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,–
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