Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Summer Elegy

Summer Elegy

Harold Witt

Leaved evening, and through the arching dark
speeding fruit trucks roar to higher gear,
hauling the heavy harvest of the year.
Summer, purple with plums and apple thick,
fallen and picked, ladder and basket
back in the black, the shard of beetle dark
where worms spin silken wombs around a spark.

There wasp-deserted mud nests hang in clumps
at A's of rafters, there small spiders wait
to split their sacs and wobble wet as lambs,
falling on feasts of weevils mothers dragged
to horror's nursery before they died
grey with weaving, shriveled thin as hags,
that pillowed, satin hatchery their pride.

Now Ovid's fabled nature always changing
changes again, as if from the waning lawn
some daughter like Proserpina were gone
to light up hellish winter with her hair,
who only sleeps and changes in her sleep,
but she will wake, a woman, from that deep,
Pluto's bloody bride, my daughter this half year.

And I have seen her under the longlived pear
playing at maturity and death
when the rainrinsed air was bee and blossom breath,
when twigs oozed beady sap, and spigot water,
spectrum after spectrum, splashed on sprigs,
have seen my son becoming what I am
while melons swelled and sweetened, sun by sun.

Cornucopia plenteous, familiar multiform
grape and apple shape, cherry, and pear
rose speckled yellow, plums' oblongs of color,
and where it cracked with ripeness, watermelon
showing a red interior flecked with black;
sucked, when they dropped, by bumblebees and wasps,
the splattered orbs of golden apricots;

vines like lives that tendriled as they crept,
circled a wire, climbed a convenient fence,
glittered abundant berries then died back
to ghosts of lives, limp pricklered impotence.
Pickers came and plucked like instruments
the lutes of harvest, music of ancient loss
in an ending wind where webs and ladders tossed.

And though I rage and shudder, rage and curse,
no truck reverses, or in tricks of trees
peaches and plums unpick from opening gloves,
no bird flies backward to unpeck the pits.
Summer is over, summer gone from the groves –
from bud to fruit and hauled through cooling nights,
and then there comes the lessening of leaves.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Summer 1959), pp. 171-172


Harold Witt (1923-1995) was the author of 13 books of poetry and a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He was the recipient of many awards, including the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America. He was best-known for his sonnets.