Posted by: John Looker | 21 June, 2018

Midsummer’s Night, a User’s Guide

A poem for the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere:

Listen: perhaps we’ll hear

the cold, pewter-coloured sea,
slapping on a Danish shore.

It’s late. The light is dying
slowly – imperceptibly –
and now the eye picks out

along the coast,
across the many fields,
the presence of bonfires, banishing primal fears.

Each one is ringed by ancient silhouettes,
tankards raised, singing as the pale sun sets.

Summer has crept to its own high-tide limit
where it lingers for weeks
before finally – stealthily –

ebbing away. Why do we note
this day rather than others,
all so hard to distinguish?

Turning our backs against the night,
draining our mead, we master

the things that we can.

© John Looker 2018 & 2010

First published in 2010, this is a poem that still means something to me.


  1. I love the way a key image stealthily (!) emerges, not the sound of the sea but the sound of human singing. The song is ancient, part of the landscape so faithfully rendered. And the song includes these fine verses.
    Heather Maring in Signs that Sing opens up Old English poetry in its hybrid textures. This poem reminds me of what she says.


    • I had to look up Heather Maring, because her name was new to me – in the light of that, I’m rather pleased that this poem reminded you of what she says. Also Tom, I very much like your hint at the significance of song to humankind, not only in the simple sense of singing but as a metaphor for something much deeper and wider. Thank you for commenting.


  2. ah yes – and things we cannot master haunt us even more than the draining of the light. A very evocative poem, John, I like it.


    • I agree on that Kalila – and thank you so much.


  3. Quite different – but rivals Tennyson in its elegiac-icity. Beautiful…


  4. You go into a place where the arrow of time blurs, John. I love what Tom D’Evelyn says. I never can seem to get his website to work properly for some reason, but he is really a talented man and poet. In your poem the ancient song, coming out of the existence of the summer solstice, comforting as bonfires burn and ancient voices sing and ale tankards are lifted to the sky, merging with the landscape, there is a sense of all-humanity living in all-time, all of us together in the movement through a day,
    Why do we note
    this day rather than others,
    all so hard to distinguish?,
    that stands against the night–the night of our mortality, the passage of time, the physical night that we will live in after the day is gone.

    What make this so interesting is that it is inherently mystical, but also eminently practical,
    we master

    the things that we can

    even though, in the end, we

    the cold, pewter-coloured sea,
    slapping on a Danish shore.

    as time blurs and humanity is fused into a single, powerful image of ancient Vikings,
    tankards raised, singing as the pale sun sets.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “All humanity living in all-time” as you put it, and you express it exactly as always Tom. Thanks once again for your careful reading and appreciative remarks! All the best, John

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes, John, it means something to everyone. I saw a photo yesterday of Stonehenge, taken at 5am, and it was like Piccadilly Circus in rush hour! That’s how much it means.


  6. Thanks Tom! I too saw that photo or one like it, so I think you must be right.


  7. I’m awed and wordless. Great poem with depth!


    • Hi Jane – thank you, you are most kind. Best wishes, J


  8. Terrific poem, John, the way Midsummer’s Night becomes a portal through which we may sing along with the ancients in defiance of the dark.

    You share the historical novelist’s gift for placing us on the spot with a mindset of the times…

    My very best,



    • That’s very good of you Paul; thank you! — All the best, John


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