Enjoy The Summer Breeze With 12 Quintessentially Summer Quotes

by Min Straussman

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. This famous line from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets is just one of many examples of how poets, novelists, and writers of all stripes have used summertime in their work. Summer is often used to symbolize youth, freedom, and joy in literature. But there’s a dark side of summer too; the summer can be uncomfortably long and hot. It’s a season that is chock full of metaphor and imagery that have been mined by writers across cultures and time to talk about nature, peace, and hope, among other themes.

The following quotes from 12 authors show different ways poets, essayists, and novelists have talked about summer in their work. For some, like Mary Oliver and Ralph Waldo Emerson, the summer inspires a feeling of transcendence. For others, like poet Langston Hughes, it’s a time of melancholy quiet. As you read the quotes and learn about the language they use, take note of which ones resonate with you. What does summer feel like to you?


In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.
—John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent, 1961


It is perhaps unsurprising that John Steinbeck uses the warmth and abundance of summer as a point of contrast to the “winter of discontent” the characters in his last novel experience. Steinbeck, best known for his grim novels Of Mice and Men and East of Eden, describes how nature explodes in the summer. Typically, explode is a verb used for something that expands with force and violently. This kind of figurative language shows how quickly and remarkably summer seems to come on once it begins.


It was green, the silence; the light was moist;
the month of June trembled like a butterfly.
—Pablo Neruda, trans. Stephen Tapscott, “Sonnet XL,” 1986 [1959]


The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote about the summer in June in a way that contrasts with Steinbeck’s aggressive description of the season. In one of his love sonnets, Neruda wrote that the month “trembled like a butterfly.” The verb tremble means “to shake involuntarily with quick, short movements,” and it is associated with weakness. The simile “trembled like a butterfly” makes one think of summer as something delicate and quivering.


The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
—Amy Lowell, “Bath”, 1955


Another beautiful description of early summer comes from writer Amy Lowell in her prose-poem “Bath,” which is about, well, taking a bath. She describes the summer day as “fresh-washed and fair,” a word which here means “bright; sunny; cloudless to half-cloudy” or “fine; with no prospect of rain, snow, or hail; not stormy.” The weather itself is as fresh and clean as the narrator of the poem is in her bathtub.


In these divine pleasures permitted to me of walks in the June night under moon and stars, I can put my life as a fact before me and stand aloof from its honor and shame.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, journals, 1837-44


The 19th-century writer Ralph Waldo Emerson was deeply concerned about the relationship between the human soul and nature. In this quote, he meditates on the transcendence of a walk during a pleasant evening in June. The expression [stand] aloof means “[to be] at a distance, especially in feeling or interest; apart.” Emerson found that warm summer nights under the stars allowed him to take stock of himself from a distance.


I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
—Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day,” 1990


A contemporary American poet who wrote about summer very much in the same spirit as Ralph Waldo Emerson was Mary Oliver. In her poem “The Summer Day,” she describes a walk in nature as a form of worship. She notes that she “stroll[s] through the fields.” Stroll means “to walk leisurely as inclination directs; ramble; saunter.” The word choice here is deliberate; stroll implies that she is walking without urgency and with no particular destination in mind. It is the perfect pace at which to stop and smell the roses, in other words.


It was an early, very warm morning in July, and it had rained during the night. The bare granite steamed, the moss and crevices were drenched with moisture, and all the colors everywhere had deepened.
—Tove Jannson, trans. Thomas Teal, The Summer Book, 2012 [1972]


Swedish-speaking Finnish writer Tove Jannson is best known for her Moomin series for children. However, she wrote a handful of books for adults, including The Summer Book, about a grandmother and granddaughter vacationing on an island. In the summer, the island is beautiful and teeming with life. After a rainfall, Jannson writes “the bare granite steamed,” a verb which here means “to emit or give off steam or vapor.”


She had always thought of love as something confused and furtive, and he made it as bright and open as the summer air.
—Edith Wharton, Summer, 1917


As we saw in the quote from Shakespeare’s sonnet, summer is often a time that makes people think of love, romance, and freedom. We see elements of this in this quote from Edith Wharton’s novella Summer, which is a bit of an early 20th-century Grease or girl-on-vacation-meets-boy story. The protagonist Charity contrasts the open and free feeling she has falling in love that summer with how furtive it was typically. Furtive means “secret” or “sly; shifty.” The word furtive ultimately comes from the Latin furtum, meaning “theft.”


I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer—its dust and lowering skies.
—Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, 1970


In this quote from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, we see aspects of another side of summertime; it is hot, muggy, and the weather can create tension. The narrator takes a bite of a strawberry, a fruit that is ripest in summer, and like Proust’s madeleine (In Search of Lost Time), it sends her into a reverie about summer. However, unlike in the other examples we have seen, the summer is described negatively, as “dust and lowering skies.” Morrison uses the figurative language “to break into tightness of a strawberry” to conjure up a shattered sweetness or the cracking of something whole. It is also an indirect allusion to the loss of the narrator’s virginity or innocence.


You walk outside your studio apartment to a hot Oakland summer day, an Oakland you remember as gray, always gray. Oakland summer days from your childhood. Mornings so gray they filled the whole day with gloom and cool even when the blue broke through.
—Tommy Orange, There There, 2018


In his debut novel There There, Tommy Orange is even more direct than Morrison about the unpleasant aspects of summer weather. The word gloom has a variety of meanings. Literally, it means “total or partial darkness; dimness.” Figuratively, gloom means “a state of melancholy or depression; low spirits.” Orange is using the word in both senses of the word in this quote.


The sounds
Of the Harlem night
Drop one by one into stillness.
The last player-piano is closed.
The last victrola ceases with the
“Jazz Boy Blues.”
The last crying baby sleeps
And the night becomes
Still as a whispering heartbeat.
—Langson Hughes, “Summer Night,” 1926


The final example of a melancholy depiction of summertime we will see is from the Langson Hughes poem “Summer Night.” In the poem, the narrator is unable to sleep because of the heat and his own longing and is up late, listening to the city go to bed around him. He hears “[t]he last victrola ceases with the ‘Jazz Boy Blues.'” A victrola is “a brand of phonograph,” a device used to play vinyl records. Hughes doesn’t appear to be referencing a real song here; “Jazz Boy Blues” is more a poetic description of a certain sad boy vibe.


Adrift in the liberating, late light
of August, delicate, frivolous,
they make their way to my front porch
and flutter near the glassed-in bulb,
translucent as a thought suddenly
wondered aloud, illumining the air
that’s thick with honeysuckle and dusk.
—Jennifer O’Grady, “Moths,” 1992


In the Northern hemisphere, summer stretches from June into August. The poem “Moths” by Jennifer O’Grady focuses on the close of season, when nature is starting to wind down and prepare for autumn. It is in this context that O’Grady describes the moths around a lightbulb as frivolous, “self-indulgently carefree; unconcerned about or lacking any serious purpose.” The word frivolous comes from Latin frīvolus meaning “worthless; trifling.” Unlike the narrator of the poem, the moths aren’t worried about the coming cold.


Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer.
—Jenny Han, The Summer I Turned Pretty, 2009


There are some who spend all year looking forward to the next summer, like the narrator of Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty. She describes summer as a time when things are magical, which means “produced as if by magic” or “mysteriously enchanting.” Anyone who loves summer camp, can’t stand going to school, or who simply longs for the warmth and freedom that the summer months bring can appreciate this sentiment.

Do any of these quotes capture how you feel about summer? Perhaps for you, it is a time of freedom, love, and joy. Or, alternatively, perhaps it feels unending, hot, and oppressive. You can learn even more language to describe how you feel about summer with this list of 14 Summertime Adjectives or with our article What Does The Word “Summer” Mean? Whatever your feelings about the season, wear a hat, drink lots of water, apply sunscreen regularly, and—most importantly—pick a good summer read!

Min Straussman is a freelance writer and educator from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A frequent contributor to Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com, his work has also appeared in Hey Almabeestung, and other publications. He lives in Paris. For more by Min, read: Terms For Understanding The Diversity Of Jewish American Life | A Language Of Pride: Understand The Terms Around LGBTQ Identity |7 Meaningful Ways To Express Your Gratitude | 19 Trailblazing Quotes From Women Of Color On The Pursuit Of Suffrage | 15 Earth Day Quotes That Remind Us To Appreciate And Preserve Our World

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