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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 |


The draft of love was cool and sweet
You gave me in the cup,
But, ah, love's fire is keen and fleet,
And I am burning up.
Unless the tears I shed for you
Shall quench this burning flame,
It will consume me through and through,
[Pg 253]And leave but ash—a name.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


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 answeh, an' I see huh 'mence to grin,
"Howdy, honey, howdy, won't you step right in?"
Den I step erpon de log layin' at de do',
Bless de Lawd, huh mammy an' huh pap's done 'menced to sno',
Now's de time, ef evah, ef I's gwine to try an' win,
"Howdy, honey, howdy, won't you step right in?"
No use playin' on de aidge, trimblin' on de brink,
Wen a body love a gal, tell huh whut he t'ink;
W'en huh hea't is open fu' de love you gwine to gin,
Pull yo'se'f togethah, suh, an' step right in.
Sweetes' imbitation dat a body evah hyeahed,
Sweetah den de music of a lovesick mockin'-bird,
Comin' f'om de gal you loves bettah den yo' kin,
"Howdy, honey, howdy, won't you step right in?"
At de gate o' heaven w'en de storm o' life is pas',
'Spec' I 'll be a-stan'in', 'twell de Mastah say at las',
"Hyeah he stan' all weary, but he winned his fight wid sin.
Howdy, honey, howdy, won't you step right in?"

More great poems below...

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


 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 |


Out of the sunshine and out of the heat,
Out of the dust of the grimy street,
A song fluttered down in the form of a dove,
And it bore me a message, the one word—Love!
Ah, I was toiling, and oh, I was sad:
I had forgotten the way to be glad.
Now, smiles for my sadness and for my toil, rest
Since the dove fluttered down to its home in my breast![Pg 168]

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


The rain streams down like harp-strings from the sky;
The wind, that world-old harpist sitteth by;
And ever as he sings his low refrain,
He plays upon the harp-strings of the rain.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


Oh, de weathah it is balmy an' de breeze is sighin' low.
Li'l' gal,
An' de mockin' bird is singin' in de locus' by de do',
Li'l' gal;
Dere 's a hummin' an' a bummin' in de lan' f'om eas' to wes',
I 's a-sighin' fu' you, honey, an' I nevah know no res'.
Fu' dey 's lots o' trouble brewin' an' a-stewin' in my breas',
Li'l' gal.
Whut 's de mattah wid de weathah, whut's de mattah wid de breeze,
Li'l' gal?
Whut 's de mattah wid de locus' dat 's a-singin' in de trees,
Li'l' gal?
W'y dey knows dey ladies love 'em, an' dey knows dey love 'em true,
An' dey love 'em back, I reckon, des' lak I 's a-lovin' you;
Dat 's de reason dey 's a-weavin' an' a-sighin', thoo an' thoo,
[Pg 208]Li'l' gal.
Don't you let no da'ky fool you 'cause de clo'es he waihs is fine,
Li'l' gal.
Dey 's a hones' hea't a-beatin' unnerneaf dese rags o' mine,
Li'l' gal.
Cose dey ain' no use in mockin' whut de birds an' weathah do,
But I 's so'y I cain't 'spress it w'en I knows I loves you true,
Dat 's de reason I 's a-sighin' an' a-singin now fu' you,
Li'l' gal.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


De da'kest hour, dey allus say,
Is des' befo' de dawn,
But it's moughty ha'd a-waitin'
W'ere de night goes frownin' on;
An' it's moughty ha'd a-hopin'
W'en de clouds is big an' black,
An' all de t'ings you 's waited fu'
Has failed, er gone to wrack—
But des' keep on a-joggin' wid a little bit o' song,
De mo'n is allus brightah w'en de night's been long.
Dey 's lots o' knocks you 's got to tek
Befo' yo' journey 's done,
An' dey 's times w'en you 'll be wishin'
Dat de weary race was run;
W'en you want to give up tryin'
An' des' float erpon de wave,
W'en you don't feel no mo' sorrer
Ez you t'ink erbout de grave—
Den, des' keep on a-joggin' wid a little bit o' song,
De mo'n is allus brightah w'en de night's been long.
De whup-lash sting a good deal mo'
De back hit 's knowed befo',
An' de burden 's allus heavies'
Whaih hits weight has made a so';
Dey is times w'en tribulation
Seems to git de uppah han'
An' to whip de weary trav'lah
'Twell he ain't got stren'th to stan'[Pg 166]—
But des' keep on a-joggin' wid a little bit o' song,
De mo'n is allus brightah w'en de night's been long.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


 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
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 |

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 |


I 's feelin' kin' o' lonesome in my little room to-night,
An' my min 's done los' de minutes an' de miles,
Wile it teks me back a-flyin' to de country of delight,
Whaih de Chesapeake goes grumblin' er wid smiles.
[Pg 203]Oh, de ol' plantation 's callin' to me, Come, come back,
Hyeah 's de place fu' you to labouh an' to res',
'Fu my sandy roads is gleamin' w'ile de city ways is black;
Come back, honey, case yo' country home is bes'.
I know de moon is shinin' down erpon de Eastern sho',
An' de bay 's a-sayin' "Howdy" to de lan';
An' de folks is all a-settin' out erroun' de cabin do',
Wid dey feet a-restin' in de silvah san';
An' de ol' plantation 's callin' to me, Come, oh, come,
F'om de life dat 's des' a-waihin' you erway,
F'om de trouble an' de bustle, an' de agernizin' hum
Dat de city keeps ergoin' all de day.
I 's tiahed of de city, tek me back to Sandy Side,
Whaih de po'est ones kin live an' play an' eat;
Whaih we draws a simple livin' f'om de fo'est an' de tide,
An' de days ah faih, an' evah night is sweet.
Fu' de ol' plantation 's callin' to me, Come, oh, come.
An' de Chesapeake 's a-sayin' "Dat's de t'ing,"
W'ile my little cabin beckons, dough his mouf is closed an' dumb,
I 's a-comin, an' my hea't begins to sing.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


Kiss me, Miami, thou most constant one!
I love thee more for that thou changest not.
When Winter comes with frigid blast,
Or when the blithesome Spring is past
And Summer's here with sunshine hot,
Or in sere Autumn, thou has still the pow'r
To charm alike, whate'er the hour.
Kiss me, Miami, with thy dewy lips;
Throbs fast my heart e'en as thine own breast beats.
My soul doth rise as rise thy waves,
As each on each the dark shore laves
And breaks in ripples and retreats.
There is a poem in thine every phase;
Thou still has sung through all thy days.
Tell me, Miami, how it was with thee
When years ago Tecumseh in his prime
His birch boat o'er thy waters sent,
And pitched upon thy banks his tent.
In that long-gone, poetic time,
Did some bronze bard thy flowing stream sit by
And sing thy praises, e'en as I?[Pg 278]
Did some bronze lover 'neath this dark old tree
Whisper of love unto his Indian maid?
And didst thou list his murmurs deep,
And in thy bosom safely keep
The many raging vows they said?
Or didst thou tell to fish and frog and bird
The raptured scenes that there occurred?
But, O dear stream, what volumes thou couldst tell
To all who know thy language as I do,
Of life and love and jealous hate!
But now to tattle were too late,—
Thou who hast ever been so true.
Tell not to every passing idler here
All those sweet tales that reached thine ear.
But, silent stream, speak out and tell me this:
I say that men and things are still the same;
Were men as bold to do and dare?
Were women then as true and fair?
Did poets seek celestial flame,
The hero die to gain a laureled brow,
And women suffer, then as now?

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


When summer time has come, and all
The world is in the magic thrall
Of perfumed airs that lull each sense
To fits of drowsy indolence;
When skies are deepest blue above,
And flow'rs aflush,—then most I love
To start, while early dews are damp,
And wend my way in woodland tramp
Where forests rustle, tree on tree,
And sing their silent songs to me;
Where pathways meet and path ways part,—
To walk with Nature heart by heart,
Till wearied out at last I lie
Where some sweet stream steals singing by
A mossy bank; where violets vie
In color with the summer sky,—
Or take my rod and line and hook,
And wander to some darkling brook,
Where all day long the willows dream,
And idly droop to kiss the stream,
And there to loll from morn till night—
Unheeding nibble, run, or bite—
Just for the joy of being there
And drinking in the summer air,
The summer sounds, and summer sights,
That set a restless mind to rights
When grief and pain and raging doubt
Of men and creeds have worn it out;
The birds' song and the water's drone,
The humming bees' low monotone,
The murmur of the passing breeze,
And all the sounds akin to these,
That make a man in summer time[Pg 281]
Feel only fit for rest and rhyme.
Joy springs all radiant in my breast;
Though pauper poor, than king more blest,
The tide beats in my soul so strong
That happiness breaks forth in song,
And rings aloud the welkin blue
With all the songs I ever knew.
O time of rapture! time of song!
How swiftly glide thy days along
Adown the current of the years,
Above the rocks of grief and tears!
'Tis wealth enough of joy for me
In summer time to simply be.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


Say a mass for my soul's repose, my brother,
Say a mass for my soul's repose, I need it,
Lovingly lived we, the sons of one mother,
Mine was the sin, but I pray you not heed it.
Dark were her eyes as the sloe and they called me,
Called me with voice independent of breath.
God! how my heart beat; her beauty appalled me,
Dazed me, and drew to the sea-brink of death.
Lithe was her form like a willow. She beckoned,
What could I do save to follow and follow,
Nothing of right or result could be reckoned;
[Pg 212]Life without her was unworthy and hollow.
Ay, but I wronged thee, my brother, my brother;
Ah, but I loved her, thy beautiful wife.
Shade of our father, and soul of our mother,
Have I not paid for my love with my life?
Dark was the night when, revengeful, I met you,
Deep in the heart of a desolate land.
Warm was the life-blood which angrily wet you
Sharp was the knife that I felt from your hand.
Wept you, oh, wept you, alone by the river,
When my stark carcass you secretly sank.
Ha, now I see that you tremble and shiver;
'T was but my spirit that passed when you shrank!
Weep not, oh, weep not, 't is over, 't is over;
Stir the dark weeds with the turn of the tide;
Go, thou hast sent me forth, ever a rover,
Rest and the sweet realm of heaven denied.
Say a mass for my soul's repose, my brother,
Say a mass for my soul, I need it.
Sin of mine was it, and sin of no other,
Mine was it all, but I pray you not heed it.

Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar |


Storm and strife and stress,
Lost in a wilderness,
Groping to find a way,
Forth to the haunts of day
Sudden a vista peeps,
Out of the tangled deeps,
Only a point—the ray
But at the end is day.
Dark is the dawn and chill,
Daylight is on the hill,
Night is the flitting breath,
Day rides the hills of death.