Summer Friends by Mary Lamb

Summer Friends‘ by Mary Lamb is a short sixteen line poem that is written with a simple ABABCDCD…etc rhyme scheme. This “sing-song” like pattern forces the poem along at a quick pace while also imbuing it with an impression of positivity. The reader will most likely come to the conclusion that by the end of the poem, or soon in the speaker’s life, she will discover the relationship she is searching for— one in which she is never abandoned to the “mischances” of being. 

 

Summary of Summer Friends 

‘Summer Friends’ by Mary Lamb is a sixteen line poem that speaks to, what should be, the invulnerable relationship between friends in good times and bad. 

The poem begins with the introduction of a “summer friend,” a swallow, who comes to live in the speaker’s chimney during the summer months. Only when it is warm does he nest here, and all throughout the warm months his song can be heard throughout the home. He has become a part of the family, a friend who’s presence is welcome and expected. In these summer months the sparrow does not allow anyone near him, he is less in need of companionship than he will be later when the days get cold. 

In the second eight lines of the poem the speaker describes how when the winter months come the sparrow’s need for “Man” is greater. Although he and the speaker, during their summer seperation may have become “crost,” a common, dialectic way of saying “crossed,” nothing has hardened their hearts. They will never “narrow” against one another. 

The poem concludes with the narrator announcing all that she wants. She desires a friend, the sparrow, someone who will sing with her “in frost” and will love with her “in sorrow.” She is seeking, and has perhaps found, a friend who will stay by her side no matter the “mischance,” or difficulties, tomorrow might bring. This friend will never abandon her and always “greet her with his sight.” 

 

Analysis of Summer Friends

Lines 1-8

The Swallow is a summer bird;

He in our chimneys, when the weather

Is fine and warm, may then be heard

Chirping his notes for weeks together.

Come there but one cold wintry day,

Away will fly our guest the Swallow:

And much like him we find the way

Which many a gay young friend will follow.

Lamb’s speaker begins this piece by reminiscing on a particular memory tied to summer. She describes how each summer “The Swallow,” a “guest” of their household, would make his home in “our chimneys.” He is only there during the warm months when the weather is “fine.” 

She distinctly remembers the sound of his “Chirping… notes” that may be heard for weeks on end. To this speaker, this simple memory seems to be the epitome of summertime. 

The next section of lines describes how the swallow acts differently during the summer than during the winter months. When it is warm out he has no need for companionship. If anyone approached the bird during this time period he would fly away. He feels safe without help from anyone during these warm days.

 This section of lines ends with the speaker drawing a comparison between the actions taken by the sparrow and those that her own human companions, and his bird companions, take. They are all similar in their wants and needs. 

It is clear the speaker is hoping to expand on the connection between herself and this bird. He has become to her more than a creature living in her chimney, he is a part of her family, a friend that comes to visit during the warm season. 

 

Lines 9-16 

In dreary days of snow and frost

Closer to Man will cling the Sparrow:

Old friends, although in life we’re crost,

Their hearts to us will never narrow.

Give me the bird–‘give me the friend–

Will sing in frost–will love in sorrow–

Whate’er mischance to-day may send,

Will greet me with his sight to-morrow.

Eight lines into the poem, the narrative takes a turn and the speaker begins to describe what the sparrow does when the weather turns cool. 

In the days of “dreary…snow and frost” the sparrow is forced to “cling” “Closer to  Man” than he usually would choose to. It is with others that he finds safety during this time period. 

The speaker describes how “Old friends,” presumably referring to herself, the sparrow, and their own personal acquaintances, can sometimes become “crost” in life but their “hearts” will never close off. They will remain open to one another even when life causes them to squabble. In these lines Lamb chooses to use the “eye dialect” version of the common word “crossed.” She does so in a effort to force the reader into a specific pronunciation. 

Eye dialect is the way in which dialect impacted words are spelled. Other examples include writing “ya” rather than “you,” and “goin’” rather than “going.” Often times this type of writing is used when a character in a short story, poem, or pay is uneducated. 

Continuing on into the final section of lines, Lamb’s speaker declares to the reader that above all else she wants “the bird,” or “the friend” who will “sing in frost—will love in sorrow” along with her. She wishes to be surrounded by companions she can trust and she knows will provide comfort and safety when the months turn cold. 

The poem concludes with the lines, 

Whate’er mischance to-day may send, 

Will greet me with his sight to-morrow.

The speaker is confidently announcing that no matter what accidents, catastrophes or “mischanc[es]” that today may “send,” she knows that “to-morrow” she will once more be greeted by her friend the sparrow. The bird, a representation of the general stock of companion the speaker is interested in, is there for her in the cold months, after misfortune, and is willing to help her back up and “sing in the frost” with her.

 

About Mary Lamb 

Mary Lamb was born, in London, England, to a poor family in December of 1764. She did not receive any formal education and began working as a seamstress to support her family from a young age. Her mother was completely subject to Mary’s care and was an invalid for many years. 

In September of 1796 when Mary was 31 years old, she stabbed and killed her mother with a kitchen knife in, what was presumed to be, a fit of madness. Scholars now believe that the Lamb family line contained a hereditary strain of mental illness, perhaps bipolar disorder, and Mary’s break and attack on her mother was caused by her years of strain and overwork. 

After the attack, Mary was placed under the care of her brother, Charles Lamb, with whom she would live for the next forty years. Together they wrote and published a book of Shakespeare’s plays adapted for children, Tales from Shakespear, in 1807. 

Additionally, Mary and Charles wrote and published Mrs. Leicester’s School and Poetry for Children. The adapted plays of Shakespeare made Charles’ career, but due to the fact that only his name appeared on the title page, Mary remained in obscurity. 

Charles died in 1834 and for the next thirteen years, Mary was cared for by various family members, nurses, and at times, confined to asylums. She died in 1847 at the age of 82. 

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