,

Toward the sky’s image, hangs the imaged bridge;

So still the air that I can hear

The slender clarion of the unseen midge;

Out of the stillness, with a gathering creep,

Like rising wind in leaves, which now decreases,

Now lulls, now swells, and all the while increases,

The huddling trample of a drove of sheep

Tilts the loose planks, and then as gradually ceases

In dust on the other side; life’s emblem deep,

A confused noise between two silences,

Finding at last in dust precarious peace.

On the wide marsh the purple-blossomed grasses

Soak up the sunshine; sleeps the brimming tide,

Save when the wedge-shaped wake in silence passes

Of some slow water-rat, whose sinuous glide

Wavers the long green sedge’s shade from side to side;

But up the west, like a rock-shivered surge,

Climbs a great cloud edged with sun-whitened spray;

Huge whirls of foam boil toppling o’er its verge,

And falling still it seems, and yet it climbs alway.

Suddenly all the sky is hid

As with the shutting of a lid,

One by one great drops are falling

Doubtful and slow;

Down the pane they are crookedly crawling,

And the wind breathes low;

Slowly the circles widen on the river,

Widen and mingle, one and all;

Here and there the slenderer flowers shiver,

Struck by an icy rain-drop’s fall.

Now on the hills I hear the thunder mutter,

The wind is gathering in the west;

The upturned leaves first whiten and flutter,

Then droop to a fitful rest;

Up from the stream with sluggish flap

Struggles the gull and floats away;

Nearer and nearer rolls the thunder-clap,—

We shall not see the sun go down to-day:

Now leaps the wind on the sleepy marsh,

And tramples the grass with terrified feet,

The startled river turns leaden and harsh,

You can hear the quick heart of the tempest beat.

Look! look! that livid flash!

And instantly follows the rattling thunder,

As if some cloud-crag, split asunder,

Fell, splintering with a ruinous crash,

On the Earth, which crouches in silence under;

And now a solid gray wall of rain

Shuts off the landscape, mile by mile;

For a breath’s space I see the blue wood again,

And, ere the next heart-beat, the wind-hurled pile,

That seemed but now a league aloof,

Bursts crackling o’er the sun-parched roof;

Against the windows the storm comes dashing,

Through tattered foliage the hail tears crashing,

The blue lightning flashes,

The rapid hail clashes,

The white waves are tumbling,

And, in one baffled roar,

Like the toothless sea mumbling

A rock-bristled shore,

The thunder is rumbling

And crashing and crumbling,—

Will silence return nevermore?

Hush! Still as death,

The tempest holds his breath

As from a sudden will;

The rain stops short, but from the eaves

You see it drop, and hear it from the leaves,

All is so bodingly still;

Again, now, now, again

Plashes the rain in heavy gouts,

The crinkled lightning

Seems ever brightening,

And loud and long

Again the thunder shouts

His battle-song,—

One quivering flash,

One wildering crash,

Followed by silence dead and dull,

As if the cloud, let go,

Leapt bodily below

To whelm the earth in one mad overthrow,

And then a total lull.

Gone, gone, so soon!

No more my half-crazed fancy there

Can shape a giant in the air,

No more I see his streaming hair,

The writhing portent of his form;—

The pale and quiet moon

Makes her calm forehead bare,

And the last fragments of the storm,

Like shattered rigging from a fight at sea,

Silent and few, are drifting over me.