Today’s Thoughtful Thursday celebrates summer, with the help of four wonderful Black poets. We begin with classic summer musings from Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906) and Claude McCay (1889-1948). Dunbar, one of the first African American poets to gain national recognition, wrote poems in both standard English and in what was called “Negro dialect”. While his dialect poetry is generally more well known, “Summer in the South” is a delightful example of his standard English poetry. Jamaican born Claude McKay was educated by his older brother from a library of English novels, poetry, and scientific texts. In 1912 he published his first book of poetry and moved to the United States to attend college. McCay wrote on a variety of subjects, from his Jamaican homeland, to his disdain for racism, to romantic love, all with a use of passionate language.
We then turn to more modern poets. Yolanda Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni (1943-) was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Giovanni, the author of numerous children books and poetry collections, is heralded as one of the nation’s premiere poets. She has won many awards and been awarded more than 20 honorary degrees from colleges and universities. She is currently University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech. Rita Dove (1952-), born in Akron, Ohio, served as poet laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995, and as poet laureate of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received many awards and honors for her work, including the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. President Bill Clinton awarded her the 1996 National Humanities Medal, and President Barack Obama presented her with the 2011 National Medal of the Arts. Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.
Great poets giving us some of their impressions of summer. Enjoy.
Summer in the South
The oriole sings in the greening grove
As if he were half-way waiting,
The rosebuds peep from their hoods of green,
Timid and hesitating.
The rain comes down in a torrent sweep
And the nights smell warm and piney,
The garden thrives, but the tender shoots
Are yellow-green and tiny.
Then a flash of sun on a waiting hill,
Streams laugh that erst were quiet,
The sky smiles down with a dazzling blue
And the woods run mad with riot.
Paul Laurence Dunbar
Summer Morn in New Hampshire
All yesterday it poured, and all night long
I could not sleep; the rain unceasing beat
Upon the shingled roof like a weird song,
Upon the grass like running children’s feet.
And down the mountains by the dark cloud kissed,
Like a strange shape in filmy veiling dressed,
Slid slowly, silently, the wraith-like mist,
And nestled soft against the earth’s wet breast.
But lo, there was a miracle at dawn!
The still air stirred at touch of the faint breeze,
The sun a sheet of gold bequeathed the lawn,
The songsters twittered in the rustling trees.
And all things were transfigured in the day,
But me whom radiant beauty could not move;
For you, more wonderful, were far away,
And I was blind with hunger for your love.
I always like summer
you can eat fresh corn
from daddy’s garden
and lots of
and homemade ice-cream
at the church picnic
and listen to
at the church
and go to the mountains with
and go barefooted
and be warm
all the time
not only when you go to bed
I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.