'Summer is Ended' - Synopsis and commentary


The speaker observes a now shrivelled rose and wonders whether it will ever ‘come back to life'. S/he reflects that death is inevitable for humans, however unwelcome and implies that people should be prepared if they want to gain life beyond the grave.


Rossetti included the poem Summer is Ended in her 1881 volume, A Pageant and Other Poems. Its title is derived from a passage in the Old Testament book, Jeremiah:

The harvest is past,
the summer has ended,
and we are not saved.
(Jeremiah 8:20) TNIV

This verse forms a section of the warnings that God deliver to his people through the prophet Jeremiah. He anticipates that they will regret failing to turn to him and be ashamed of their participation in ‘detestable conduct' (Jeremiah 8:12) which goes against his precepts, given in the Ten Commandments. By placing her title within speech marks, Rossetti indicates that it is taken directly from the Book of Jeremiah and forms a part of a longer speech.

Final judgement

By alluding to a time when everything is at ‘the close' before anticipating the arrival of the ‘the end' (lines 5, 6), ‘Summer is Ended' indicates the imminence of the last days. The description of ‘An end locked fast' (line 9) implicitly suggests that there is no turning back on the final Day of Judgement.

Christians believe that after death and/or upon the return of Christ to the world, every human life will be brought to a final account by God (Matthew 12:36-37), with Jesus as the judge (Matthew 13:36-43). All lives will be exposed and those who have not responded to the revealed will of God will be shut out from his presence for good, whilst believers will be welcomed into his presence forever (Revelation 22:14-15). See Aspects of literature > Big ideas from the Bible > Judgement.


In the Bible, a parable is the term given to stories used by Jesus Christ to teach the ordinary people who came to hear him. Parables use everyday language and imagery to convey deeper spiritual meanings. Many of the parables that Jesus told use the imagery of the natural world: seeds, the harvest, birds etc. Throughout her poetry, Rossetti follows the pattern of Jesus' parables by using natural imagery and indirect methods of explanation to speak of the Kingdom of God.

More on parables: Jesus told his disciples he chose to speak in parables since they concealed as well as revealed the secrets of the Kingdom of God. Not everyone who heard Jesus was prepared to accept what he had to say. To those who were not, he suggested that parables revealed as much as they could understand. When he was alone with his disciples, however, he explained everything (Mark 4:33-4).

In keeping with this aspect, many of the leading Tractarians emphasised the doctrine of Reserve in their poetry. By this, they meant a state whereby God's laws are hidden from all but the faithful (see Literary context > Tractarian poetry).

Investigating ‘Summer is Ended'

  • Why do you think that Rossetti chose to derive her title directly from a passage in the Bible?
  • How effective do you think that the poem is as a warning?
  • What stylistic or poetic techniques are used to create the effect that you think Rossetti intends to achieve?
  • Why do you think that the poem is not more explicit about the end times to which it alludes?
  • What similarities are immediately apparent in a consideration of both Summer is Ended and The Lowest Room?
    • What differences are apparent?
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