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Poet 2: Paul Laurence Dunbar

I love this poet! So far, he is, hands down, my favorite. After the weirdness of some of Walt Whitman's poems, I feel like I have come home. Dunbar ROCKS!

Dunbar had two different kinds of poems. Some were in conventional English and some were in African-American dialect. I love, love, loved his poetry.

Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1972. His mother was a former slave, and his father had escaped from slavery. In fact, Dunbar’s father served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts Colored Calvary Regiment during the Civil War. Also, he was a lifelong friend of the Wright Brothers!

He had no white blood in him which was very unusual for African-Americans coming out of slavery. He was married to Alice Moore 1898, but they separated in 1902 because he was disturbed by her lesbian affairs (as well he should have been). He died of tuberculosis 1906, but he had also gone into a downward spiral of depression and alcohol (maybe from his wife having affairs?).

Here is my favorite of his African American dialect (that I want to put on a Thanksgiving card!):

Signs of the Times

Air a-gittin' cool an' coolah,
Frost a-comin' in de night,
Hicka' nuts an' wa'nuts fallin',
Possum keepin' out o' sight.
Tu'key struttin' in de ba'nya'd,
Nary a step so proud ez his;
Keep on struttin', Mistah Tu'key,
Yo' do' know whut time it is.
Cidah press commence a-squeakin'
Eatin' apples sto'ed away,
Chillun swa'min' 'roun' lak ho'nets,
Huntin' aigs ermung de hay.
Mistah Tu'key keep on gobblin'
At de geese a-flyin' souf,
Oomph! dat bird do' know whut's comin';
Ef he did he'd shet his mouf.
Pumpkin gittin' good an' yallah
Mek me open up my eyes;
Seems lak it's a-lookin' at me
Jes' a-la'in' dah sayin' "Pies."
Tu'key gobbler gwine 'roun' blowin',
Gwine 'roun' gibbin' sass an' slack;
Keep on talkin', Mistah Tu'key,
You ain't seed no almanac.
Fa'mer walkin' th'oo de ba'nya'd
Seein' how things is comin' on,
Sees ef all de fowls is fatt'nin' --
Good times comin' sho's you bo'n.
Hyeahs dat tu'key gobbler braggin',
Den his face break in a smile --
Nebbah min', you sassy rascal,
He's gwine nab you atter while.
Choppin' suet in de kitchen,
Stonin' raisins in de hall,
Beef a-cookin' fu' de mince meat,
Spices groun' -- I smell 'em all.
Look hyeah, Tu'key, stop dat gobblin',
You ain' luned de sense ob feah,
You ol' fool, yo' naik's in dangah,
Do' you know Thanksgibbin's hyeah? (from

    The Seedling

      AS a quiet little seedling
      Lay within its darksome bed,
      To itself it fell a-talking,
      And this is what it said:

      "I am not so very robust,
      But I'll do the best I can;"
      And the seedling from that moment
      Its work of life began.

      So it pushed a little leaflet
      Up into the light of day,
      To examine the surroundings
      And show the rest the way.

      The leaflet liked the prospect,
      So it called its brother, Stem;
      Then two other leaflets heard it,
      And quickly followed them.

      To be sure, the haste and hurry
      Made the seedling sweat and pant;
      But almost before it knew it
      It found itself a plant.

      The sunshine poured upon it,
      And the clouds they gave a shower;
      And the little plant kept growing
      Till it found itself a flower.

      Little folks, be like the seedling,
      Always do the best you can;
      Every child must share life's labor
      Just as well as every man.

      And the sun and showers will help you
      Through the lonesome, struggling hours,
      Till you raise to light and beauty
      Virtue's fair, unfading flowers.

      Paul Laurence Dunbar
      Click to return to PC Home Page
      And here is one more for one of my heroes!

      She told the story, and the whole world wept
      At wrongs and cruelties it had not known
      But for this fearless woman's voice alone.
      She spoke to consciences that long had slept:
      Her message, Freedom's clear reveille, swept
      From heedless hovel to complacent throne.
      Command and prophecy were in the tone,
      And from its sheath the sword of justice leapt.
      Around two peoples swelled a fiery wave,
      But both came forth transfigured from the flame.
      Blest be the hand that dared be strong to save,
      And blest be she who in our weakness came—
      Prophet and priestess! At one stroke she gave
      A race to freedom, and herself to fame.

      Paul Laurence Dunbar

      Printed from Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture
      © 2006 the University of Virginia
      Stephen Railton; Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities; Electronic Text Center
      Charlottesville, Virginia
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