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Best Famous Paul Laurence Dunbar Poems

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by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Sympathy

 If I were only a little puppy, not your baby, mother dear, would
you say "No" to me if I tried to eat from your dish?
Would you drive me off, saying to me, "Get away, you naughty
little puppy?"
Then go, mother, go! I will never come to you when you call
me, and never let you feed me any more.
If I were only a little green parrot, and not your baby, mother dear, would you keep me chained lest I should fly away? Would you shake your finger at me and say, "What an ungrateful wretch of a bird! It is gnawing at its chain day and night?" The go, mother, go! I will run away into the woods; I will never let you take me in your arms again.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Old

 I'm afraid of needles.
I'm tired of rubber sheets and tubes.
I'm tired of faces that I don't know and now I think that death is starting.
Death starts like a dream, full of objects and my sister's laughter.
We are young and we are walking and picking wild blueberries.
all the way to Damariscotta.
Oh Susan, she cried.
you've stained your new waist.
Sweet taste -- my mouth so full and the sweet blue running out all the way to Damariscotta.
What are you doing? Leave me alone! Can't you see I'm dreaming? In a dream you are never eighty.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Sympathy

 Therefore I dare reveal my private woe, 
The secret blots of my imperfect heart, 
Nor strive to shrink or swell mine own desert, 
Nor beautify nor hide.
For this I know, That even as I am, thou also art.
Thou past heroic forms unmoved shalt go, To pause and bide with me, to whisper low: "Not I alone am weak, not I apart Must suffer, struggle, conquer day by day.
Here is my very cross by strangers borne, Here is my bosom-sin wherefrom I pray Hourly deliverance--this my rose, my thorn.
This woman my soul's need can understand, Stretching o'er silent gulfs her sister hand.
"


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Frederick Douglass

 When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful 
and terrible thing, needful to man as air, 
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all, 
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole, 
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more 
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro 
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world 
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien, 
this man, superb in love and logic, this man 
shall be remembered.
Oh, not with statues' rhetoric, not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone, but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

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 are 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.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Morning

 You know how it is waking
from a dream certain you can fly
and that someone, long gone, returned

and you are filled with longing,
for a brief moment, to drive off
the road and feel nothing

or to see the loved one and feel
everything.
Perhaps one morning, taking brush to hair you'll wonder how much of your life you've spent at this task or signing your name or rising in fog in near darkness to ready for work.
Day begins with other people's needs first and your thoughts disperse like breath.
In the in-between hour, the solitary hour, before day begins all the world gradually reappears car by car.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Encouraged

 Because you love me I have much achieved, 
Had you despised me then I must have failed, 
But since I knew you trusted and believed, 
I could not disappoint you and so prevailed.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

The Debt

 This is the debt I pay 
Just for one riotous day,
Years of regret and grief,
Sorrow without relief.
Pay it I will to the end -- Until the grave, my friend, Gives me a true release -- Gives me the clasp of peace.
Slight was the thing I bought, Small was the debt I thought, Poor was the loan at best -- God! but the interest!


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Old

 I have seen peoples come and go 
Alike the Ocean'd 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.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Howdy Honey Howdy

 DO' a-stan'in' on a jar, fiah a-shinin'
thoo,
Ol' folks drowsin' 'roun' de place, 
wide awake is Lou,
W'en I tap, she answah, an' I see
huh 'mence to grin,
"Howdy, honey, howdy, won't you 
step right in?"


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Theology

 There is a heaven, for ever, day by day, 
The upward longing of my soul doth tell me so.
There is a hell, I'm quite as sure; for pray If there were not, where would my neighbours go?


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

At the Tavern

 A lilt and a swing, 
And a ditty to sing,
Or ever the night grow old;
The wine is within,
And I'm sure t'were a sin
For a soldier to choose to be cold, my dear,
For a soldier to choose to be cold.
We're right for a spell, But the fever is -- well, No thing to be braved, at least; So bring me the wine; No low fever in mine, For a drink more kind than a priest, my dear, For a drink is more kind than a priest.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

The Barrier

 The Midnight wooed the Morning Star, 
And prayed her: "Love come nearer; 
Your swinging coldly there afar 
To me but makes you dearer.
" The Morning Star was pale with dole As said she, low replying: "Oh, lover mine, soul of my soul, For you I too am sighing.
" "But One ordained when we were born, In spite of love's insistence, That night might only view the Morn Adoring at a distance.
" But as she spoke, the jealous Sun Across the heavens panted; "Oh, whining fools," he cried, "have done, Your wishes shall be granted.
" He hurled his flaming lances far; The twain stood unaffrighted, And Midnight and the Morning Star Lay down in death united.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Ships that Pass in the Night

 Out in the sky the great dark clouds are massing; 
I look far out into the pregnant night,
Where I can hear the solemn booming gun
And catch the gleaming of a random light,
That tells me that the ship I seek
is passing, passing.
My tearful eyes my soul's deep hurt are glassing; For I would hail and check that ship of ships.
I stretch my hands imploring, cry aloud, My voice falls dead a foot from mine own lips, And but its ghost doth reach that vessel, passing, passing.
O Earth, O Sky, O Ocean, both surpassing, O heart of mine, O soul that dreads the dark! Is there no hope for me? Is there no way That I may sight and check that speeding bark Which out of sight and sound is passing, passing?


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

The Unlucky Apple

 'Twas the apple that in Eden 
Caused our father's primal fall; 
And the Trojan War, remember -- 
'Twas an apple caused it all.
So for weeks I've hesitated, You can guess the reason why, For I want to tell my darling She's the apple of my eye.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

A Choice

 They please me not-- these solemn songs 
That hint of sermons covered up.
'T is true the world should heed its wrongs, But in a poem let me sup, Not simples brewed to cure or ease Humanity's confessed disease, But the spirit-wine of a singing line, Or a dew-drop in a honey cup!


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

We Wear the Mask

 We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be overwise, In counting all our tears and sighs? Nay, let them only see us, while We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile Beneath our feet, and long the mile; But let the world dream otherwise, We wear the mask!


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Sympathy

 I know what the caged bird feels, alas! 
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes; 
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass, 
And the river flows like a stream of glass; 
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes, 
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals-- 
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing 
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars; 
For he must fly back to his perch and cling 
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing; 
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars 
And they pulse again with a keener sting-- 
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, 
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,-- 
When he beats his bars and he would be free; 
It is not a carol of joy or glee, 
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core, 
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings-- 
I know why the caged bird sings!


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

Lifes Tragedy

 It may be misery not to sing at all, 
And to go silent through the brimming day; 
It may be misery never to be loved, 
But deeper griefs than these beset the way.
To sing the perfect song, And by a half-tone lost the key, There the potent sorrow, there the grief, The pale, sad staring of Life's Tragedy.
To have come near to the perfect love, Not the hot passion of untempered youth, But that which lies aside its vanity, And gives, for thy trusting worship, truth.
This, this indeed is to be accursed, For if we mortals love, or if we sing, We count our joys not by what we have, But by what kept us from that perfect thing.


by Paul Laurence Dunbar | |

A Negro Love Song

 Seen my lady home las' night, 
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hel' huh han' an' sque'z it tight, Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh, Seen a light gleam f'om huh eye, An' a smile go flittin' by -- Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hyeahd de win' blow thoo de pine, Jump back, honey, jump back.
Mockin'-bird was singin' fine, Jump back, honey, jump back.
An' my hea't was beatin' so, When I reached my lady's do', Dat I could n't ba' to go -- Jump back, honey, jump back.
Put my ahm aroun' huh wais', Jump back, honey, jump back.
Raised huh lips an' took a tase, Jump back, honey, jump back.
Love me, honey, love me true? Love me well ez I love you? An' she answe'd, "'Cose I do"-- Jump back, honey, jump back.