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Best Famous Paul Laurence Dunbar Poems

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Written 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 over-wise, 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!

Written 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.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |

A CHOICE

They please me not—these solemn songs
That hint of sermons covered up.
'Tis 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,
[Pg 127]Or a dew-drop in a honey cup!

Written 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.
"

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |

Frederick Douglass

 A hush is over all the teeming lists,
And there is pause, a breath-space in the strife;
A spirit brave has passed beyond the mists
And vapors that obscure the sun of life.
And Ethiopia, with bosom torn, Laments the passing of her noblest born.
She weeps for him a mother's burning tears-- She loved him with a mother's deepest love He was her champion thro' direful years, And held her weal all other ends above.
When Bondage held her bleeding in the dust, He raised her up and whispered, 'Hope and Trust.
' For her his voice, a fearless clarion, rung That broke in warning on the ears of men; For her the strong bow of his pow'r he strung And sent his arrows to the very den Where grim Oppression held his bloody place And gloated o'er the mis'ries of a race.
And he was no soft-tongued apologist; He spoke straight-forward, fearlessly uncowed; The sunlight of his truth dispelled the mist And set in bold relief each dark-hued cloud; To sin and crime he gave their proper hue, And hurled at evil what was evil's due.
Thro' good and ill report he cleaved his way Right onward, with his face set toward the heights, Nor feared to face the foeman's dread array-- The lash of scorn, the sting of petty spites.
He dared the lightning in the lightning's track, And answered thunder with his thunder back.
When men maligned him and their torrent wrath In furious imprecations o'er him broke, He kept his counsel as he kept his path; 'Twas for his race, not for himself, he spoke.
He knew the import of his Master's call And felt himself too mighty to be small.
No miser in the good he held was he-- His kindness followed his horizon's rim.
His heart, his talents and his hands were free To all who truly needed aught of him.
Where poverty and ignorance were rife, He gave his bounty as he gave his life.
The place and cause that first aroused his might Still proved its pow'r until his latest day.
In Freedom's lists and for the aid of Right Still in the foremost rank he waged the fray; Wrong lived; His occupation was not gone.
He died in action with his armor on! We weep for him, but we have touched his hand, And felt the magic of his presence nigh, The current that he sent thro' out the land, The kindling spirit of his battle-cry O'er all that holds us we shall triumph yet And place our banner where his hopes were set! Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore, But still thy voice is ringing o'er the gale! Thou 'st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry, She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh, And rising from beneath the chast'ning rod, She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |

ODE FOR MEMORIAL DAY

Done are the toils and the wearisome marches,
Done is the summons of bugle and drum.
Softly and sweetly the sky over-arches,
Shelt'ring a land where Rebellion is dumb.
Dark were the days of the country's derangement,
Sad were the hours when the conflict was on,
But through the gloom of fraternal estrangement
God sent his light, and we welcome the dawn.
O'er the expanse of our mighty dominions,
Sweeping away to the uttermost parts,
Peace, the wide-flying, on untiring pinions,
Bringeth her message of joy to our hearts.
Ah, but this joy which our minds cannot measure,
What did it cost for our fathers to gain!
Bought at the price of the heart's dearest treasure,
[Pg 23]Born out of travail and sorrow and pain;
Born in the battle where fleet Death was flying,
Slaying with sabre-stroke bloody and fell;
Born where the heroes and martyrs were dying,
Torn by the fury of bullet and shell.
Ah, but the day is past: silent the rattle,
And the confusion that followed the fight.
Peace to the heroes who died in the battle,
Martyrs to truth and the crowning of Right!
Out of the blood of a conflict fraternal,
Out of the dust and the dimness of death,
Burst into blossoms of glory eternal
Flowers that sweeten the world with their breath.
Flowers of charity, peace, and devotion
Bloom in the hearts that are empty of strife;
Love that is boundless and broad as the ocean
Leaps into beauty and fulness of life.
So, with the singing of paeans and chorals,
And with the flag flashing high in the sun,
Place on the graves of our heroes the laurels
Which their unfaltering valor has won!

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |

A Golden Day

 I Found you and I lost you, 
All on a gleaming day.
The day was filled with sunshine, And the land was full of May.
A golden bird was singing Its melody divine, I found you and I loved you, And all the world was mine.
I found you and I lost you, All on a golden day, But when I dream of you, dear, It is always brimming May.

Written 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.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |

A PRAYER

O Lord, the hard-won miles
Have worn my stumbling feet:
Oh, soothe me with thy smiles,
And make my life complete.
The thorns were thick and keen
Where'er I trembling trod;
The way was long between
My wounded feet and God.
Where healing waters flow
Do thou my footsteps lead.
My heart is aching so;
Thy gracious balm I need.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |

The Paradox

 I am the mother of sorrows, 
I am the ender of grief; 
I am the bud and the blossom, 
I am the late-falling leaf.
I am thy priest and thy poet, I am thy serf and thy king; I cure the tears of the heartsick, When I come near they shall sing.
White are my hands as the snowdrop; Swart are my fingers as clay; Dark is my frown as the midnight, Fair is my brow as the day.
Battle and war are my minions, Doing my will as divine; I am the calmer of passions, Peace is a nursling of mine.
Speak to me gently or curse me, Seek me or fly from my sight; I am thy fool in the morning, Thou art my slave in the night.
Down to the grave I will take thee, Out from the noise of the strife, Then shalt thou see me and know me-- Death, then, no longer, but life.
Then shalt thou sing at my coming, Kiss me with passionate breath, Clasp me and smile to have thought me Aught save the foeman of death.
Come to me, brother, when weary, Come when thy lonely heart swells; I'll guide thy footsteps and lead thee Down where the Dream Woman dwells.

Written 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.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |

Encouragement

 WHO dat knockin' at de do'?
Why, Ike Johnson, -- yes, fu' sho!
Come in, Ike.
I's mighty glad You come down.
I t'ought you's mad At me 'bout de othah night, An' was stayin' 'way fu' spite.
Say, now, was you mad fu' true W'en I kin' o' laughed at you? Speak up, Ike, an' 'spress yo'se'f.
'T ain't no use a-lookin' sad, An' a-mekin' out you's mad; Ef you's gwine to be so glum, Wondah why you evah come.
I don't lak nobody 'roun' Dat jes' shet dey mouf an' frown,-- Oh, now, man, don't act a dunce! Cain't you talk? I tol' you once, Speak up, Ike, an' 'spress yo'se'f.
Wha'd you come hyeah fu' to-night? Body'd t'ink yo' haid ain't right.
I's done all dat I kin do,-- Dressed perticler, jes' fu' you; Reckon I'd 'a' bettah wo' My ol' ragged calico.
Aftah all de pains I's took, Cain't you tell me how I look? Speak up, Ike, an' 'spress yo'se'f.
Bless my soul! I 'mos' fu'got Tellin' you 'bout Tildy Scott.
Don't you know, come Thu'sday night, She gwine ma'y Lucius White? Miss Lize say I allus wuh Heap sight laklier 'n huh; An' she'll git me somep'n new, Ef I wants to ma'y too.
Speak up, Ike, an' 'spress yo'se'f.
I could ma'y in a week, Ef de man I wants 'ud speak.
Tildy's presents'll be fine, But dey would n't ekal mine.
Him whut gits me fu' a wife 'Ll be proud, you bet yo' life.
I's had offers; some ain't quit; But I has n't ma'ied yit! Speak up, Ike, an' 'spress yo'se'f.
Ike, I loves you,--yes, I does; You's my choice, and allus was.
Laffin' at you ain't no harm.
-- Go 'way, dahky, whaih's yo' arm? Hug me closer--dah, dat's right! Was n't you a awful sight, Havin' me to baig you so? Now ax whut you want to know,-- Speak up, Ike, an' 'spress yo'se'f!

Written 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.

Written 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.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |

THE DISCOVERY

These are the days of elfs and fays:
Who says that with the dreams of myth,
These imps and elves disport themselves?
Ah no, along the paths of song
Do all the tiny folk belong.
Round all our homes,
Kobolds and gnomes do daily cling,
Then nightly fling their lanterns out.
And shout on shout, they join the rout,
And sing, and sing, within the sweet enchanted ring.
Where gleamed the guile of moonlight's smile,
Once paused I, listening for a while,
And heard the lay, unknown by day,—
The fairies' dancing roundelay.
Queen Mab was there, her shimmering hair
Each fairy prince's heart's despair.
She smiled to see their sparkling glee,
And once I ween, she smiled at me.
Since when, you may by night or day,
Dispute the sway of elf-folk gay;
But, hear me, stay![Pg 252]
I've learned the way to find Queen
Mab and elf and fay.
Where e'er by streams, the moonlight gleams,
Or on a meadow softly beams,
There, footing round on dew-lit ground,
The fairy folk may all be found.