Gotland, Midsummer

July is when the fingers
of evening and morning touch
under the blanket of night

and the straw-headed children
of the children of the Vikings
go nearly naked into

the nearly saltless Baltic.
They find wild strawberries
among grass at a wood’s edge

and thread them on a stalk
to be eaten after herrings
with coffee black as tide wrack.

Thatch is spiked against witches
and tumbled stones remember
an invasion of Danes.

This island of ruined churches,
abandoned farms and windmills
is Stockholm’s secret playground

where Lars Ardelius built
his theatre in a barn
and every summer’s drama

opened like a wildflower
attended at the wayside
by butterflies and moths.

No record, no reviewers –
such stuff only as dreams are
made on, rounded by a sleep.

C. K. Stead, born in Auckland 1932, became known as one of the new young poets of the 1950s and ’60s, and earned an international reputation as a critic, particularly with The New Poetic, Yeats to Eliot (1964). His first novel, Smith’s Dream (1971), became the movie ‘Sleeping Dogs’ (Sam Neil’s and Roger Donaldson’s first). Since the early 1980s, and particularly since early retirement from his Professorship of English at the University of Auckland, Stead has been known also as a novelist and short story writer. Dog, from which ‘Gotland Midsummer’ is taken, is his twelfth collection of poems.

Stead comments: ‘The poem appeared in Dog, my most recent collection of poems, published by Auckland University Press in 2002. It was a late addition to that collection, written after I had visited the island of Gotland off the Swedish coast in the Baltic sea. My grandfather was Swedish (I am named after him – Christian Karlson) and I have Swedish writer friends, among them Lars Ardelius mentioned in the poem. Every summer a group of Swedish writers, artists and film makers holiday in the south of Gotland and there has been a tradition that they make and perform a play in the theatre-barn Lars has constructed. There is no “paying public”, no reviewers, no script is kept – it just flowers and vanishes. I thought that fact, and the barn, was like the summer in Gotland – which has an atmosphere reminsicent of Ingmar Bergman films. (Bergman holidays on the island, and Kay and I had lunch one day with Lars and Carin Ardelius and Bergman’s daughter and her husband.)’

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file
Auckland University Press author page