University of Virginia Library

Search this document 

expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
collapse section 
Added Poems


Added Poems


Jack Frost at Bedtime

Angels is a-mindin' you, my baby,
Keep'n off de Bad Man in de night.
Whut de use o' bein' skeered o' nuffin'?
You don't fink de da'kness gwine to bite?
Whut de crackin' sound you hyeah erroun' you?
Lawsy, chile, you tickles me to def—
Dat's de man what brings de frost', a-paintin'
Picturs on de winder wid his bref.

Unidentified newspaper clipping, Henry Romeike clipping service, New York City, 1884. Copy courtesy of Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, MSS 659, series 1, box 1, OHS.

Our Martyred Soldiers

In homes all green, but cold in death,
Robbed of the blessed boon of breath—
Resting in peace from field and fray,
Our martyred soldiers sleeping lay.
Beneath the dew, the rain, the snow,
They heed no more the bloody foe,
Their sleep is calm, to them alone
'Tis giv'n to lie without a moan.
The sun may shine in all his might—
They know no day, they know no night,
But wait a still more lasting ray,
The coming of eternal day.
No longer marches break their rest,
Or passioned hate thrills through the breast,
They lie all clothed in calm repose,
All safe from shots of lurking foes.


The grave's a sacred place where none
Of earth may touch the sleeping one;
Where silence reigns, enthroned, sedate,
An angel guarding heaven's gate.
The wind may blow, the hail may fall,
But at the tomb is silence all;
Man finds no nobler place to pray,
Then o'er a martyr's lifeless clay.
Sleep on, ye soldiers, men of God,
A nation's tears bedew the sod;
'Tis but a short, short time till ye
Shall through the shining portals flee.
And when this memory lost shall be,
We turn, oh Father, God, to thee!
Oh find in heaven some nobler thing
Than martyrs of which men can sing.

Dayton, Ohio, Herald, June 8, 1888. Copy courtesy of Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, MSS 659, series 1, box 1, OHS.


Fling out your banners, your honors be bringing,
Raise to the ether your paeans of praise.
Strike every chord and let music be ringing!
Celebrate freely this day of all days.
Few are the years since that notable blessing,
Raised you from slaves to the powers of men.
Each year has seen you my brothers progressing,
Never to sink to that level again.
Perched on your shoulders sits Liberty smiling,
Perched where the eyes of the nations can see.
Keep from her pinions all contact defiling;
Show by your deeds what you're destined to be.


Press boldly forward nor waver, nor falter.
Blood has been freely poured out in your cause,
Lives sacrificed upon Liberty's altar.
Press to the front, it were craven to pause.
Look to the heights that are worth your attaining
Keep your feet firm in the path to the goal.
Toward noble deeds every effort be straining.
Worthy ambition is food for the soul!
Up! Men and brothers, be noble, be earnest!
Ripe is the time and success is assured;
Know that your fate was the hardest and sternest
When through those lash-ringing days you endured.
Never again shall the manacles gall you
Never again shall the whip stroke defame!
Nobles and Freemen, your destinies call you
Onward to honor, to glory and fame.

Dayton, Ohio, Herald, 1890. Copy courtesy of Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 4, box 10, OHS.

Lager Beer

I lafs und sings, und shumps aroundt.
Und somedimes acd so gueer.
You ask me vot der matter ish?
I'm filled mit lager peer.
I hugs mine child, und giss mine vife.
Oh, my dey was so dear;
Bot dot ish ven, you know, mire friend,
I'm filled mit lager peer.
Eleetion gomes, I makes mire speech,
Mine het it vas so glear:
De beoples laf, und say ha, ha,
He's filled mit lager peer.


De oder night I got me mad,
De beoples run mit fear.
De bleeceman gome und took me down
All filled mit lager peer.
Next day I gomes pefore de judge,
Says he, “Eh heh, you're here!”
I gifs you yust five-fifty-five
For trinking lager peer.
I took mine bocket book qvick oud,
So poor I don't abbear;
Mine money all vas gone, mine friend
Vas gone in lager peer.
Und den dey dakes me off to shail,
To work mine sendence glear,
Und dere I shwears no more to be
Filled oup mit lager peer.
Und from dot day I drinks no more,
Yah, dat ish very gueer,
But den I found de tevil lifed
In dot same lager peer.
Pffenberger Deutzelheim

Dayton, Ohio, Tattler, December 13, 1890. Copy courtesy of Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 4, box 10, OHS.

My Best Girl

Her hair is a brilliant red, and her voice like a bumblebee's hum,
And this lovely young damsel is fed on the choicest of sweet chewing gum.
I have met her at church and at fair. How I love her no person can tell,
But the terrible hue of her hair has made me feel weary—ah, well,
But how can I justly complain? 'Tis the World with its sorrow and care,


And I'm not the first love-struck swain to be cursed with a girl with red hair.
I called on her yesterday eve, and sweet were the words that I said.
I attempted when taking my leave to light my cigar on her head.
Poor damsel she stared and turned red till she looked like a full-blown rose
But she murmured, “Don't worry, dear Ned. My hair corresponds to your nose.”
Then I swore in a still, silent way. That's the way those religious folk swear,
For my nose, I am sorry to say, was as brilliantly red as her hair.
As I thought of her hair and my nose, and then of my nose and her hair,
A stronger emotion arose, and I knelt on my knees then and there.
Dear hearers, I didn't propose, and to say what I said is a sin,
For I almost immediately rose. Good heavens! I'd knelt on a pin!

From Tomfoolery, Dayton, Ohio, 1890–91. Accompanied by hand-drawn cartoon. Copy courtesy of Blumenschien Collection, Dayton Public Library.

A Chappie

But a chappie needs diverting,
So her husband got to flirting,
But the lady couldn't stand for that, you know;
So she made an application
And she got a separation,
And since then she's married half a score or so;
But her alimony's faded,
And the stage she has invaded
And she's spreading golden butter on her bread.
Though her art is sadly lacking,
Yet she's got the best of backing—
And “She did it all herself,” her mother said.

Circa 1890–91. 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.)


A Crumb, a Crumb, and a Little Seed

A crumb, a crumb, and a little seed,
And the bird will sing all day,
But the poet must have a gilded cage,
Or his songs are all laid away.

Circa 1890–91. Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, MSS 659, series 1, box 1, OHS. Quoted by permission. (This poem also appears in Martin and Hudson's Paul Laurence Dunbar Reader.)

The Passage



Many a year is in its grave
Since I crossed this restless wave,
And the twilight, fair as ever,
Shines on ruin, rock, and river.


Then, in this same boat beside,
Sat two comrades, old and tried,
One with all a father's truth,
One with all the fire of youth.


One on earth in silence wrought,
And his grave in silence sought,
But the younger, brighter form
Passed in battle and in storm.


So, when e'er I cast mine eye,
Back upon the days gone by,


Saddening thoughts of friends come o'er me,
Friends who closed their course before me.


But what binds us friend to friend,
Save that soul with soul may blend,
Soul-like were those days of yore,
Let us walk in soul once more.


Take, oh boatman, thrice thy fee,
Take, I give it willingly;
For invisible to thee,
Spirits twain have crossed with me.

Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, MSS 659, series 1, box 1, OHS. Quoted by permission. Martin and Hudson include this poem in the Paul Laurence Dunbar Reader and speculate that it may have been written sometime in 1890 or 1891, when Dunbar studied German in high school. Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787–1862) was a German poet who embraced folk materials in his writing.

Farewell Song

Why stirs, with sad alarm, the heart,
For all who meet must some day part?
So, let no useless cavil be,
True wisdom bows to God's decree.
Though lingers on the lid the tear,
'Tis one of sorrow, not of fear,
For well we know we cannot cling
Forever to the parent wing.
But not in vain our years were spent,
The mother kind gave nourishment,
And as the swift years rolled along,
We ever waxed more hale and strong.


And now, the world we fear no more,
As here we stand upon the shore,
Prepared to cast our moorings free,
And breast the waves of future's sea.
Our hearts are full, the prospect bright,
Our breasts are heaving at the sight,
While youthful joy o'erruns its cup,
And Hope's fair hand shall buoy us up.
The wind is fair, the sails are spread,
Let hearts be firm, “God Speed” is said;
Before us lies the untried way,
And we're impatient at the stay.
At last we move, how thrills the heart,
So long impatient for the start!
Now up o'er hill and down through dell,
The echoes bring our song—farewell.
The breezes take it up, and bear
The loud refrain on wings of air;
And to the skies, the sad notes swell,
Of this our last farewell, farewell!

Program, Class of 1891, Commencement Exercises of Central High School at Grand Opera House, June 16, 1891. Copy courtesy of Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, MSS 659, series 1, box 1, OHS.

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.)

The Concert


It was held in God's great temple
On a happy summer's day.
There was quite a host to hear it—
Old and youthful, grave and gray.
Mister Robin was conductor,
With an oak-twig in his hand
Held in readiness to signal
For the music of his band.
And the band was all attention,
All alert was every one.
Robin bowed and gave the signal
And the concert had begun.
Master Locust had his 'cello,
And the cricket played a fife;
While the bee held up a tuba,
Blowing it for dearest life.
Then a club of fine musicians—
Very famous—called “The Breeze”—
Charmed the hearts of all their hearers
With some wondrous symphonies.



And the “Tree Tops” bowed and nodded
Their approval in great haste,
For the symphonies were suited
To their strictly classic taste.
All the playing was delightful,
Both in point of time and tone;
And no instrument was louder
Than the Wood-Bird's xylophone.
There were vocalists in plenty,
All the noted ones were there;
E'en the River came to join them,
Gladly furnishing its share.
Why the tumult was stupendous
And was like to shake the place
When a Blue-Bird warbled treble
To the water's rolling bass.
Mrs. Katy-Did was present,
For her alto so well known;
Also Mr. Bull-Frog, famous
For his mellow baritone.


And the tenor of the concert
Was none other than our friend
G. Rass Hopper—why his encores
Seemed to me, they'd never end.
When the solos all were finished
And the orchestra was done,
Then they had the grand finale,
Which was joined by every one.
Locust, Bull-Frog, Cricket, Blue-Bird,
Katy-Did and Bumble Bee,
Blending all in Nature's chorus
In delightful harmony.


And the audiences who heard it,
All are willing to confess
That they never heard a concert
Which was such a grand success.

1892. 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.)

Come and Kiss Me Sweet and Twenty

Apple blossoms falling o'er thee,
And the month is May,
Laden bows bend low before thee,
With their gentle sway;
Look you where the thrush is swinging
How his melody is ringing,
As he sings my heart is singing:—
Come and kiss me sweet and twenty,
Love blooms out with flowers a-plenty,
Love me, love me without reason,
Kiss me, now's the kissing season,
White your cheek is as the blooms are,
Sweet your breath as perfumes are,
In this dolce far niente,
Come and kiss me sweet and twenty.
Love is at thy window suing,
All the live-long day,
Stay and listen to my wooing,
Life shall all be May.
Love like mine can falter never,
Naught from thee my heart can sever,
And my song shall be forever:—
Come and kiss me sweet and twenty,
Love blooms out with flowers a-plenty,
Love me, love me without reason,
Kiss me, now's the kissing season,


White your cheek is as the blooms are,
Sweet your breath is as perfumes are,
In this dolce far niente,
Come and kiss me sweet and twenty.

Circa 1892. 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.)

An Easter Ode

To the cold, dark grave they go
Silently and sad and slow,
From the light of happy skies
And the glance of mortal eyes.
In their beds the violets spring,
And the brook flows murmuring;
But at eve the violets die,
And the brook in the sand runs dry.
In the rosy, blushing morn,
See, the smiling babe is born;
For a day it lives, and then
Breathes its short life out again.
And anon gaunt-visaged Death,
With his keen and icy breath,
Bloweth out the vital fire
In the hoary-headed sire.
Heeding not the children's wail,
Fathers droop and mothers fail;
Sinking sadly from each other,
Sister parts from loving brother.
All the land is filled with wailing,—
Sounds of mourning garments trailing,
With their sad portent imbued,
Making melody subdued.


But in all this depth of woe
This consoling truth we know:
There will come a time of rain,
And the brook will flow again;
Where the violet fell, 'twill grow,
When the sun has chased the snow.
See in this the lesson plain,
Mortal man shall rise again.
Well the prophecy was kept;
Christ—“first fruit of them that slept”—
Rose with vic'try-circled brow;
So, believing one, shalt thou.
Ah! but there shall come a day
When, unhampered by this clay,
Souls shall rise to life newborn
On that resurrection morn.

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 10.

To Dr. James Newton Matthews, Mason, Ill.

All round about, the clouds encompassed me;
On every side I looked, my weary sight
Was met by terrors of Plutonian night;
And chilling surges of a cruel sea
That beat against my stronghold ceaselessly,
Roared rude derision at my hapless plight;
And hope, which I had thought to hold so tight,
Slipped from my weak'ning grasp and floated free.
But when I thought to flee the unequal strife,
As wearied out I could not bear it more,
Fate gave the choicest gem of all her store,—
And noble Matthews came into my life.
He warmed my being like a virile flame,
And with his coming, light and courage came!

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 13.


Welcome Address To the Western Association of Writers

“Westward the course of empire takes its way,”—
So Berkeley said, and so to-day
The men who know the world still say.
The glowing West, with bounteous hand,
Bestows her gifts throughout the land,
And smiles to see at her command
Art, science, and the industries,—
New fruits of new Hesperides.
So, proud are you who claim the West
As home land; doubly are you blest
To live where liberty and health
Go hand in hand with brains and wealth.
So here's a welcome to you all,
Whate'er the work your hands let fall,—
To you who trace on history's page
The footprints of each passing age;
To you who tune the laureled lyre
To songs of love or deeds of fire;
To you before whose well-wrought tale
The cheek doth flush or brow grow pale;
To you who bow the ready knee
And worship cold philosophy,—
A welcome warm as Western wine,
And free as Western hearts, be thine.
Do what the greatest joy insures,—
The city has no will but yours!

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 25.

To Miss Mary Britton


When the legislature of Kentucky was discussing the passage of a separate-coach bill, Miss Mary Britton, a teacher in the schools of


Lexington, Kentucky, went before them, and in a ringing speech protested against the passage of the bill. Her action was heroic, though it proved to be without avail.

God of the right, arise
And let thy pow'r prevail;
Too long thy children mourn
In labor and travail.
Oh, speed the happy day
When waiting ones may see
The glory-bringing birth
Of our real liberty!
Grant thou, O gracious God,
That not in word alone
Shall freedom's boon be ours,
While bondage-galled we moan!
But condescend to us
In our o'erwhelming need;
Break down the hind'ring bars,
And make us free indeed.
Give us to lead our cause
More noble souls like hers,
The memory of whose deed
Each feeling bosom stirs;
Whose fearless voice and strong
Rose to defend her race,
Roused Justice from her sleep,
Drove Prejudice from place.
Let not the mellow light
Of Learning's brilliant ray
Be quenched, to turn to night
Our newly dawning day.
To that bright, shining star
Which thou didst set in place,
With universal voice
Thus speaks a grateful race:


“Not empty words shall be
Our offering to your fame;
The race you strove to serve
Shall consecrate your name.
Speak on as fearless still;
Work on as tireless ever;
And your reward shall be
Due meed for your endeavour.”

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 30.

The “Chronic Kicker”

It was at the town convention
Fur to nominate a mayor,
An' things had been progressin'
In a way both cool an' fair;
An' we thought that we had finished
In a manner mighty slick,
When up rose the chronic kicker
Fur to kick, kick, kick.
Then we felt our feathers fallin',
Nor we didn't laugh no more,
While some quite impatient fellers
Made a bee line fur the door;
An' we listened, an' we listened,
While the clock the hours ticked,
To that derned old chronic kicker
As he kicked, kicked, kicked.
Next we held a conf'rence meetin'
In our little mission church,—
Fur a cheap an' worthy pastor
We were in an earnest search;
We had jest made our agreement
(An' 'twas come to very quick),
When up rose the chronic kicker
Fur to kick, kick, kick.


An' we heard the birds a whistlin'
In the air so sweet an' cool,
While we all sat there a list'nin'
To that flambergasted fool;
But I'm sure the Lord was min'ful,
Fur no thorn our conscience pricked,
When we nodded while that kicker
Stood an' kicked, kicked, kicked.
Next 'twas a baseball battle,
Overlooked by boys in trees,
Where no act of bat or basement
Could this chronic kicker please,
Until weary with his yellin',
Some one hit him with a brick,
An' he lay down in the diamond
Fur to kick, kick, kick.
But Death, that great policeman,
By now frowns or kicks defied,
At last came up an' seized him,
An' so, with a kick, he died;
But he, jest before the fun'ral,
Made the undertaker sick,
As the coffin couldn't hold him
For that everlastin' kick.

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 36.


I love the dear old ballads best,
That tell of love and death,
Whose every line sings love's unrest
Or mourns the parting breath.
I love those songs the heart can feel,
That make our pulses throb;


When lovers plead or contrites kneel
With choking sigh and sob.
God sings through songs that touch the heart,
And none are prized save these.
Though men may ply their gilded art
For fortune, fame, or fees,
The muse that sets the songster's soul
Ablaze with lyric fire,
Holds nature up, an open scroll,
And builds art's funeral pyre.

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 37.

Memorial Day

Why deck with flow'rs these humble mounds?
Why gather round this fast decaying mold?
Why doth remembrance keep her solemn rounds
And wrap these sleepers in her loving fold?
Why kneel, ye silent mourners, here
To drop the reverential tear?
Flesh is but dust when parted from the breath.
Flesh is but dust, but worth of soul is gold!
'Tis not the dust we honor, but the brave
And noble spirits that it once did hold.
So kneel we weeping at the grave,
As at the door through which have passed,
To enter into mansions vast,
The heroes who have gone to meet
A dearer destiny than dirgeful death.

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 43.


A Question

I wist not that I had the pow'r to sing,
But here of late they say my songs are sweet.
Is it because my timid numbers ring
With love's warm music that doth ever beat
Its melody within my throbbing heart?
If so, what else can roguish Cupid do?
I know him master of the archer's art;
Is he a trained musician too?

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 46.

The Light

Once when my soul was newly shriven,
When perfect peace to me was given,
Pervading all in all with currents bright,
I saw shine forth a mighty Light;
And myriad lesser lights to this were joined,
Each light with every other light entwined;
And as they shone a sound assailed my ears,
Alike the mighty music of the spheres.
The greater light was Love and Peace and Law,
And it had power toward it the rest to draw;
It was the Soul of souls, the greatest One,
The Life of lives, of suns the Sun.
And floating through it all, my soul could see
The Christ-light, shining for humanity;
And silently I heard soft murmurs fall,
“Look up, earth child; the light is all.”

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 48.


John Boyle O'Reilly

Of noble minds and noble hearts
Old Ireland has goodly store;
But thou wert still the noblest son
That e'er the Isle of Erin bore.
A generous race, and strong to dare,
With hearts as true as purest gold,
With hands to soothe as well as strike,
As generous as they are bold,—
This is the race thou lovedst so;
And knowing them, I can but know
The glory thy whole being felt
To think, to act, to be, the Celt!
Not Celt alone, America
Her arms about thee hath entwined;
The noblest traits of each grand race
In thee were happily combined.
As sweet of song as strong of speech,
Thy great heart beat in every line.
No narrow partisan wert thou;
The cause of all oppressed was thine!
The world is cruel still and cold,
But who can doubt thy life has told?
Though wrong and sorrow still are rife
Old Earth is better for thy life!

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 49.


He was a poet who wrote clever verses,
And folks said he had fine poetical taste;
But his father, a practical farmer, accused him
Of letting the strength of his arm go to waste.


He called on his sweetheart each Saturday evening,
As pretty a maiden as man ever faced,
And there he confirmed the old man's accusation
By letting the strength of his arm go to waist.

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 54.


The tear another's tears bring forth,
The sigh which answers sigh,
The pulse that beats at other's woes,
E'en though our own be nigh,
A balm to bathe the wounded heart
Where sorrow's hand hath lain,
The link divine from soul to soul
That makes us one in pain,—
Sweet sympathy, benignant ray,
Light of the soul doth shine;
In it is human nature giv'n
A touch of the divine.

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 56.

My Love Irene

Farewell, farewell, my love Irene;
The pangs of sadness stir my breast;
Though many miles may intervene,
My soul's with thine, in East or West.
Go where thou wilt, to wealth or fame;
Win for thyself or praise or blame,—
My love shall ever be the same,
My love Irene.


Farewell, farewell, my love Irene;
Oh, sad decree, that we must part!
The wound is deep, the pain is keen
That agitates mine aching heart.
My feverish eyes burn up their tears;
I cannot still my doubts and fears;
And this one sigh the night wind hears,—
My love Irene.
Farewell, farewell, my love Irene;
The morning's gray now floods the sky;
The sun peeps from his misty screen;
Mine only love, good-bye, good-bye.
All love must fade, all life must die,
The smile must turn into the sigh.
Alas! how hard to say good-bye,
My love Irene.

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 56.

Common Things

I like to hear of wealth and gold,
And El Doradoes in their glory;
I like for silks and satins bold
To sweep and rustle through a story.
The nightingale is sweet of song;
The rare exotic smells divinely;
And knightly men who stride along,
The role heroic carry finely.
But then, upon the other hand,
Our minds have got a way of running
To things that aren't quite so grand,
Which, maybe, we were best in shunning.


For some of us still like to see
The poor man in his dwelling narrow,
The hollyhock, the bumblebee,
The meadow lark, and chirping sparrow.
We like the man who soars and sings
With high and lofty inspiration;
But he who sings of common things
Shall always share our admiration.

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 57.

Goin' Back

He stood beside the station rail,
A negro aged and bent and frail.
His palsied hands like the aspen shook,
And a mute appeal was in his look;
His every move was pained and slow,
And his matted hair was white as snow.
He noted our questioning looks, and said,
With a solemn shake of his hoary head:
“I reckon you're wonderin', an' well you may,
Whar an ol' man lak me's a goin' to-day.
I've lived in this town fur thirty years,
An' known alike my joys an' tears,
An' I've labored hard year out, year in;
But now I'm a goin' back agin
To the blue grass medders an' fiel's o' co'n
In the dear ol' State whar I was bo'n.
It's the same ol' tale that I have to tell,—
An' thar's few o' my race but knows it well,—
When fust the proclamation come
I felt too free to stay at home.
Freedom, it seemed, was a gift divine,
An' I thought the whole wide world was mine.
Then I was spry, an' my hair was black,


An' this troublesome crook wasn't in my back;
My soul was allus full o' song,
Fur my heart was light, an' my limbs was strong,
An' I wasn't afeared to show my face
To the sturdiest worker on the place.
Well, I caught the fever that ruled the day,
An', finally, northward made my way.
They said that things were better North,
An' a man was held at his honest worth.
Well, it may be so, but I have some doubt,
An' thirty years ain't wiped it out.
Thar was lots of things in the North to admire,
Though they hadn't the warmth an' passion an' fire
That all my life I'd been ust to seein'
An' thought belonged to a human bein'.
An' a thing I couldn't help but miss
Was the real ol' Southern heartiness.
But year after year I worried along,
While deep in my heart the yearnin' strong
Grew stronger an' fiercer to visit once more
The well loved scenes o' my native shore.
But money was skeerce, an' time went on,
Till now full thirty years have gone
Ere I turn my aged steps to roam
Back to my ol' Kaintucky home,
Back to the ol' Kaintucky sights,
Back to the scene o' my youth's delights,
Back whar my heart was full o' glee,
Back whar I fust found liberty.
E'en now as I think the ol' times should be o'er,
An' o' the joy they held in store,—
Yes, even now, on life's dark side,
My heart swells out with honest pride.
Oh, praise the Lamb, that I shall see
Once more the land so dear to me.
Don't mind an ol' man's tears, but say
It's joy, he's goin' back to-day.”

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 58.



Enthroned upon the mighty truth,
Within the confines of the laws,
True Justice seeth not the man,
But only hears his cause.
Unconscious of his creed or race,
She cannot see, but only weighs;
For Justice with unbandaged eyes
Would be oppression in disguise.

Oak and Ivy (1893), p. 59.

The Land o' Used to Be

There's a ripple of fountains
That rise in the mountains,
And a murmur of rills
That spring in the hills,
And the streams go on with a softer flow,
And the sun goes down with a warmer glow,
There's a smiling cot by a sparkling sea
In the dear old land o' Used to Be!
The skies there are bluer,
And fond hearts are truer,
And love is the theme
That mountain and stream
Sing to wood and sky as the days go by,
In a raptured voice that is sweet and high;
Oh, the days are bright and the nights care-free
In the dear old land o' Used to Be!
There's a smile in the shadows,
As over the meadows
The wanderer springs
While gayly he sings;


There's a kiss from mother who bides at the gate,
And a shy, glad glance from my wee winsome Kate—
Oh, there's light and there's love and there's life for me
In the dear old land o' Used to Be!

Munsey's Magazine 10 (February 1894): 516.


I have seen peoples come and go
Alike the Ocean's ebb and flow;
I have seen kingdoms rise and fall
Like springtime shadows on a wall.
I have seen houses rendered great
That grew from life's debased estate,
And all, all, all is change I see,
So, dearest God, take me, take me.

Majors and Minors (1895), p. 71.

If I Could But Forget

If I could but forget
The fullness of those first sweet days,
When you burst sun-like thro' the haze
Of unacquaintance, on my sight,
And made the wet, gray-day seem bright
While clouds themselves grew fair to see.
And since, no day is gray or wet,
But all the scene comes back to me,
If I could but forget.
If I could but forget
How your dusk eyes look into mine,
And how I thrilled as with strong wine
Beneath your touch; while sped amain


The quickened stream thro' ev'ry vein;
How near my breath fell to a gasp,
When for a space our fingers met
In one electric vibrant clasp,
If I could but forget.
If I could but forget
The months of passion and of pain,
And all that followed in their train—
Rebellious thoughts that would arise,
Rebellious tears that dimmed mine eyes,
The prayers that I might set love's fire
Aflame within your bosom yet—
The death at last of that desire—
If I could but forget.

Majors and Minors (1895), p. 75.

The Made to Order Smile

When a woman looks up at you with a twist about her eyes,
And her brows are half uplifted in a nicely feigned surprise
As you breathe some pretty sentence, though she hates you all the while,
She is very apt to stun you with a made to order smile.
It's a subtle combination of a sneer and a caress,
With a dash of warmth thrown in it to relieve its iciness,
And she greets you when she meets you with that look as if a file
Had been used to fix and fashion out the made to order smile.
I confess that I'm eccentric and am not a woman's man,
For they seem to be constructed on the bunko fakir plan,
And it somehow sets me thinking that her heart is full of guile
When a woman looks up at me with a made to order smile.


Now, all maidens, young and aged, hear the lesson I would teach—
Ye who meet us in the ballroom, ye who meet us at the beach—
Pray consent to try and charm us by some other sort of wile
And relieve us from the burden of that made to order smile.

Majors and Minors (1895), p. 126.


Beyond the cornfields and the wood,
Nestling beneath the hill
In the old days a cottage stood,
Beside a ruined mill.
And often on the edge of dark
I lingered in the lane,
Until a candle's welcome spark
Shone in the window pane.
Long years have gone, tonight once more
Beside the foot-worn stile,
In the old lane as oft before
I wait, and dream awhile.
Above the pines one lonely star
Shines like her casement—lit
But far away—Alas! Too far
For her to open it.
Fond dream! My longing eyes beguiled,—
Yet must I turn again,
And like a little lonely child
Stretch out my arms in vain!
The moon is but a clouded disc,
Only the star shines bright,
To me it seems God's Asterisk
Upon the page of night.


O love of happy days long past
My task is nearly done
Faithful to thee, till life at last
Be ended,—and begun!

Enclosed in a letter to Alice Ruth Moore dated May 23, 1897. Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 10, box 22, OHS. Quoted by permission. (The letter is reproduced in full in Martin and Hudson's Paul Laurence Dunbar Reader.)

Oh little fledgling out of the nest

Oh little fledgling out of the nest—
Would you were cuddling here—close to my breast
Warming & melting my heart into song,
Then were the days not so lonesome & long.
Wildly the rain's falling blown from the west—
What a sweet time to be snug in the nest!
What a poor time to be waund'ring afar
Love where the winds & the bleak billows are.
Ah little lady-bird, soon let us sing
Our lay connubial here wing to wing.
Yearning is burning my heart with unrest—
Home be returning, sweet bird, to your nest!

Enclosed in a letter to Alice Dunbar dated August 10, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 10, box 22, OHS. Quoted by permission. (The letter is reproduced in full in Martin and Hudson's Paul Laurence Dunbar Reader.)

To Booker T. Washington

Beside our way the streams are dried,
And famine mates us side by side.
Discouraged and reproachful eyes
Seek once again, the frowning skies.
Yet shall there come spite storm and shock
A Moses who shall smite the rock,


Call manna from the Giver's hand,
And lead us to the promised land!

Program, Denver Minister's Alliance, Denver, Colorado, January 26, 1900. Copy courtesy of Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, MSS 659, series 1, box 1, OHS.

The Old Story

I stand beside the window here
And gaze at John and May,
As hand in hand, unheeding aught,
They wend their wooing way;
And, oh, it brings me back the days,
Ere age had changed my view,
And every tale I heard or told
I still believed was new.
Go on, go on, my happy boy,
And read your brief romance;
Youth is the time for love and rhyme,
So do not lose your chance.
The joys that blessed my early days
I would not keep from you;
For soon you'll find the happy tale
Won't always seem so new.
We used to stroll, long years ago,
About the same old way;
You were a blushing maiden then,
And I a lover gay.
I told you how my heart was yours,
And that I'd prove it true,
'Twas an old, old tale I told you, Kate,
But, ah, we thought 'twas new.
And as I stand and watch them here
It all comes back to me;


The shady walks, the loving talks,
In days that used to be.
There they go walking slow, absorbed,
Just as we used to do;
It's an old, old tale he's telling, Kate,
But, ah, they think it new.
But can it be that I am wrong,
Have I grown crabbed with age?
Let me turn back life's closing book,
And view that older page.
I'm partly wrong, I'm partly right,
Love's story's old, 'tis true;
But though 'twas born in earth's first morn,
Love's self is ever new.

Good Housekeeping 30 (March 1900): 131.

Goin' Home

I wish de day was neah at han'
I'ze tiahed of dis grievin' lan'
I'ze tiahed of de lonely yeahs;
I want to des dry up my teahs
An go 'long home.
Oh, Mastah, won't you sen' de call;
My frien's is daih, my hope, my all.
I'ze waitin' whaih de road is rough
I want to hyeah you say: “Enough,
Ole man! Come home.”

Weekly Bulletin, Auburn, New York, March 26, 1901.


The Suitor

Miss Marfy sco'n young Issac so,
He swaih he sholy die;
He stan' befo huh cabin do',
An' hol' his hea't an' sigh.
Oh, swing yo' lady roun' and roun',
An' grant huh gent'man's grace;
Fu' dey's a smile behine de frown
On evah lady's face.
Miss Marfy cas' huh mantle down;
Young Issac tek it up.
De smile hit chase erway huh frown;
She ax him in to sup.
Miss Marfy drap huh han'kerchuh;
Young Issac pick it up.
He say he didn't need wid huh
No sugah in his cup.
Miss Marfy talk; young Issac smile,
An' mos' fu'git to eat,
An' kind o' back'ard aftahw'ile
He daihed to call huh sweet.
Young Issac ain't a-sighin' now,
He swaihs he nevah did;
He lookin' fu' a' o'ange bough
To deck Miss Marfy wid.
Oh, swing yo' lady roun' an' roun',
An' grant huh gent'man's grace;
Fu' dey's a smile behine de frown
On evah lady's face.
Mebbe some one comes to jine you;
Well, dat's good, but not de bes',
Less'n dat you's kind o' lonesome,
Er ain't honin' fu' de res'.
Den you wants to tell a sto'y,
Er you wants to hyeah de news


Kind o' hald tol', while you's stealin'
Ev'y now an' den a snooze.
W'en you's tiahed out a-hoein',
Er a-followin' de plow,
Whut's de use of des a-fallin'
On yo' pallet lak a cow?
W'y, de fun is all in waitin'
In de face of all de tiah,
An' a-dozin' an' a-drowsin'
By a good ol' hick'ry fiah.

Century Magazine 63 (November 1901): 22.

A Virginia Reel

De banjo done commence de shune,
You can't git on de flo' too soon;
Lead out yo' pa'dnah to de place,
Don' let de music go to was'e.
Now th'ow dem windows open wide,
An' fo'm a line f'om side to side;
Bow to de lef', bow to de right,
An' lif' yo' feet lak dy was light.
Now all togedah bow an' 'vance,
No draggin' feet in dis hyeah dance;
Lay all yo' sorrows on de she'f,
An' sta't in to enjoy yo'se'f.
Dah, Joe, you tek Miss Sally's han';
Don' be so lazy, goodness lan'!
A body'd t'ink dat you had foun'
A' int'rus' in a burying-groun'.


Come steppin' lively down de line;
Ef you got mannahs, show 'em fine;
Sasshay de lady, bow an' swing,
An' listen to dat banjo sing.
Now show de trim dat you is in
By shuffin' neatly back ergin;
Wipe all de shine f'om off yo' face,
An' swing yo' lady to huh place.
Now op'site ladies bow an' cross,
Dah ain't a minute to be los';
Jine han's, all tu'n yo' faces in,
An' tek yo' pa'dnahs back ergin.
Nex' couple forrard, do de same;
Ef you gits mixed, I ain't to blame;
Coime glidin' thoo, don' be so slow,
“T ain't no time 'fo' de cock'll crow.
Salute yo 'pa'dnahs ez befo',
Git out an 'taih up all dis flo';
Ef you's got feelin's, show you feel
By steppin' dis Vahginia reel.

Century Magazine 63 (November 1901): 22.


Kiver up yo' haid, my little lady,
Hyeah de win' a-blowin' out o' do's.
Don' you kick, ner projick wid de comfo't,
Less'n fros'll bite yo' little toes.
Shut yo' eyes, an' snuggle up to mammy;
Gi' me bofe yo' han's, I hol' 'em tight;
Don' you be afeard, an' 'mence to trimble
Des ez soon ez I blows out de light.


Angels is a-mindin' you, my baby,
Keepin' off de Bad Man in de night.
Whut de use o' bein' skeered o' nuffin'?
You don' fink de da'kness gwine to bite?
Whut de crackin' soun' you hyeah erroun' you?—
Lawsy, chile, you tickles me to def!—
Dat 's de man what brings de fros', a-paintin'
Picters on de winder wid his bref.
Mammy ain' afeard, you hyeah huh laffin'?
Go' way, Mistah Fros', you can't come in;
Baby ain' erceivin' folks dis evenin',
Reckon dat you'll have to call ag'in.
Curl yo' little toes up so, my possum—
Umph, but you's a cunnin' one fu' true!—
Go to sleep, de angels is a-watchin',
An' yo' mammy's mindin' of you, too.

Candle-Lightin' Time (1901), p. 91.

A Companion's Progress

My stock has gone down and my tailor has sent
To request that I settle my bill;
My landlady asks with a frown for her rent,
And there isn't a cent in the till.
The governor storms and my mother's in tears;
There's a coldness betwixt me and Nell,
But I'm utterly dead to regrets and to fears,
For my meerschaum is colouring well.
At first I had fears of what looked like a crack,
And my breath came in gasps of alarm,
But oh, how the joy of my heart flooded back
When I found that 'twas nothing to harm.
And so ever since I have nursed it with care,
With thrills that my heart cannot quell,


And I've bored all my friends to relate the affair
That my meerschaum is colouring well.

St. James Gazette, London, August 21, 1901. Clipping in Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, MSS 659, series 1, box 1, OHS, from Henry Romeike clipping service, New York City. No page number given.

God Reigns

In ages past ere wisdom's height
Had sent its piercing ray
To cleave the heavy clouds of night
And usher in the day.
Men's minds were held in thralldom deep,
The slaves to one blind school,
Till reasons let this sentence sweep
“God reigns and right shall rule.”
The war clouds heavy hung and dark,
The storm was swelling fast,
But over all the tumult—hark!
A voice comes down the blast
And, lo! the tempest is still,
And fiery passions cool;
As with a cry the earth is filled—
“God reigns and right shall rule.”
Four million slaves in chains lay bound,
Harrassed by myriad woes—
The lash of whip, the chase of hound,
The curses of their foes.
But Lincoln came, and with a stroke
He broke the clanking chains
And unto all the world he spoke
Right rules, Jehovah reigns.


Today the skeptic wields his pen,
The infidel his tongue
The keen agnostic lureth men
His mazy ways among.
But let them talk and let them write—
O'er bigot, sage and fool,
There sways an arm of fearless might—
“God reigns and right shall rule.”
The court may temper its decrees
To favor wealth or might;
The water of a thousand seas
May try to drown the right;
The king his agents may command,
And ply each royal tool,
But there is still the master hand—
“God reigns and right shall rule.”
Yea, wrong may triumph for a day
With bold delusive power,
But, oh! how stormy is its sway,
And, oh! how brief its hour!
The hosts of sin are soon undone,
Peace flies on pinions cool;
The battle gained, the victory won—
“God reigns, and right shall rule.”

Original manuscript in Dunbar's handwriting dated 1902 in Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, MSS 659, series 1, box 1, OHS. Quoted by permission.

To Alice Dunbar

All the world is so sweet, dear
And matters so little to me—
You are the whole and the all, dear
The bride for eternity—


Life is so gray and so brief dear
And it is so hard to live
Why should we neighbor with grief, dear
Better to love and forgive.
E'en tho' I miss you today, dear
Miss you and pass like a breath—
Love is puissant in serving dear
Far past the portals of death.

Enclosed in a letter to Alice Dunbar dated February 2, 1903, Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 8, box 22, OHS. Quoted by permission. (This letter is reproduced in Martin and Hudson's Paul Laurence Dunbar Reader.)

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.

Lippincott's Monthly Magazine 72 (September 1903): 378.



Now you, John Henry, 'tain't no use
To stan' up daih an' mak no 'scuse.
You need n't tink you foolin' me,
I sutny has got eyes to see!
Oh I's yo' sistah, yes, dat's true!
But den what good 's dat gwine to do?
Dey ain't no use in tellin' lies,
You look right sheepish f'om yo' eyes!
Let's see yo' han's, uh huh, I knowed
You washed 'em, but de traces showed.
Let's see yo' mouf; his looks lak ink—
Yo' sistah cain't tell 'serves, you t'ink.
Oh my, but yo 's a naughty chile,
I has to look at you one while;
You need n't twis' in all dem curves,
To tink you'd stole yo' ma's pusserves.
Ef I tol' ma I guess you'd git
The fines' whuppin' evah yit;
But guess I'll keep it to myse'f
Erbout dat jah erpon de she'f;
Case ma's des awful w'en she stahts,
An' my, oh, how a whuppin' smahts!
So you clomb up? Oh, she'd be madder!
Say, tell me whaih you put de ladder.

L'il' Gal (1904), p. 23.

Tuskegee Song

Tuskegee, thou pride of the swift growing South
We pay thee our homage today,
For the worth of thy teaching, the joy of thy care;
And the good we have known 'neath thy sway.


Oh, long-striving mother of diligent sons,
And of daughters, whose strength is their pride.
We will love thee forever, and ever shall walk
Thro' the oncoming years at thy side.
Thy hand we have held up the difficult steeps,
When painful and slow was the pace,
And onward and upward we've labored with thee
For the glory of God and our race.
The fields smile to greet us, the forests are glad,
The ring of the anvil and hoe
Have a music as thrilling and sweet as a harp
Which thou taught us to hear and to know.
Oh, Mother Tuskegee, thou shinest today
As a gem in the fairest of lands;
Thou gavest the heav'n blessed power to see
The worth of our minds and our hands.
We thank thee, we bless thee, we pray for thee years
Imploring with grateful accord,
Full fruit for thy striving, time longer to strive,
Sweet love and true labor's reward.

Words by Paul Laurence Dunbar; music by N. Clark Smith. Published in Selected Songs Sung by Students at Tuskegee (Tuskegee, Alabama: 1904).

For Theodore Roosevelt

There's a mighty sound a-comin'
From the East, and there's a hummin'
And a bummin' from the bosom of the West,
While the North has given tongue
And the South will be among
Those who holler that our Roosevelt is best.
We have heard of him in battle
And amid the roar and rattle
When the foeman fled like cattle to their stalls;


We have seen him staunch and grim
When the only battle hymn
Was the shrieking of the Spanish mauser balls.
Product of a worthy sireling,
Fearless, honest, brave, untiring—
In the forefront of the firing there he stands;
And we're not afraid to show
That we all revere him so
To dissentients of our own and other lands.
Now the fight is on in earnest,
And we care not if the sternest
Of encounters try our valor or the quality of him,
For they're few who stoop to fear
As the glorious day draws near
For you'll find him hell to handle when he gets in fightin' trim.

Dayton, Ohio, Daily News, February 10, 1906.

Sling Along

Sling along, sling along, sling along,
De moon done riz,
Dem eyes o' his,
Done sighted you,
Where you stopped to woo.
Sling along, sling along,
It ain't no use fu' to try to hide,
De moonbeams allus at yo' side,
He hang f'om de fence, he drap f'om de limb,
Dey ain't no use bein' skeered o' him.
Sling along, sling along.
Sling along, sling along, sling along,
De brook hit flow,
Fu' to let you know,


Dat he saw dat kiss,
An' he know yo' bliss.
Sling along, sling along.
He run by yo' side,
An' he say howdydo,
He ain't gwine to tell but his eye's on you,
You can lay all yo' troubles on de very highest she'f,
Fu' de little ol' brook's jes' a talkin' to his se'f,
Sling along, sling along.
Sling along, sling along, sling along,
De 'possum grin,
But he run lak sin,
He know love's sweet,
But he prize his meat.
Sling along, sling along.
He know you'd stop fu' to hunt his hide,
If you los' a kiss and a hug beside,
But de feas' will come and de folks will eat,
When she tek yo' han' at de altah seat.
So sling along, sling along.

In Joggin' Erlong (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1906), p. 16.

To Mary Church Terrell

Look hyeah, Molly, ain't it jolly
Jes' a loafin' roun'?
Tell the Jedge not to hedge
For I am still in town.

Quoted in Virginia Cunningham, Paul Laurence Dunbar and His Song, p. 257.


To a Poet and a Lady

You sing, and the gift of State's applause
Is yours for the rune that is ringing.
But tell me truly, is that the cause?
Don't you sing for the love of singing?
You think you are working for wealth and for fame,
But ah, you are not, and you know it;
For wife is the sweetest and loveliest name,
And every good wife is a poet!

Written to Lida Keck Wiggins and published in The Life and Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar, ed. Lida Keck Wiggins (Naperville, Ill., and Memphis: J. L. Nichols Co., 1907), pp. 116–17.


To Kelly Miller, Jr.

Dear Kelly, when I was a kid
I wrote this book: that's what I did.
When you grow up—I may be dead—
You allus think o' what I said,
Dat you gon' mek yo' ma'k fu' true,
Cos, Kelly M---, I bets on you.

Quoted by Benjamin Brawley in Paul Laurence Dunbar: Poet of His People, p. 62. Brawley indicates that the original autograph, dated January 1, 1898, was written on the flyleaf of a copy of Oak and Ivy presented to the young son of Professor Kelly Miller.


[De bee hit sip some honey f'om de matermony vine]

De bee hit sip some honey f'om de matermony vine,
De hummin'-bird hit lingahs roun' de rose.
De honey-suckle's sweetah dan de swetes' muscadine
An' de mo'nin'-glory's tu'nin' up its nose.
De pinks is sayin' “pick us” ez de pansy meet dey eye,
W'ile de pansies 's sayin' “look at us an' hush.”
An' you'd hyeah de lily quoilin' w'en de two is passin' by
Ef it wasn't fu' de wablin' of de frush.
In de fiel' de flags is wavin' in a tantalizin' way,
Kin o' 'joicin' case de daisies all is daid.


But de fall flowehs come a-sayin' “needn't laugh, you've had yo' day
An' de fros' 'll lay de sod erpon yo' haid.
Oh, I know dey ain' no tulips an' de vi'lets died in May,
Deys lots o' folks dat miss 'em too, I 'low
But dey didn't have no pu'fume fu' to speak of anyway
So what's de use o' moanin' fu' 'em now.
De flowehs may die in Springtime an' de flowehs may die Fall,
An' people kin go cryin' 'bout dey def—
But sweetah dan de blossoms an' mo' fragrantah dan all
Is yo' lips my little lady an' yo' bref.

No date, Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 4, box 10, OHS. Quoted by permission.


Oh, comrade, comrade, I have missed you so!
The long, drear months still lagging come and go,
And I, I strive to fill them to the brim,
But still my heart cries out, But what of him?
To-night, I sat and pored o'er pages sere,
All filled with what we did and said last year;
And all the soul within me rose and cried,
And all the woman in me sobbed and sighed.
This day we sat beside a dimpling stream,
And hours flew by like moments in a dream;
And you and I, true comrades, laughed and played,
Nor deemed it long the while we fondly stayed.
These days we stood 'neath turquoise Western sky,
And breathed new life, sipped ozone from on high;
Did mem'ry ever smile and call to thee
Those long, sweet tramps of ours, of me and thee?


Then those long dreary hours you fought with death,
And I hung near and watched your feeble breath;
And those long evening hours you clasped my hand,
And watched the twilight creeping o'er the land.
We sat upon the shore and watched the sea,
Creep higher to the rocks e'er we did flee.
And erst we angled in the dimpling bay,
And proudly counted trophies, mind'st the day?
Oh, comrade, comrade, I have missed you so!
The long drear months still lagging come and go,
And I, I strive to fill them to the brim,
But still my heart cries out, But what of him?
We've lived through sorrow and we've lived through joy,
Sweets, sweets we've tasted to our senses' cloy;
And yet we've suffered sorrow to the deep,
Full bitterness of sorrow's deadly heap.
Dost mind the books we read in other days?
Dost mind the foolish cards and little plays?
Dost mind the lilting music of our song?
Dost mind the winter eves, so sweet and long?
There is no other heart to beat with mine,
There is no other soul attuned like thine;
I miss the quick return of kindred fire,
These duller minds, oh comrade, quickly tire.
The dreary days pass on, I smile and smile,
My heart a-heavy, and soul tired the while;
The dreary nights in sleepless mis'ry creep
My soul a-cry to thine in anguish deep.
Our paths have parted, ne'er perhaps, to meet,
Your way goes west, mine east. With slow-paced feet
I take my way; yet still, again, to-night,
I pause and sob before the dreary fight.


Oh, comrade, comrade, I have missed you so!
The long drear months still lagging come and go;
And I, I strive to fill them to the brim,
But still my heart cries out, But what of him?

No date. Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 4, box 10, OHS. Quoted by permission.

Love Is a Star


Love is a star that lights the night
Of life, and makes its fancies bright
As days of June with June's perfume;
A star that melts the clinging gloom
And makes the heart's dark chambers light.
To any depth, from any height
Its light doth leap; the dusk of doom
Could not its silver trace consume
Love is a star.
It shines undimmed, a beacon white
To Faith's unwavering, trustful sight.
'Mid warp and woof it findeth room
And weaves bright thoughts on Sorrow's loom
With lovestrung threads of pure delight.
Love is a star.

No date, Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 4, box 10, OHS. Quoted by permission.


Night on the Chesapeake

When night comes down upon the Chesapeake,
And on the bay the moon rides full and high;
Beside you I should dream nor care to speak,
Our hearts and souls should talk and make reply.
When on the shining track our eyes should roam,
Our thoughts go hand in hand the lambent way;
We'd turn no longing thoughts toward house or home—
Our dearer home is here beside the bay.
Raise me a tent beside this shining shore,
Whereon in storms the waves their vengeance wreak;
Give me my love and wave and forest-lore
And long sweet hours upon the Chesapeake.

No date, Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 4, box 10, OHS. Quoted by permission.

A Matter of Locality

If I lived in sight of the lake
I should make
A poem most exquisite, tender
Of its bosom at sunlight, its bosom in cloud
Of the gold of its eventide splendor.
If I lived in sound of the lake,
I should break
The heads of the fishermen yelling;
With a whack for the lies they are dying to tell
And some more for the ones they are telling.

No date, Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 4, box 10, OHS. Quoted by permission.


Home Longings

I've been here fur many days
Standin' in the city's maze,
Jumpin' out and skippin' in,
List'nin' to the roar an' din,
Gettin' hard an' keen an' cold
Growin' gray before I'm old;
I want home.
Home's the best place after all;
When the leaves begin to fall
An' the frosty atmosphere
Hints o' winter drawin' near,
Seems as ef yore mind goes back
Mighty swift along the track
'At leads home.
Want to see the ole house there,
Want to breathe a breath o' air
That ain't filled with dust or smoke,
Want to be where banks ain't broke,
Where yer treasure ends an' starts
In yer comrades' brimmin' hearts.
That's at home.
Want to see yer mother stand
In the door an' wave her hand
At you comin' up the road,
Want to shake off all the load—
Care an' pain, an' grief an' strife
'At beset a city life
An' git home.
Want to git back to the fields,
Where the hand o' nature yields
Due reward fur honest toil;
Want to tread the good ole soil
'At I ust to tread in glee—
Happy as I ust to be,
There at home.


Want to hear the cattle brown
Lowin' as the sun goes down,
Change these tracks an' rumblin' cars
Fur the sight o' paster bars,
Drop the pen an' take the plow
That's the thing to ketch me now
That—an' home.
Want some kale greens—smooth as silk,
Want to drink some buttermilk,
Want to eat some griddle cakes—
Them good kin', whut mother makes.
Want some butter, some 'at ain't
Made o' grease an' yaller paint.
Some from home.
Oh, the days grow sad an' long,
Life seems all a mournful song,
Nuthin' seems so fair er free
As it ust to seem to me.
Nuthin' ever will seem right
Tell I pack my grip an' light
Out fur home.

Unidentified, undated newspaper clipping. Copy courtesy of Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, MSS 659, series 1, box 1, OHS.


Give me no days more brilliant than I know,
The birth outside my window soothes my soul,
And even as the fleeting hours come and go,
Life's beauties to my wakened eyes unroll.
Give me no skies more beautiful than these,
'Neath which I sit beside you all elate,
All that I covet is life's warming breeze,
That leaves me breathless at the door of fate.

No date, Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, series 4, box 10, OHS. Quoted by permission.


Too Busy

The Lord had a job for me, but I had so much to do,
I said, “You get somebody else—or wait 'till I get through.”
I don't know how the Lord came out, but he seemed to get along;
But I felt kind o' sneakin' like; 'cause I knowed I done Him wrong.
One day I needed the Lord, needed Him right away—
And He never answered me at all, but I could hear Him say
Down in my accusin' heart, “Nigger, I's got too much to do.
You get somebody else—or wait 'till I get through.”
Now, when the Lord has a job for me, I never tries to shirk;
I drops what I have on hand and does the good Lord's work;
And my affairs can run along, or wait 'till I get through.
Nobody else can do the work that God's marked out for you.

Homiletic Review 107 (March 1934): 243.