A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
When summer time has come, and all
The world is in the magic thrall
Of perfumed airs that lull each sense
To fits of drowsy indolence;
When skies are deepest blue above,
And flow’rs aflush,—then most I love
To start, while early dews are damp,
And wend my way in woodland tramp
Where forests rustle, tree on tree,
And sing their silent songs to me;
Where pathways meet and pathways part,—
To walk with Nature heart by heart,
Till wearied out at last I lie
Where some sweet stream steals singing by
A mossy bank; where violets vie
In color with the summer sky,—
Or take my rod and line and hook,
And wander to some darkling brook,
Where all day long the willows dream,
And idly droop to kiss the stream,
And there to loll from morn till night—
Unheeding nibble, run, or bite—
Just for the joy of being there
And drinking in the summer air,
The summer sounds, and summer sights,
That set a restless mind to rights
When grief and pain and raging doubt
Of men and creeds have worn it out;
The birds’ song and the water’s drone,
The humming bee’s low monotone,
The murmur of the passing breeze,
And all the sounds akin to these,
That make a man in summer time
Feel only fit for rest and rhyme.
Joy springs all radiant in my breast;
Though pauper poor, than king more blest,
The tide beats in my soul so strong
That happiness breaks forth in song,
And rings aloud the welkin blue
With all the songs I ever knew.
O time of rapture! time of song!
How swiftly glide thy days along
Adown the current of the years,
Above the rocks of grief and tears!
‘Tis wealth enough of joy for me
In summer time to simply be.
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Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906) was an American poet, novelist, and playwright. Born in Dayton, Ohio, to parents who had been enslaved in Kentucky before the American Civil War, Dunbar began to write stories and verse when still a child; he was president of his high school’s literary society, and he published his first poems at the age of 16 in a Dayton newspaper.
Dunbar’s work was praised by William Dean Howells, a leading editor associated with Harper’s Weekly, and Dunbar was one of the first African-American writers to establish an international reputation. He wrote the lyrics for the musical comedy In Dahomey (1903), the first all-African-American musical produced on Broadway. The musical later toured in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Dunbar’s work fell out of fashion for most of the 20th century in part because much of his work was written in the “Negro dialect” associated with the antebellum South, though he also used the Midwestern regional dialect, as in his poem “In Summer Time” above. He also wrote novels in conventional English. However, since the late 20th century, scholars have become more interested in his work. Today, he is widely regarded as America’s first great Black poet. Contemporary champions include Addison Gayle, Jr., whose Oak and Ivy: A Biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar, is considered a key contribution to Dunbar studies, and Nikki Giovanni, whose prose contribution to A Singer in the Dawn: Reinterpretations of Paul Laurence Dunbar, edited by Jay Martin, hails Dunbar as “a natural resource of our people.”
Suffering from tuberculosis, which then had no cure, Dunbar died in Dayton, Ohio at the age of 33.