Sunday, July 8, 2018

Poetry Sunday: In Summer Time by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar was an African-American poet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born in 1872, the son of former slaves. Dunbar's father had escaped slavery in Kentucky through the Underground Railroad and went on to fight in the Civil War in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first two black units to serve in that war. After emancipation, his mother moved to Ohio with other family members including two sons from her first marriage and it was there that she met and married Paul Dunbar's father.

Paul Dunbar was a successful poet, novelist, and playwright. He was something of a prodigy and he published his first poems at the age of 16 in a Dayton, Ohio newspaper. His life was tragically cut short by tuberculosis. He died in 1906 at the age of 33.

Dunbar wrote poetry both in standard English and in what was referred to at the time as "Negro dialect." Here is one in standard English that is very evocative of this time of year. I love his descriptions of Nature and his conjuring of the feelings that summer calls forth in him, especially the last lines:
"‘Tis wealth enough of joy for me
   In summer time to simply be."

In Summer Time

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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 path ways 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 bees’ 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.

6 comments:

  1. I love the cadence and the rhyme. It is a beautiful poem, and lazy like warm summer days. :-)

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    1. The couplet form of poetry does lend itself to a particular cadence and rhyme. Dunbar seems to have excelled at it.

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    2. Can you feature other poems by him? ;-)

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  2. Yes, he captured it for sure. And I love the breaking into song!

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    1. "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."

      It's a wonderful image, isn't it?

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