The quote “What Is So Rare As A Day In June?” may be familiar to most readers (the sentiment certainly is!) but its source is fairly obscure. This line is but a snippet from the most famous work of the poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), a member of the gaggle of authors sometimes called the Fireside Poets or the Schoolroom Poets. Some of his more famous colleagues in this group include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The Vision of Sir Launfal is an impressively lengthy poem that tells the story of an Arthurian knight’s search for the Holy Grail.
This work is very religious in tone overall, but Lowell does fit in some keen observations about the value of natural beauty. The following verse, from which the apt quote is taken, is a portion of the Prelude to Part First of a very lengthy poem.
Earth gets its price for what Earth gives us;
The beggar is taxed for a corner to die in,
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives us,
We bargain for the graves we lie in;
At the Devil’s booth are all things sold
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;
For a cap and bells our lives we pay,
Bubbles we earn with a whole soul’s tasking:
‘T is heaven alone that is given away,
‘T is only God may be had for the asking;
There is no price set on the lavish summer,
And June may be had by the poorest comer.
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays:
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, grasping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there ‘s never a leaf or a blade too mean
To be some happy creature’s palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o’errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,–
If you liked this poem and would like to browse the entire archive of poetry posts on 10,000 Birds please check out our Bird Poems page.
So, Mike I typed the “what is so rare as a day in June” into Google and your site showed up and the rest of the poem. I love birds and poetry, so thank you.
You are quite welcome, Martha!
I, too, typed in that familiar line “What is so rare…” and got your site. Thanks for providing it. As an English major, I should be ashamed for not knowing altho I suspected it could be a New England poet. Inspired by the exceptionally beautiful days this week, I’ve been repeating it as I walked along S. Main St. in Bluffton, Ohio, a half mile from home to or from work as I have often done the past 47 years.
I’m not a birder–with my color-blindness, I can just about tell a hummingbird from an eagle! Thanks again.
Richard Jordan, you may be interested to know that another of these New England poets, John Greenleaf Whittier, was colorblind. It might interest you to read “Snowbound” with that in mind.
Mike, thanks for providing the lovely setting for this citation.
David in Toledo: Thanks for mentioning Whittier’s “Snowbound”. Is that the one which begins “The sun that brief December day rose cheerless o’er hills of gray…”? I recall that much from my childhood–Mother liked to read poems to us six kids, from which at least some of us gained a lifelong appreciation for literature. I was also glad to get your message since I was born in Toledo where we lived until I was 12, then later worked there various times, and did special studies at TU. We’ve had relatives there for over a century.
Thanks to Mike, also, as host of this site.
Thanks for the fuill text of that poem with the quote, “And What is Rare As a Day in June” – I have been looking for it fo a while. I have used that quoate many times as my birthday is in June. It saved me a trip to the library for a search! LJR
“And what is so rare as a day in June?——-
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest—
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?
I learned this selction you quoted from “The Vision of Sir Launfal” when I was in 8th grade English in Beaumont, Texas in the 1940s…You left off the last line of what I learned……I am now 74 years old and can still quote most of it from memory…Always a favorite of mine…Fun to find you quoting it as I was browsing the internet
Thanks for sharing that last line, Libby. Sweet words indeed.
I found your website after reading an entry into my Mom’s diary. It was written in June, 1925 when she was fourteen years old. Old favorites are always favorites. Thanks for the treasure.
Thanks for the poem. I love poetry. I had googled “what is so rare….” to find the author…I will use it in my blog today as I write about an October day in the mountains…..
“What is so rare but a day in June” Ever sinceI can remember my sweet mother would recite this poem on a beutiful spring day. My mother learned this poem when she was in elementary school and never forgot it even when old age started to unravel her mind. The last time I heard her recite the poem was at my Dad’s 88th birthday this past September. My sweet mother died this past December, she was 86 year old. My mother’s memory can be captured by the beautiful words of the poem. As I mourn her death I thank Poet James Russel Lowe and her wonderful teachers at St Ignatius Loyola Elementary School for helping me keep my mother’s memory alive.
Thank you Mike for making this poem so available.
I memorized this section of Lowell’s poem in 7th or 8th grade. I love it, and it comes to mind almost every June. Now I teach English and require students to memorize poetry. They don’t yet know how much it will enrich their lives, but some day they will understand.
The quotation “And what is so rare as a day in June?” figures in a short story of adventure and suspense by Robert Arthur, “The Mystery of the Three Blind Mice” which I recall reading more than 35 years ago. The story has nothing to do with rodents. Did not study J. R. Lowell in school, but looked him up after reading Arthur, still comes to mind at times. Now with the Internet, how beneficial to all of us with insight on this beautiful work.
The poem sticks in my memory every June. Thank you david, now i know the rest of the poem, its very beautiful. We had a teacher at Jones Junior, in toledo in the 1930s that had us memorize many poems. thanks for the memories.
Today is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, as the 81 year old precious woman I live with has been reminding me was coming up for the past 10 days. She has quoted the first few verses, beginning with “What is so rare as a day in June….” every time. Today we lunched with 2 of her childhood, lifelong girl friends who knew the quote as well. One of the ladies even knew the author, but I don’t think any of them understood it was from the Prelude to Part First of The Vision of Sir Launfal. I hope to find the poem in it’s entirety at the library soon. What a wonderful and beautiful website you have created. Thank you for the opportunity to share. By the way, my friend was blown away that I could ”
type on that thing and there it is…”
(1) QUESTION: What year did James Russell Lowell write “What is so rare as a day in June?”
(2) FYI: TWO NEAT BIRD POEMS to check out . . . :
(a) “Cardinal” by Bruce Weigl
Weigl, Bruce. A Romance. Pittsburgh: University Press, 1979, page 28.
(b) “At the Winter Feeder” by John R. Leax.
This poem at some websites is titled “Sacrament of Broken Seed,” which is a phrase that appears in “At the Winter Feeder.”
In response to Linda’s first question, most sources indicate that this poem was first published in 1848, so it probably was written in the 1840s.
I too came upon your site after finding mention of the quote in some of my mother’s papers as being her favorite poem. Ella Mae has passed on now but I was reading a book of memories she left for me and decided to find out more about her favorite poem. Thanks. I can see why she liked it so much. (Certainly she learned it in school as mentioned above by others.) Thanks.
At 17 , working at an icecream parlour , I met my husband of 62 years and he often quoted this poem which became a special time for me to share – it is heart warming to read of others who have this connectionto to the past , which we never seem to understand makes the presnet so much more meaningful .
The verse from the lengthy poem, a fav of my husband touchs a cord when I hear it. I was pleased to find more about it on the web, and now your site .
Am not ken to this lingo sorry about that 
Today in eastern Montana is one of the most beautiful that we have had. Always June provides some wonderful days, but today the sun is shining and the breezes barely blowing and it is green everywhere, with a fresh smell in the air. So what is as rare as a day in June? Thank you for presenting the poem in its entirety, I am going to use it in an piece in my small eastern Montana paper. Will give credits to you for presenting it, with just from 10,000 Birds, MIKE as I see no other name, unless you object. Please advise as to your credits if different than this. My 96 year old mother learned this as a child and kept it as a favorite like many of your other readers. janet
I can still recite this poem thanks to my high school English and Lit teacher, Mr. Davis. Thanks Mr. Davis.
I used this quote on my wedding program; alas, the marriage didn’t last, but I still love the line and poem.
My mother is 99 and she still knows this poem by heart, which she learned at high school, and can recite it on request. It is wonderful to find the whole poem on your site.She can remember it after more than 85 years, yet she can’t remember what she had for supper tonight!
Memory is selective. Can modern computers match this kind of selective memory?
My parents, Wilbur and Catherine Bull, were returning home from Detroit Audubon Society’s Memorial Day Spring Campout, which Dad coordinated and which they had extended with a brief side-trip to Michigna’s Uppper Peninsula. On the last leg of their journey at about 7 p.m. on June 1 they were hit head on by woman who went to sleep at the wheel. My dad was killed instantly. My mother was in ICU for almost two weeks with 14 broken ribs. When she was able to talk she told us that the last thing she remembered was she and Dad reciting this poem together in the car. Our minister found it (not so easy in the days before the internet) and read it at his memorial service. Each June 1, I think of this poem and them reciting it on what must have been a beautiful June day.
I googled the first line so I could download that poem and got your blog. I had no idea it was only a small part of a much longer poem about a knight of King Arthur’s roundtable! Thanks for the addtional information.
By the way I now coordinate that Memorial Day Weekend Birding camp for Detroit Audubon Society and just got back from this year’s campout on Monday.
By the way, my mother’s quote ended with the two lines you left out as mentioned in an earlier post:
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest—
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?
She said they had recited the whole thing, but in her debilitated state she could only remember the first couple lines and these last two lines. Our minister read the “whole” thing in the service.
I am now 80 years old, and I, too, memorized this poem in my 1949 senior English class. We got to choose what we would memorize and recite, and I’ve always been glad I chose this lively and invigorating poem that celebrates the beauty of nature, for every year in June it comes back to me……..While they still lived at home my children had to sit through yet another recitation! Now that they’re grown and in their own homes, I just recite it to myself, and I’m once again an 18 year old girl thrilled with the loveliness of spring.
Lost a dear Aunt this month. We never got to say good-bye to her.
She was 97 yrs old and a very special lady. Was talking to her daughter-in-law today. She told me that the last day she had taken her out for a ride was the beginning of the month. As they were riding my aunt looked around and said “And what is so rare as a day in June”. She loved that poem. I didn’t know the whole poem – just that line. I googled it and got your site. So to remember her, I will memorize it so she stays in my memory in such a beautiful way. Thank you.
What is so rare as a day in June?
Well, how about a day in April?
And don’t get me started about February…
Like other commenters, I was curious as to the origin of the famous line, and your website came up *first* on Goodsearch. Thank you for providing the complete poem and background.
I am 95 years of age & can recall my mother reciting the lines for the rare days of June. she had s poem for each month such as October’s bright blue weather, in the fall & host of daffodils in spring. beautiful memories. Recently I have chosen to use any sleepless night memorizing the Highwayman by Alfred Noyes with fond memories of fifth grade in 1931. I can still see vividly the road a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moors.
Thank you very much for the source as I enjoy a perfect June day in WNC observing the variety of birds nearby
While dancing yesterday my partner said, “And what is so rare as a day in June —–” I was able to recite the Poem and he said please make me a copy of it, and so I am. My English teacher asked the class to memorize it in the Forties. I am now 82 and Thank God my memory still works. Thank James Russell Lowell also for writing such a beautiful poem. It made my day!
One more who remembers reading if not memorizing in grade school in the fifties. So beautiful to read aloud to my cats as we look out on this lovely June day with the bluest of sky and greenist of leaves.