Something Told the Wild Geese: poems for the end of summer (II)

Geese on the wing, headed south: “Summer sun was on their wings; winter in their cry.”

This poem, by Rachel Field (1894-1942; she “was a novelist, children’s book author, playwright, and poet. Born in New York City, she was the first woman to win the Newbery Award for outstanding children’s fiction,” according to, had been turned into a song by the time I arrived in the Ontario educational system in the mid-1960s. I remember it being in our songbooks in, perhaps, Grade 3? Grade 4? (I don’t remember what those songbooks were called, but I would recognize a copy in a nanosecond if I happened across it at, say, a yard sale. And you could bet that within two nanoseconds it would be in my possession.)

Anyway, I think it is hauntingly beautiful, and describes the summer-turning-into-fall season better than perhaps any other poem. Of course it was written decades before we all decided that Canada Geese were primarily a pestilence, wont to cause airplanes to tumble out of the sky and formerly pleasant riverside beaches to become repositories of goose poop; when I was young, Canada Geese were less prevalent and more loved than they are now.

And yes, it was a song that we sang. I can still recall the rather haunting tune, in a minor key. I went looking for it on YouTube, but I came up only with multiple examples, like this, of choirs singing it to a tune composed by one Sherri Porterfield. The music is quite nice, and also in a minor key, but I have to say I prefer the much simpler tune that we sang at Madoc Township Public School way back when. It suited the words better; there was a downturn, instead of the upturn you’ll see and hear in the video, at “something whispered ‘snow’ ” and “something cautioned ‘frost.’ ” It was subtly and simply beautiful. And we kids who sang it, who were all familiar with the V-formation of the honking geese heading south in our skies just as the weather was turning from glorious to chilly, put a bit of our own experience into it, I think.

Anyway, here it is: Something Told the Wild Geese. Hum along if you can; and welcome to autumn.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go,
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered “snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned “frost.”

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.


10 thoughts on “Something Told the Wild Geese: poems for the end of summer (II)

  1. An evocative little poem – I think I recall it from school also. Back in those innocent days when we did like Canada geese 🙂

  2. I still think Canad’s are magnificent even though we had to come up with a fool proof method of keeping them off the beach. (string swim noodles on a rope, enclose the swim area and voila! No geese.} I am of the ancient age that believes if it don’t have to rhyme, any damn fool can write poetry. My favourite being anything by Robert Service. Also love stuff by Marroitt \edgar, like “Albert and the Lion”. I know, it is kinky but, so am I. I have recited poems by both authors all over the area. Anywhere that the program needs “cheap talent.” Bet your dad would agree about the rhyming bit.

    • Oh my goodness, Grant, Albert and the Lion! I hadn’t thought of that in many a decade. I remember my grandfather J.A.S. Keay had an old 78 record of someone reciting that, and I loved to listen to it. “The lion went and et Albert – and after we paid to get in!” I do believe I have heard you reciting Robert Service at a church function or two, to everyone’s vast enjoyment. How’s your Casey At The Bat?

  3. A half-century after I had to memorize Leisure, by W.H. Davies, I still recall how my posse and I laughed ourselves silly whenever a classmate was called upon to go to the front of the room and recite it. It was, of course, the sixth line of the poem (“Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass”) that set us off – the kind of double entendre that amused boys in Grade 5. Now that I’m retired, and have oodles of time to stand and stare, I’d like to think my sense of humour has evolved.

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.

    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.

    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.

    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

    • I have never heard or read that poem before, Jim, and truer words were never spoken, so: thank you! I think it needs to go up on my office wall, and at home too. That W.H. Davies was definitely on to something. As were the teachers (in Penetanguishene and Madoc Township) who had us memorize great poems like that!

  4. Hi, it’s not the geese who have become the problem, it’s the humans who took over and built giant homes, malls and airports. They’re are just living normally, as they have for years. It’s us who want more and more and we’ll never have enough, until there are no farms or forests left.

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