“Summer is Ended”

Overview
This poem again deals with Rossetti’s transition from earthly woman to a servant of God. She struggles with her memories of being a beautiful creature on the paradise of earth and now being no more than a shadow preparing for the inevitable end and thus wishing to ensure her position in that big fluffy place amongst the clouds.

Click the tabs on the left to view each stanza.

'Summer is Ended'

To think that this meaningless thing was ever a rose
        Scentless, colorless, this!
  Will it ever be thus (who knows?)
          Thus with our bliss,
    If we wait till the close? 

Though we care not to wait for the end, there comes the end
        Sooner, later, at last,
  Which nothing can mar, nothing mend:
          An end locked fast,
    Bent we cannot re-bend.

Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.

ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

I struggled finding out when this one was written, but it was published in 1881 in her collection ‘A Pageant and Other Poems’. This came out when she was 51. The ideas about the inevitability of death and the end of earthly joy or opportunity probably reflect her age and the death and illness in her family: her sister died in 1876, Dante was struggling with mental health and addiction in the 1870s and her mother was to die in 1886 so was presumably on her last legs.

 Themes

I’d say that the temporary nature of life is being explored here in a pessimistic tone that suggests that we should be focusing our energies on salvation and ensuring we get our spot.

 Content

A nice little short one, but with some complex ideas to deal with.

Okay, so the first line is probably the most difficult. Rossetti reflects on what is now unimportant and uninteresting, but was once a rose. This rose represents her past and has associations with passion, romance, fertility and beauty. However, her imagery allows the rose to decay so it loses its elegance and perfume. This indicates the temporary nature of earthly fulfilment or romantic affiliation. There is also a clear link to the title – if summer is over then all the positive connotations I mentioned above are also over.

She continues by wondering whether this is going to be the case forever. She questions whether the rest of her living life with be this faded and ‘meaningless’ thing with no more ‘bliss’. There is a temptation to suggest that Rossetti has contemplated suicide here, which I will explore in the Language and Techniques sections.

The second stanza is focused on death and its inevitability. Various images/ideas are presented to show how unavoidable this is to emphasises where Rossetti’s mind is stuck and create quite a miserable impression of her perception of her life.

 Language and techniques

Well, the first thing that you’ve got to deal with is the metaphor of the rose. This is not a one dimensional task as you have to talk about the connotations of the rose, which I’ve explored above, but also of her current state where the rose has faded. She describes the rose as now being ‘scentless, colorless’ which implies that it is no longer well regarded or special – it has lost the beauty or fertility of its peak and is now discarded. As the rose represents Rossetti we are again confronted with her lack of self worth. She describes herself/the rose as now being a ‘meaningless thing’ – this should make you think she considers herself unimportant, without value and no longer of interest to anyone in the earthly sphere.

In addition, notice how she ends the second line with ‘this!’ It is almost as if she cannot bare contemplating herself and what she has become – she is so useless that she does not deserve a name or image but instead is simply referred to as a ‘thing’ or ‘this’. The exclamation mark indicates that she is almost spitting with self-derision at her transformation.

Next – the rhetorical questions. These convey a state of doubt and hope for some change. She desperately wants some return to her former state of ‘bliss’, but is questioning whether her state of life as described before (‘scentless, colorless’) is destined to last until the end.

The major thing to comment on in the second stanza is the use of repetition to emphasises death’s inevitability. In the first line ‘end’ is repeated twice (a third time in the fourth line) even though we don’t ‘care’ for it, it is an unavoidable. Even the second line, although not actual repetition, is a repetitive use of prepositions relating to time: ‘Sooner, later, at last’. This again emphasises that however far off it may be, it is there, waiting and not to be missed by any of us. The fact that ‘nothing can mar, nothing can mend’ once again reinforces this immutable truth of existence. So much repetition almost makes the poetic voice seem like she is obsessed and stuck on this idea.

One of the pieces of analysis I read also suggested that the imagery of the lock – ‘locked fast’ – could be a biblical allusion to the fact that relates to the secrets of heaven that are unlocked once you achieve salvation. I’m not convinced about this and think it is more obviously a reinforcement of the inevitability as there is no changing it, it is impossible to get out or away from. This again is repeated in the final line which talks about the final bend (imagine a pole with a bend at the top signalling its end), but can’t ‘re-bend’ meaning, again, we can’t avoid death and can’t revisit the joys or ‘bliss’ of youth.

 Structure

I’ve not got a huge amount to say about this and probably should have saved that comment about repetition to fill this box.

One thing I would explore is the use of punctuation in the first stanza. The use of an exclamation mark when describing her current life demonstrates the strength of her dissatisfaction  and bitterness at the fact that the there is no return to ‘summer’ or ‘bliss’ and her miserable journey to the grave is all she has to look forward to.

 Tone

Very gloomy and bitter. She is not at all pleased about her distance from from these happy memories of youth and earthly enjoyment. However, there is also a hint of a preaching tone as she is trying to tell us all to make sure we address the certainty of death, presumably by making sure we live moral lives.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

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