In this memorable poem by James K. Baxter, readers will explore a speaker’s memories of a particular summer and a relationship he experienced then.
‘Summer 1967’ is a complicated poem that allows the poet, or at least the persona he created for this poem, to look back on a series of memories from his youth. Throughout this poem, readers will likely get stuck on certain images and allusions. Many of these images are tied to emotions and often make more sense when considering the piece as a whole and what kind of experiences this speaker is trying to come to terms with or relay.
Explore Summer 1967
Summary of Summer 1967
In the first lines of ‘Summer 1967,’ the speaker talks about the young and the dead. The latter, he states, controls the former. This suggests that old habits, perspectives, and expectations still exist in the young. Even when grandmothers are dead, they still control the limbs of their granddaughters. He goes on, bringing in images of the beach, a bar, and alluding to a relationship that changed him and that he can’t block out with any combination of drugs. This was all back in 1967, but whenever the speaker was considering these words, it’s clear he still mostly felt the same. This was an important period of time in his life that he puts down on paper with seemingly disparate images and allusions.
You can read the full poem here.
Themes in Summer 1967
In ‘Summer 1967,’ Baxter engages with themes of the past and experiences. He looks back on this time in his life, or just his speaker’s life, and tries to explore what it was like for him. Using allusions and strange images, he paints a disjointed picture of a dissatisfied man who saw through young girls to those who control them, and past the bar, his relationships, and finally got stuck on one person. This person, someone it seems he had a romantic relationship with, isn’t truly mentioned until the last line of the poem. But, when rereading it, it’s obvious that their influence had more of an impact on the previous understanding of experiences.
Structure and Form of Summer 1967
‘Summer 1967’ by James K. Baxter is a twenty-five line poem that is contained within one stanza of fragmented text. At first glance at the original poem, it’s clear that Baxter was interested in manipulating the traditional, even-stanza structure of the verse. There are three instances when the first line of a new phrase starts indented much farther than is common. This forces the reader’s eye across the page to where the line begins.
Baxter chose not to use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern in ‘Summer 1967.’ This means that the poem is written in free verse. Despite this, close readers will be able to find several examples of half-rhyme. For instance, “Dead” and “wind” at the ends of lines seven and eight.
Literary Devices in Summer 1967
Baxter makes use of several literary devices in ‘Summer 1967.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and imagery. The first of these, alliteration, is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “way” and ‘winds” in lines nine and ten, as well as “girls” and “green” in line one.
Enjambment is a formal device that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines five and six as well as eight and nine.
Imagery is also present in this poem. It occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting or evocative descriptions. For example, “But on the beaches, under the clean wind / That blows this way from the mountains of Peru, / Drunk with the wind and the silence.”
Analysis of Summer 1967
Summer brings out the girls in their green dresses
Whom the foolish might compare to daffodils,
Or that a silver torque was woven out of
The roots of wet speargrass.
In the first lines of ‘Summer 1967,’ the speaker begins by describing summer, “girls,” and presenting readers with some interesting images involving those same girls’ grandmothers. He describes them stepping out into the summer weather wearing green dresses, usually a symbol of life and growth, which are compared, the thinks foolishly, to “daffodils.” Instead of daffodils, he sees something else. He sees that a “dead grandmother” is controlling each of these girls. They govern their limbs and use their lips to speak.This is a strange image, one that suggests that there is a deeper history in these women than one might initially think.
The young are mastered by the Dead,
Lacking cunning. But on the beaches, under the clean wind
That blows this way from the mountains of Peru,
Drunk with the wind and the silence, not moving an inch
As the surf-swimmers mount on yoked waves,
In the next lines, the speaker goes on, reemphasizing his point about the power the dead have. They are “mastered by the Dead,” he says. The following lines take the reader to the beach. There, the speaker presents a different kind of image, one that’s meant to contrast with this image of the dead controlling the living. People can “shake with laughter” and “become oneself a metal Neptune.”
Neptune is an obvious reference to the Roman god of freshwater and the sea. He’s called Poseidon in Greek mythology. Readers are left to consider what exactly it means to become a “metal Neptune.” Perhaps the poet was thinking about someone feeling as though they are god-like but not actually achieving that status, becoming more of a statue instead. Or, maybe he’s thinking more about having the powers but being stymied by another integral feature of one’s life, being metal and immovable.
To want nothing is
The only possible freedom. But I prefer to think of
An afternoon spent drinking rum and cloves
In a little bar, just after the rain had started, in another time
In the following lines, the speaker makes a clear statement, one that, since its situation right in the center of the poem, should be taken as one of the major themes of the piece. He states that to “want nothing is / The only possible freedom.” It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to “want nothing,” but the speaker seems to have some concept of it. He knows enough about the idea to “prefer” thinking about afternoons spent drinking, just after the rain had started, in another time. That was he adds, before “we began to die.” It’s not clear who he means by “we.” It could be one person, or it could be a reference to a larger group, even all of humanity.
He continues his memory. Remembering boredom on his tongue and the lights coming on, ruining whatever facade might’ve existed. He doesn’t remember who was there or why exactly they were there, to begin with. The simple line “I forget” dismisses all of this.
Where can we find the right
Herbs, drinks, bandages to cover
The day that Aphrodite touched her mouth to ours.
It’s important at this point to look back and consider the title. The speaker is thinking about a particular summer in his life, the one of 1967. He was a younger man then. If readers consider the poet to be the speaker and looking back on that time now, he can analyze the atmosphere and his experience with a different state of mind.
He asks a question in these last lines, wondering where he could find the right mixture to soothe his wounds. They’re lifelong and “intolerable.” This pain, perhaps an emotional one related to the person he’s directing these words towards, won’t leave him. He’d like to find “Herbs of oblivion” to block his memories and pain out, but whatever drugs he used to use don’t work anymore. Ever since “Aphrodite touched her mouth to ours.” With this final line, it seems more likely that the speaker is talking to and about someone he loved. Aphrodite, known as the goddess of love, brought these two people together and changed their lives.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Summer 1967’ should also consider reading some other related poems. For example:
- ‘Waterfalls’ by Vernon Watkins – an elegy in which the speaker discusses childhood memories with intense nostalgia.
- ‘My Lost Youth’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – meditates on the poet’s youth and how he feels separate from that period of time now.
- ‘Marking Time’ by Owen Sheers – is another poem focused on memory. This one features a carpet burn and a sexual relationship.