A Summer Night


A Summer Night - (2010)    

Paul Laurence Dunbar

for low or medium voice and piano


Summah is de lovin' time--
Don' keer what you say.
Night is allus peart an' prime,
Bettah dan de day.
Do de day is sweet an' good,
Birds a-singin' fine,
Pines a-smellin' in de wood,--
But de night is mine.

Rivah whisperin' "howdy do,"
Ez it pass you by--
Moon a-lookin' down at you,
Winkin' on de sly.
Frogs a-croakin' f'om de pon',
Singin' bass dey fill,
An' you listen way beyon'
Ol' man whippo'will.

Hush up, honey, tek my han',
Mek yo' footsteps light;
Somep'n' kin' o' hol's de lan'
On a summah night.
Somep'n' dat you nevah sees
An' you nevah hyeahs,
But you feels it in de breeze,
Somep'n' nigh to teahs.

Somep'n' nigh to teahs? dat's so;
But hit's nigh to smiles.
An' you feels it ez you go
Down de shinin' miles.
Tek my han', my little dove;
Hush an' come erway--
Summah is de time fu' love,
Night-time beats de day!

[ 5 pages, circa 4' 45" ]

Paul Laurence Dunbar


The text is taken from Dunbar's self-published collection, Howdy Honey Howdy, 1905. Written in dialect, it is a praise to the summer night as the occasion for pursuing love after a day's heat and labor. The stanzas are filled with sensual references to nature's sight, smell, and sound with the encouragement to leave them behind in order to "come erway." Come away from the larger world and into the small domain of privacy and love. 



The setting wanders chromatically throughout the opening lines, and in subsequent verses, with parallel triads dropping by half-step in the first arch, and then the top and bottom voices spreading away from each other also in half-steps. The second large phrase repeats the gambit a half step higher, from C to the new D flat, with broader roaming away from a specific tonality.



The interpolation of the phrase in dialect (which is also the title of the poem in standard English) becomes a refrain which is taken up several times in E flat, distant from the opening in C as representative musically of the distance between night and day.



The score for A Summer Night is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.


A Summer Night