‘Warm Summer Sun’ by Mark Twain is a poem that expresses the process of aging and life, all the way to life’s final moments. The wording involved in this representation of life shows that the journey does come with hardships, but it is a beautiful concept. The quickness of the poem mimics, as well, the rapid speed that life can take, so underneath the wonder expressed regarding life, there is also the caution to hold to it fully since it can prove fleeting. From beginning to end, though, the beauty of life remains a grounding theme to this poem.
Warm Summer Sun Analysis
Warm summer sun,
Shine kindly here,
This pair of lines creates a beautiful image in regard to setting, even though scarce information is provided. All Twain has essentially said is that it is “[w]arm” and “summer,” and the “sun” can “[s]hine” in a “kind” manner where he exists. Since he has not wasted a single word within this collection of six, the image remains strong and clear. The reader can understand the “kind[ness]” and contentment that Twain exists in right “here,” as the brightness of the world is “[s]hin[ing]” upon him.
On a literal level, this image is beautiful, but there’s more at work within these lines by diving into a metaphoric approach. “[S]ummer,” specifically, can be seen as a representation of the high point of life’s journey where a person is young enough to experience less-hindered mobility but old enough to walk their own steps. Anything younger—an age that is too young to permit such independence—would be more akin to spring when plants are just budding. By placing the first two lines of the poem in the season following spring, Twain has referenced the significance of the after-childhood stage in life, which indicates that he considers this time the most intriguing and exhilarating—as if this is the time when a person truly experiences life at its greatest quality.
It is important to understand that Twain is connecting himself to this time of life by commenting that this “summer sun” should “[s]hine kindly here.” By that last word, “here,” Twain has indicated that for this pair of lines, he is in this specific stage of life. This will be a needed detail to consider while journeying through the rest of ‘Warm Summer Sun’.
Warm southern wind,
Blow softly here.
These two lines hold a similar format as the first two. Both sets of lines begin with the same word, “Warm,” then journey through a natural element with an adjective. For Line One, Twain references “summer sun.” In Line Three, a “southern wind” is the aspect noted. These are different elements, but still grounded in familiar and natural details—“sun” and “wind.” As well, both adjectives to describe those natural elements begin with the same “s” sound, which links these ideas in commonality. Before Line Three is over then, the reader can infer that the main idea of Lines Three and Four is similar to what was referenced in the first and second lines, but different enough to not be completely repetitive.
Line Four, since it mimics the structure of Line 2 without repeating it, reinforces this concept. Specifically, both lines begin with a verb, followed by an adverb, and end with “here.” Both mentions of “here” indicate that Twain is consistently staying with the progression of ideas, as a person would journey through stages of life.
The particular phase in the third and fourth lines is a pleasant idea, as is noted in the “softly” detail, but the shift in verb tone shows this stage is a bit harsher than the stage represented in Lines One and Two. According to Line Four, this “wind” will “[b]low,” and this verb is more confrontational than with a “sun” that “[s]hine[s].” “[W]ind,” after all, comes in gusts that can rearrange and push around, whereas a “sun” that “[s]hine[s]” simply casts its effect to the earth. This increase in tension shows that this stage of life is rougher than the one that came before it, indicating that life has brought Twain into something less easy than his earlier situation.
In both sets of lines, then, Twain has utilized natural concepts to mirror the passage of time, and this can be related to the theme of ‘Warm Summer Sun’ that is starting to grow into focus: the natural process of aging. A season was referenced as a part of the poem’s progression, and seasons express the pattern of life as plants bloom and find life in spring, change throughout the months, and fade away by winter. By grounding the poem in that seasonal concept so early—Line One—Twain dives fully into this progression.
These more recent lines have indicated the ongoing advancement of complications through the “shine” turning into “[b]low,” and this speaks to life’s progression as well. As age overtakes us, we experience less independence and capability because our bodies grow weaker. By season and action then, Twain has cemented the idea of life’s progress as the main theme and has shown aging to be a disarming process. Still, it is a pleasant experience to feel a “soft” “wind” on a “warm” day, so life is treated as refreshing and grand even with the new confrontation of facing “wind.”
Green sod above,
Lie light, lie light.
Once more, Twain has embraced natural elements to address this situation with the “[g]reen sod,” as well as “light.” The interesting thing is that there are two possible meanings for the use of “light.” This is because “lie” could have two definitions—the process of lying down, or the act of not telling the truth. If this means to “lie” down, Twain is telling the “sod” to “light[ly]” “lie” in its territory. If this means to not tell the truth, Twain asks that it be a “light lie,” or a small one. Regardless of the meaning, however, the overall notions of these two lines make it clear that they concern life’s ending moments.
In particular, the “[g]reen sod” that “lie[s]” “above” indicates Twain has placed himself underground. Assuming that “lie light” means to “lie” down, Twain is asking for his experience afterlife to be easy, one that does not cause him stress. If the “sod” is “light,” after all, it is a symbol that his time after passing will be soothing and free of too-heavy burdens. Should the “lie” mean untruth, Twain might be hinting that he is growing weary of the process of aging and is requesting that he be “lie[d] light[ly]” to in order to make the situation seem less harsh. If told a gentler concept, even if it is just a bit untrue, perhaps he would feel more comfortable with his stage in life, and maybe death would feel a bit more distant.
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, good night.
Given that there is no hesitance or regret present in these two lines, the question of which version of “lie” was intended for the previous pair of lines becomes clear. Twain does not need to be “lie[d]” to in order to make aging less harsh because he seems at peace with the idea. By process of elimination then, the reader can infer that he wishes for his afterlife to be easy as the “sod” “lie[s]” “above” him.
This idea is reinforced in that his final thought is a goodbye message to his “dear heart.” Since it is unlikely that he is referring to his literal “heart,” the reader must think deeper about what “heart” this could be. It could mean that his life is his “heart,” and everything he loves has become so much a part of him that he feels like he’s leaving behind a part of himself by passing on. Another option is that he is saying goodbye to a specific person who means so much that the same idea is at work—that this person is a part of him, his “heart.” The answer to this dilemma is not specifically noted in the work, so it remains open to interpretation.
However, this goodbye—whether from his life or a person—is so significant that he offers his parting words of “good night” three times. This mantra-like approach replicates the loss of life in itself, like the sand that falls in an hourglass. It is repetitious as grains of the sand spill through, and this almost echoing concept is mirrored in the repetitious nature of this final goodbye. This echoing quality is almost haunting, like Twain is falling into his afterlife, and his words are all that remain to resound.
Still, there is no anger or regret in his words, and Twain seems to embrace this passage with a calm and at-peace nature. Even to the end, then, Twain holds to the concept that life is worth experiencing. Overall, this is a poem that showcases the struggles of life, all while highlighting how wonderful life can truly be.
About Mark Twain
Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Mark Twain was an American writer who is potentially best known for his novel-writing through works like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Innocents Abroad. He additionally dabbled in poetry and short stories during his writing career. He was also an inventor who died at the age of 74.