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Best Famous Paul Laurence Dunbar Poems

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Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar | Create an image from this poem

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 | Create an image from this poem


 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 | Create an image from this poem

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 | Create an image from this poem


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 | Create an image from this poem


 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 | Create an image from this poem


Mammy's in de kitchen, an' de do' is shet;
All de pickaninnies climb an' tug an' sweat,[Pg 242]
Gittin' to de winder, stickin' dah lak flies,
Evah one ermong us des all nose an' eyes.
"Whut's she cookin', Isaac?"
"Whut's she cookin', Jake?"
"Is it sweet pertaters? Is hit pie er cake?"
But we couldn't mek out even whah we stood
Whut was mammy cookin' dat could smell so good.
Mammy spread de winder, an' she frown an' frown,
How de pickaninnies come a-tum-blin' down!
Den she say: "Ef you-all keeps a-peepin' in,
How I'se gwine to whup you, my! 't 'ill be a sin!
Need n' come a-sniffin' an' a-nosin' hyeah,
'Ca'se I knows my business, nevah feah."
Won't somebody tell us—how I wish dey would!—
Whut is mammy cookin' dat it smells so good?
We know she means business, an' we dassent stay,
Dough it's mighty tryin' fuh to go erway;
But we goes a-troopin' down de ol' wood-track
'Twell dat steamin' kitchen brings us stealin' back,
Climbin' an' a-peepin' so's to see inside.
Whut on earf kin mammy be so sha'p to hide?
I'd des up an' tell folks w'en I knowed I could,
Ef I was a-cookin' t'ings dat smelt so good.
Mammy in de oven, an' I see huh smile;
Moufs mus' be a-wat'rin' roun' hyeah fuh a mile;
Den we almos' hollah ez we hu'ies down,
'Ca'se hit's apple dumplin's, big an' fat an' brown!
W'en de do' is opened, solemn lak an' slow,
Wisht you see us settin' all dah in a row
Innercent an' p'opah, des lak chillun should
W'en dey mammy's cookin' t'ings dat smell so good.
Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar | Create an image from this poem


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 | Create an image from this poem


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.
Written by Paul Laurence Dunbar | Create an image from this poem

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 | Create an image from this poem

The Haunted Oak

 Pray why are you so bare, so bare, 
Oh, bough of the old oak-tree;
And why, when I go through the shade you throw,
Runs a shudder over me?
My leaves were green as the best, I trow,
And sap ran free in my veins,
But I say in the moonlight dim and weird
A guiltless victim's pains.
They'd charged him with the old, old crime, And set him fast in jail: Oh, why does the dog howl all night long, And why does the night wind wail? He prayed his prayer and he swore his oath, And he raised his hand to the sky; But the beat of hoofs smote on his ear, And the steady tread drew nigh.
Who is it rides by night, by night, Over the moonlit road? And what is the spur that keeps the pace, What is the galling goad? And now they beat at the prison door, "Ho, keeper, do not stay! We are friends of him whom you hold within, And we fain would take him away "From those who ride fast on our heels With mind to do him wrong; They have no care for his innocence, And the rope they bear is long.
" They have fooled the jailer with lying words, They have fooled the man with lies; The bolts unbar, the locks are drawn, And the great door open flies.
Now they have taken him from the jail, And hard and fast they ride, And the leader laughs low down in his throat, As they halt my trunk beside.
Oh, the judge, he wore a mask of black, And the doctor one of white, And the minister, with his oldest son, Was curiously bedight.
Oh, foolish man, why weep you now? 'Tis but a little space, And the time will come when these shall dread The mem'ry of your face.
I feel the rope against my bark, And the weight of him in my grain, I feel in the throe of his final woe The touch of my own last pain.
And never more shall leaves come forth On the bough that bears the ban; I am burned with dread, I am dried and dead, From the curse of a guiltless man.
And ever the judge rides by, rides by, And goes to hunt the deer, And ever another rides his soul In the guise of a mortal fear.
And ever the man he rides me hard, And never a night stays he; For I feel his curse as a haunted bough, On the trunk of a haunted tree.