Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Paul Laurence Dunbar: In Summer Time

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.


Public Domain.  (Buy now)

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.

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8 comments on “Paul Laurence Dunbar: In Summer Time

  1. Ellen Foos
    August 17, 2021

    Princeton University Press is publishing an extensive biography next year by Gene Jarrett on the anniversary of Dunbar’s birth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      August 17, 2021

      Wonderful, Ellen! I can’t wait to buy my copy. (for subscribers of Vox Populi who are not familiar with the work of Ellen Foos, let me say that I am a huge fan. She is the managing editor of Princeton University Press, the founder and director of Ragged Sky Press, and a frequent contributor to Vox Populi as both a poet and an editor.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Leo
    August 15, 2021

    “A mossy bank; where violets vie
    In color with the summer sky,—”

    I’ve sat on that mossy bank and stared those violets in their eyes. It is always magical!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Barbara Huntington
    August 15, 2021

    Thank you for today’s selections. I needed them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Daniel Burston
    August 15, 2021

    What a beautiful poem! (I write this at the end of my vacation outside of Woodstock, NY, so his words have great resonance for me now.)

    Died at 33? What a sad end for someone so deeply in love with life. I am glad, at least, Dunbar is getting some posthumous recognition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      August 15, 2021

      Thanks, Dan. Yes, Dunbar was a tremendous talent who died before his time. What a loss!

      Liked by 2 people

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This entry was posted on August 15, 2021 by in Environmentalism, Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , , , .

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