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The Old High School and the New

The Old High School and the New

We've all been off some little while—some one place, some another,
And coming back we thought to find a weeping widowed mother;
And now it seems the dear old girl forgot us while we tarried,
She dropped her weeds, came out in white and bless my soul! she's married.


We left her lonely down the way clad in a somber gown,
But ah, she's wed a wealthy spouse, dressed up and moved up town.
She's lost her fine humility and timid bearing lately
And looms upon our dazzled gaze so dignified and stately
That we are prone to bend our ears to certain rumors shady
And really question of ourselves is this the same old lady?
You know when folks have been away and come back home it's proper
To weep a little, gush some more, and casually to drop a
Word about “the dear old place” and other “memories tender,”
But oh! the chances here I find preeminently slender
For all the splendor round about my flow of memory hinders
And finery and newness knocks all memory to flinders.
I have searched about most carefully to find “the dear old place”
Where seniors shrieked the tenor out and juniors shouted bass.
But if there's any of it left I'm sure I haven't found it;
They've got a brand new singing hall with galleries around it;
I wish that classic hall was here where our ambitious feeling
Soared on the wings of paper wads and stuck against the ceiling.
I'd like to hear those boys again and all those maidens pretty
Who, standing on the old platform, waxed eloquent or witty,
Who sped their hits or rained the jokes as plentiful as manna,
I wonder if they're joking still about the old piano.
It seems that now some pretty tears the sentiment would garnish
But we're afraid to weep in here for fear we'll spoil the varnish.
So tearless, but with a regret, a deep one and a true one,
We'll bid the dear old school goodbye and welcome in the new one.
We've questioned her identity, of all this change abhorrent,
But on near view she warmer grows. She's not half bad I'll warrant.
She speaks and on her quivering lids the anxious tear drops glisten,
What can we do but pause awhile respectfully and listen?
“Don't let the thought that I have changed with stubborn hearts imbue,
If you'll accept me, children dear, I'll be a mother to you.”
We'll do it, won't we, girls and boys, excuse me, men and women,
We'll throw our arms about her neck in spite of all the trimmin',
We'll climb upon her ample lap, turn up our eager faces
And listen to her wisdom in the pause between embraces.
And while we toast the old that's gone, new joys shall make our pain sweet


We'll take our love from Wilkinson and move it up to Main Street.
We'll bind this new'made mother's brow with every wreath and token
Of that deep love within our hearts that never can be spoken.
We'll love her as we loved the dear old school or very very near it,
For tho' she's thrown the dress away she's kept the same old spirit;
And of her present boys and girls we'll each prove a believer
That every year she'll turn them out as good and bright as we were.

September 1891. Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 4, box 10, OHS. Quoted by permission. (This poem also appears in Martin and Hudson's Paul Laurence Dunbar Reader.)