A Summer's Day
August 17, 2023
Popular song writers will, on occasion, dub into their lyrics references to summer.
In 1970, Mungo Jerry sang, "In the summertime, when the weather is high, you can stretch right up and touch the sky." In 1972, Bobby Vinton sang, "Yes, it's going to be a long, lonely summer." In 1973, Terry Jacks sang about enjoying his "Seasons in the Sun."
In 1977, in the film Grease, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John sang a back-and- forth duet about their "summer days drifting away, to summer nights."
Then, in 2002, Sheryl Crow declared, "I'm going to soak up the sun."
Including references to summer in a song is not a recent innovation. William Shakespeare began his most well-known sonnet, number 18, with familiar words, "Shall I compare thee to a summer day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate."
He asks a question and then says that the object of his love is "more lovely" and "more temperate" than is a summer day. What is wrong with a summer day?
Shakespeare points out the obvious in the next six lines: that winds can blow in May, that the sun can bear down too hot, that clouds can overshadow the sun, and that "summer's lease" is over too quickly.
A summer day is not always "lovely" and "temperate," and it ends too soon.
Then, in line 9, the poet changes course and focuses upon the object of his love, that nameless person to whom he is writing the sonnet. He writes,
"But thy eternal summer shall not fade." Then, in a couplet, the final two lines of a sonnet, Shakespeare insists "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see; So long lives this, and this gives life to thee." By the word "this," the poet means the sonnet itself.
Once written, a sonnet may live forever. Like a snapshot, it captures in an instant a youth full of life, swept up in a series of blissful summer days. But if this sonnet lives, then it will give an "eternal summer" to that nameless person whom the poet adores.
Structure of a sonnet is rigid.
A poet lays down fourteen lines. He or she rhymes lines one and two, "day and May," as he or she does in lines two and four, "temperate and date." This pattern of a rhyme at the end of every other line he or she follows throughout the first twelve lines.
Then, he or she rhymes the last two lines, the couplet, "see and thee."
A poet writes a sonnet using iambic feet or meters, where each foot or each meter contains two syllables, the first unstressed and the second stressed, like a heartbeat. "So long / as men / can breathe / or eyes / can see."
Note that in a sonnet, a poet will lay down in each line five of these two alternating stressed and unstressed syllables, creating a pentameter composed of ten syllables, five beats per line. Each sonnet contains 70 beats in total, no more, no less.
Iambic pentameter is the code that the best English poets used with great skill.
Erik Didriksen is a software engineer who lives in Astoria, New York. For a hobby, he takes lyrics of popular songs and converts them into sonnets, using iambic pentameter. He wrote a book, Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs.
For example, Taylor Swift's song, "Shake It Off," Erik ends with a couplet, "O gentleman well-coiffed! I thee entreat / to hither come and dance to this sick beat."
For the Spice Girls' song, "Wannabe," Erik ends with a couplet, "I've told thee what I want, what I've desir'd; / thou want'st a spicy lass, 'tis what's requir'd."
Erik says, "I really love the form of Shakespearean sonnets. Everything from length to word choice is dictated by its requirements."
I will end with Shakespeare's different thought on summer and sun and youth, in verse other than iambic pentameter. "Fear no more the heat o' the sun, nor the furious winter's rages; Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust."