Friday, July 27, 2012

The Sun Goes Down On Summer

For the past fifteen years or so, I have been sharing this poem with the sophomores on the first day of school. I think the author was a junior in high school when he wrote it.

The Sun Goes Down on Summer
 by Steve Lawhead

I come to the water one last time as the sun goes down on summer.
It's going; I can feel it slip away, and it leaves a cold empty spot
a hole in my warm memories of endless golden days
and dreams as ripe as watermelons.
I'd give the world to make the summer stay.

The water is calm around me.
It's a warm, silent sea of thought dyed in the rich blues of night and memory.
Why can't things just stay the way they are?

Instead, the days rush headlong into change
and I feel like nothing's ever going to be the same.
Soon school will start again.
And all the things I thought I'd left behind will come back,
and it won't be gentle water I'll be swimming in---

It'll be noise and people and schedules and passes
 and teachers telling everyone what to do.
One more year of homework, tests and grades.
Of daily popularity contests and pressure-cooker competition
 and heaps of frustration.

The first day is the worst.
Not knowing who your friends are,
or what's changed since last year.
Trying to pick it up where you left off.
I'll look real hard for a last-year's friend
to get me from one scrambled class to another,
through halls crawling with people.
I wonder if I'll fit in.

Football practice started last week. It started without me.
I had to make a choice and football lost.
Two years on the team and it struck me--who am I doing this for?
It's just another thing people expect you to do, so you do it.
School is full of these kinds of things---
things that sap your freedom, and keep you from being yourself.

That's what I want most, to be myself. But that's hard.
Here's what I dread most: when summer goes, I go with it.
I go back to school and I change as soon as I walk through those doors.
I have to be someone everyone will like--that's a law of survival.

What would happen if I just stayed the real me?
Would they turn me off? Label me "weird"?
Would I ever get another date?
It seems like so much to risk.
But growing is a risk. Change is a risk.
And who knows, I might discover something of myself
in the coming year.
I might get closer to the person I am---what a discovery that would be!

When the doors open on Monday morning, I’ll have a fresh start,
a fresh opportunity to find myself.
I want to be ready.
The first homework assignment of the year is for students to write about lines that resonate with them.  They agree or disagree with the author.  Some students can't wait for school to start.  They get to see their friends and have a social life again.  (That would have been me at their age.)  Others totally understand exactly what the author is saying. 
I am never really sure whether what we do in class stays with them or not, but I can't tell you how many students mention this poem in their end of the year writings.  I like that. 
No, this poem will never be considered a great poem or even a classic, but it is a great opener for the first day of school.  I'll soon find out what the class of 2015 thinks of the sun going down on their summer and how they really feel about the first days of school.


  1. I would love to use this in my classroom. How do I get a copy of the template shown above?

    1. This was printed in an NCTE idea book from the 1980's or early 90's. The ideas were provided by educators, knowing that they were sharing lesson plans for our classes. I have always assumed (I hope not falsely) that if the ideas were submitted as a lesson plan to share, they were ours to use.

  2. Do you mind sharing how you specifically use in your classroom past the annotation and discussion of the poem?

  3. Beth, I make this the first writing assignment of the year, asking them to write about what they agree or disagree with. How do they feel about walking into our school? They have to quote lines or words that speak to them and explain their choices. This is the beginning of establishing relationships. I also have a sample of their writing and glimpse of what work I have ahead in terms of their skills.