‘September Midnight’ by Sara Teasdale is a four stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains follows a similar pattern of meter and beats per line. The poem is written without a rhyme scheme, but it remains unified due to the line lengths and lyrical imagery.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she is observing the late night of an “Indian Summer.” The heat of the season has lasted longer than is normal, but she knows that it will soon come to an end. The first two stanzas are filled with her description of the sights and sounds around her. She can hear singing, not from birds, but from insects. She mentions the far off grasshopper and locust that is “insistent” in their “chant[ing]” and “grinding.”
In the second half of the poem, she begins to admit to herself that there are not many more nights left before winter comes and silences the world. With this in mind, she asks that she be allowed to remember every element of midnight in September and be blessed by the night itself. She will stare out at the darkness as if she is attempting to memorize the face of someone she loves before they depart and are forgotten.
Analysis of September Midnight
Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
The speaker begins ‘September Midnight’ by describing the time of year in which she is existing. The summer has lasted longer into the year that the speaker is used to. She refers to these weeks of added heat as an “Indian Summer,” a phrase commonly used to refer to a summer that is unusually hot and dry.
It does not appear that the speaker is unhappy about the weather, she refers to it as “lingering” and she is awake during one “Lyric night” in its midst. The night is spoken of as being lyrical, due to the imagery that surrounds the speaker. As she casts her eyes about her she can see “Shadowy fields” that are full of, and missing, elements she has become accustomed to. There is a distinct lack of scent from the land, but this is more than made up for by the “singing” that she can hear. One will immediately assume she is speaking of birds, but this is not the case. It is insects that she hears.
They speak in a “passionless chant,” and there appears to be no reason for their singing, but they cannot stop. The bugs are “Ceaseless” and forever “insistent” in their song.
The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
Tired with summer.
The second stanza continues where the first left off and the speaker further describes the insects she can hear all around her. First, she speaks of the “grasshopper” and the sound of it’s “horn.” It seems to be “far-off,” and distant from where the speaker is listening. She thinks perhaps it is “high in the maple” trees.
Additionally, she can hear the “grinding” of the locust. Its sound is insistent and perpetual. It does not appear to be in any sort of rush, just like summer. There is not an end in sight, yet.
In the final lines of this section, the speaker describes the moon, and how it appears to her to be “broken” and tired with the endless summer they are living in. It too is not accustomed to the heat and is “waning and worn” in its heat.
Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
Snow-hushed and heavy.
In the second half of ‘September Midnight’, the speaker turns to the main point of the poem. These days in which she is living seem to be the last days of an important period in her life. She does not want the summer to end, in fact, she longs to remember it. She asks the insects that she is allowed to “remember you.” Additionally, she wants to forever know the sight of the “Weeds in the moonlight” and the aster flowers “tangled” in the fields.
These are images that are important to her, she knows that she will want to look back on them again once summer is finally over. She predicts that there are not many days left to go before “winter” will “be on us.” The coming of the cold will silence the insects and sit “heavy” of the asters.
Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
Lest they forget them.
In the final stanza of ‘September Midnight’, she continues to speak to the ephemeral night, and all of its sights and sounds. She asks that the night bless her, and “murmur” a “mute benediction” over her soul.
The speaker has found moments of intense spirituality in this place. So much so that the images of the night have become a religion of sorts. She has asked to remember everything she can see, and while she is meditating on it, that she be blessed by the night itself.
The speaker will stand and stare out at the fields “that rest after harvest.” She will stare so intently it will be as if she is trying to memorize the face of a loved one before they depart and are forgotten.
About Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale was born in 1884 in St.Louis, Missouri, and was an American lyric poet whose work was mainly concerned with beauty, love, and death. She was known to work her own experiences into her poetry, from those of youth to those of depression around the time of her suicide in 1933.
She grew up in a staunchly religious household and was privately educated. Sara Teasdale’s first poem was published in Reedy’s Mirror in 1907 and in that same year she published her first book, Sonnets to Duse, and Other Poems. She was married in 1914 and moved with her husband to New York in 1916. She worked throughout this period on her own poetry as well as editing two anthologies, The Answering Voice: One Hundred Love Lyrics by Women, and Rainbow Gold for Children.
Her poems are well known for their emotional subject matter and lyrical language. She gained fame during her lifetime and won the first Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1918. Today her popularity has waned, she is not as well known or as popular amongst readers and critics as she was in her own lifetime.