Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

June 20, 2007

The Long-Awaited, Unabating, Top 30 All-Time Greatest Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Below is a countdown of the top 30 poems written by Paul Laurence Dunbar, who was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872, and died there in 1906. The poems included here are very enjoyable and speak very well to the world, some through dialect. They show Dunbar to be unique, important, and universal by way of expressing specifics from culture he encountered, was taught, and lived.

To find more about, and read more Dunbar, you can click into the pages of the Wright State University Libraries: Paul Laurence Dunbar Digital Collection.

   
   

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#30


   

Lincoln
   

    Hurt was the nation with a mighty wound,
    And all her ways were filled with clam’rous sound.
    Wailed loud the South with unremitting grief,
    And wept the North that could not find relief.
    Then madness joined its harshest tone to strife:
    A minor note swelled in the song of life.
    ‘Till, stirring with the love that filled his breast,
    But still, unflinching at the right’s behest,
    Grave Lincoln came, strong handed, from afar,
    The mighty Homer of the lyre of war.
    ‘T was he who bade the raging tempest cease,
    Wrenched from his harp the harmony of peace,
    Muted the strings, that made the discord,–Wrong,
    And gave his spirit up in thund’rous song.
    Oh mighty Master of the mighty lyre,
    Earth heard and trembled at thy strains of fire:
    Earth learned of thee what Heav’n already knew,
    And wrote thee down among her treasured few.

   
   

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#29

   

“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 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?”

   
   

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#28

   

The Colored Soldiers
   

    If the muse were mine to tempt it
      And my feeble voice were strong,
    If my tongue were trained to measures,
      I would sing a stirring song.
    I would sing a song heroic
      Of those noble sons of Ham,
    Of the gallant colored soldiers
      Who fought for Uncle Sam!

    In the early days you scorned them,
      And with many a flip and flout
    Said “These battles are the white man’s,
      And the whites will fight them out.”
    Up the hills you fought and faltered,
      In the vales you strove and bled,
    While your ears still heard the thunder
      Of the foes’ advancing tread.

    Then distress fell on the nation,
      And the flag was drooping low;
    Should the dust pollute your banner?
      No! the nation shouted, No!
    So when War, in savage triumph,
      Spread abroad his funeral pall–
    Then you called the colored soldiers,
      And they answered to your call.

    And like hounds unleashed and eager
      For the life blood of the prey,
    Sprung they forth and bore them bravely
      In the thickest of the fray.
    And where’er the fight was hottest,
      Where the bullets fastest fell,
    There they pressed unblanched and fearless
      At the very mouth of hell.

    Ah, they rallied to the standard
      To uphold it by their might;
    None were stronger in the labors,
      None were braver in the fight.
    From the blazing breach of Wagner
      To the plains of Olustee,
    They were foremost in the fight
      Of the battles of the free.

    And at Pillow! God have mercy
      On the deeds committed there,
    And the souls of those poor victims
      Sent to Thee without a prayer.
    Let the fulness of Thy pity
      O’er the hot wrought spirits sway
    Of the gallant colored soldiers
      Who fell fighting on that day!

    Yes, the Blacks enjoy their freedom,
      And they won it dearly, too;
    For the life blood of their thousands
      Did the southern fields bedew.
    In the darkness of their bondage,
      In the depths of slavery’s night,
    Their muskets flashed the dawning,
      And they fought their way to light.

    They were comrades then and brothers,
      Are they more or less to-day?
    They were good to stop a bullet
      And to front the fearful fray.
    They were citizens and soldiers,
      When rebellion raised its head;
    And the traits that made them worthy,–
      Ah! those virtues are not dead.

    They have shared your nightly vigils,
      They have shared your daily toil;
    And their blood with yours commingling
      Has enriched the Southern soil.

    They have slept and marched and suffered
      ‘Neath the same dark skies as you,
    They have met as fierce a foeman,
      And have been as brave and true.

    And their deeds shall find a record
      In the registry of Fame;
    For their blood has cleansed completely
      Every blot of Slavery’s shame.
    So all honor and all glory
      To those noble sons of Ham–
    The gallant colored soldiers
      Who fought for Uncle Sam!

   
   

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#27

   

A Letter
   

    Dear Miss Lucy: I been t’inkin’ dat I ‘d write you long fo’ dis,
    But dis writin’ ‘s mighty tejous, an’ you know jes’ how it is.
    But I ‘s got a little lesure, so I teks my pen in han’
    Fu’ to let you know my feelin’s since I retched dis furrin’ lan’.
    I ‘s right well, I ‘s glad to tell you (dough dis climate ain’t to blame),
    An’ I hopes w’en dese lines reach you, dat dey ‘ll fin’ yo’ se’f de same.
    Cose I ‘se feelin kin’ o’ homesick–dat ‘s ez nachul ez kin be,
    Wen a feller ‘s mo’n th’ee thousand miles across dat awful sea.
    (Don’t you let nobidy fool you ’bout de ocean bein’ gran’;
    If you want to see de billers, you jes’ view dem f’om de lan’.)
    ‘Bout de people? We been t’inkin’ dat all white folks was alak;
    But dese Englishmen is diffunt, an’ dey ‘s curus fu’ a fac’.
    Fust, dey’s heavier an’ redder in dey make-up an’ dey looks,
    An’ dey don’t put salt nor pepper in a blessed t’ing dey cooks!
    Wen dey gin you good ol’ tu’nips, ca’ots, pa’snips, beets, an’ sich,
    Ef dey ain’t some one to tell you, you cain’t ‘stinguish which is which.
    Wen I t’ought I ‘s eatin’ chicken–you may b’lieve dis hyeah ‘s a lie–
    But de waiter beat me down dat I was eatin’ rabbit pie.
    An’ dey ‘d t’ink dat you was crazy–jes’ a reg’lar ravin’ loon,
    Ef you ‘d speak erbout a ‘possum or a piece o’ good ol’ coon.
    O, hit’s mighty nice, dis trav’lin’, an’ I ‘s kin’ o’ glad I come.
    But, I reckon, now I ‘s willin’ fu’ to tek my way back home.
    I done see de Crystal Palace, an’ I ‘s hyeahd dey string-band play,
    But I has n’t seen no banjos layin’ nowhahs roun’ dis way.
    Jes’ gin ol’ Jim Bowles a banjo, an’ he ‘d not go very fu’,
    ‘Fo’ he ‘d outplayed all dese fiddlers, wif dey flourish and dey stir.
    Evahbiddy dat I ‘s met wif has been monst’ous kin an’ good;
    But I t’ink I ‘d lak it better to be down in Jones’s wood,
    Where we ust to have sich frolics, Lucy, you an’ me an’ Nelse,
    Dough my appetite ‘ud call me, ef dey was n’t nuffin else.
    I ‘d jes’ lak to have some sweet-pertaters roasted in de skin;
    I ‘s a-longin’ fu’ my chittlin’s an’ my mustard greens ergin;
    I ‘s a-wishin’ fu’ some buttermilk, an’ co’n braid, good an’ brown,
    An’ a drap o’ good ol’ bourbon fu’ to wash my feelin’s down!
    An’ I ‘s comin’ back to see you jes’ as ehly as I kin,
    So you better not go spa’kin’ wif dat wuffless scoun’el Quin!
    Well, I reckon, I mus’ close now; write ez soon’s dis reaches you;
    Gi’ my love to Sister Mandy an’ to Uncle Isham, too.
    Tell de folks I sen’ ’em howdy; gin a kiss to pap an’ mam;
    Closin’ I is, deah Miss Lucy, Still Yo’ Own True-Lovin’ Sam.

    P. S. Ef you cain’t mek out dis letter, lay it by erpon de she’f,
        An’ when I git home, I ‘ll read it, darlin’, to you my own se’f.

   
   

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#26


   

The Old Front Gate
   

    W’en daih ‘s chillun in de house,
      Dey keep on a-gittin’ tall;
    But de folks don’ seem to see
      Dat dey ‘s growin’ up at all,
    ‘Twell dey fin’ out some fine day
      Dat de gals has ‘menced to grow,
    Wen dey notice as dey pass
      Dat de front gate ‘s saggin’ low.

    Wen de hinges creak an’ cry,
      An’ de bahs go slantin’ down,
    You kin reckon dat hit’s time
      Fu’ to cas’ yo’ eye erroun’,
    ‘Cause daih ain’t no ‘sputin’ dis,
      Hit’s de trues’ sign to show
    Dat daih ‘s cou’tin’ goin’ on
      Wen de ol’ front gate sags low.

    Oh, you grumble an’ complain,
      An’ you prop dat gate up right;
    But you notice right nex’ day
      Dat hit’s in de same ol’ plight.
    So you fin’ dat hit’s a rule,
      An’ daih ain’ no use to blow,
    W’en de gals is growin’ up,
      Dat de front gate will sag low.

    Den you t’ink o’ yo’ young days,
      W’en you cou’ted Sally Jane,
    An’ you so’t o’ feel ashamed
      Fu’ to grumble an’ complain,
    ‘Cause yo’ ricerlection says,
      An’ you know hits wo’ds is so,
    Dat huh pappy had a time
      Wid his front gate saggin’ low.

    So you jes’ looks on an’ smiles
      At ’em leanin’ on de gate,
    Tryin’ to t’ink whut he kin say
      Fu’ to keep him daih so late,
    But you lets dat gate erlone,
      Fu’ yo’ ‘sperunce goes to show,
    ‘Twell de gals is ma’ied off,
      It gwine keep on saggin’ low.

   
   

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#25

   

Communion
   

    In the silence of my heart,
      I will spend an hour with thee,
    When my love shall rend apart
      All the veil of mystery:

    All that dim and misty veil
      That shut in between our souls
    When Death cried, “Ho, maiden, hail!”
      And your barque sped on the shoals.

    On the shoals? Nay, wrongly said.
      On the breeze of Death that sweeps
    Far from life, thy soul has sped
      Out into unsounded deeps.

    I shall take an hour and come
      Sailing, darling, to thy side.
    Wind nor sea may keep me from
      Soft communings with my bride.

    I shall rest my head on thee
      As I did long days of yore,
    When a calm, untroubled sea
      Rocked thy vessel at the shore.

    I shall take thy hand in mine,
      And live o’er the olden days
    When thy smile to me was wine,–
      Golden wine thy word of praise,

    For the carols I had wrought
      In my soul’s simplicity;
    For the petty beads of thought
      Which thine eyes alone could see.

    Ah, those eyes, love-blind, but keen
      For my welfare and my weal!
    Tho’ the grave-door shut between,
      Still their love-lights o’er me steal.

    I can see thee thro’ my tears,
      As thro’ rain we see the sun.
    What tho’ cold and cooling years
      Shall their bitter courses run,–

    I shall see thee still and be
      Thy true lover evermore,
    And thy face shall be to me
      Dear and helpful as before.

    Death may vaunt and Death may boast,
      But we laugh his pow’r to scorn;
    He is but a slave at most,–
      Night that heralds coming morn.

    I shall spend an hour with thee
      Day by day, my little bride.
    True love laughs at mystery,
      Crying, “Doors of Death, fly wide.”

   
   

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#24


   

The Voice of the Banjo
   

    In a small and lonely cabin out of noisy traffic’s way,
    Sat an old man, bent and feeble, dusk of face, and hair of gray,
    And beside him on the table, battered, old, and worn as he,
    Lay a banjo, droning forth this reminiscent melody:

    “Night is closing in upon us, friend of mine, but don’t be sad;
    Let us think of all the pleasures and the joys that we have had.
    Let us keep a merry visage, and be happy till the last,
    Let the future still be sweetened with the honey of the past.

    “For I speak to you of summer nights upon the yellow sand,
    When the Southern moon was sailing high and silvering all the land;
    And if love tales were not sacred, there’s a tale that I could tell
    Of your many nightly wanderings with a dusk and lovely belle.

    “And I speak to you of care-free songs when labour’s hour was o’er,
    And a woman waiting for your step outside the cabin door,
    And of something roly-poly that you took upon your lap,
    While you listened for the stumbling, hesitating words, ‘Pap, pap.’

    “I could tell you of a ‘possum hunt across the wooded grounds,
    I could call to mind the sweetness of the baying of the hounds,
    You could lift me up and smelling of the timber that ‘s in me,
    Build again a whole green forest with the mem’ry of a tree.

    “So the future cannot hurt us while we keep the past in mind,
    What care I for trembling fingers,–what care you that you are blind?
    Time may leave us poor and stranded, circumstance may make us bend;
    But they ‘ll only find us mellower, won’t they, comrade?–in the end.”

   
   

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#23

   

Puttin’ the Baby Away
   

    Eight of ’em hyeah all tol’ an’ yet
    Dese eyes o’ mine is wringin’ wet;
    My haht’s a-achin’ ha’d an’ so’,
    De way hit nevah ached befo’;
    My soul’s a-pleadin’, “Lawd, give back
    Dis little lonesome baby black,
    Dis one, dis las’ po’ he’pless one
    Whose little race was too soon run.”

    Po’ Little Jim, des fo’ yeahs ol’
    A-layin’ down so still an’ col’.
    Somehow hit don’ seem ha’dly faih,
    To have my baby lyin’ daih
    Wi’dout a smile upon his face,
    Wi’dout a look erbout de place;
    He ust to be so full o’ fun
    Hit don’ seem right dat all’s done, done.

    Des eight in all but I don’ caih,
    Dey wa’nt a single one to spaih;
    De worl’ was big, so was my haht,
    An’ dis hyeah baby owned hit’s paht;
    De house was po’, dey clothes was rough,
    But daih was meat an’ meal enough;
    An’ daih was room fu’ little Jim;
    Oh! Lawd, what made you call fu’ him?.

    It do seem monst’ous ha’d to-day,
    To lay dis baby boy away;
    I’d learned to love his teasin’ smile,
    He mought o’ des been lef’ erwhile;
    You wouldn’t t’ought wid all de folks,
    Dat’s roun’ hyeah mixin’ teahs an’ jokes,
    De Lawd u’d had de time to see
    Dis chile an’ tek him ‘way f’om me.

    But let it go, I reckon Jim,
    ‘Ll des go right straight up to Him
    Dat took him f’om his mammy’s nest
    An’ lef dis achin’ in my breas’,
    An’ lookin’ in dat fathah’s face
    An’ ‘memberin’ dis lone sorrerin’ place,
    He’ll say, “Good Lawd, you ought to had
    Do sumpin’ fu’ to comfo’t dad!”

   
   

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#22

   

The Deserted Plantation
   

    Oh, de grubbin’-hoe ‘s a-rustin’ in de co’nah,
      An’ de plow ‘s a-tumblin’ down in de fiel’,
    While de whippo’will ‘s a-wailin’ lak a mou’nah
      When his stubbo’n hea’t is tryin’ ha’d to yiel’.

    In de furrers whah de co’n was allus wavin’,
      Now de weeds is growin’ green an’ rank an’ tall;
    An’ de swallers roun’ de whole place is a-bravin’
      Lak dey thought deir folks had allus owned it all.

    An’ de big house stan’s all quiet lak an’ solemn,
      Not a blessed soul in pa’lor, po’ch, er lawn;
    Not a guest, ner not a ca’iage lef’ to haul ’em,
      Fu’ de ones dat tu’ned de latch-string out air gone.

    An’ de banjo’s voice is silent in de qua’ters,
      D’ ain’t a hymn ner co’n-song ringin’ in de air;
    But de murmur of a branch’s passin’ waters
      Is de only soun’ dat breks de stillness dere.

    Whah ‘s de da’kies, dem dat used to be a-dancin’
      Evry night befo’ de ole cabin do’?
    Whah ‘s de chillun, dem dat used to be a-prancin’
      Er a-rollin’ in de san’ er on de flo’?

    Whah ‘s ole Uncle Mordecai an’ Uncle Aaron?
      Whah ‘s Aunt Doshy, Sam, an’ Kit, an’ all de res’?
    Whah ‘s ole Tom de da’ky fiddlah, how ‘s he farin’?
      Whah ‘s de gals dat used to sing an’ dance de bes’?

    Gone! not one o’ dem is lef’ to tell de story;
      Dey have lef’ de deah ole place to fall away.
    Could n’t one o’ dem dat seed it in its glory
      Stay to watch it in de hour of decay?

    Dey have lef’ de ole plantation to de swallers,
      But it hol’s in me a lover till de las’;
    Fu’ I fin’ hyeah in de memory dat follers
      All dat loved me an’ dat I loved in de pas’.

    So I’ll stay an’ watch de deah ole place an’ tend it
      Ez I used to in de happy days gone by.
    ‘Twell de othah Mastah thinks it’s time to end it,
      An’ calls me to my qua’ters in de sky.

   
   

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#21

   

Growin’ Gray
   

    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray,
    An’ it beats ole Ned to see the way
    ‘At the crow’s feet’s a-getherin’ aroun’ yore eyes;
    Tho’ it ought n’t to cause me no su’prise,
    Fur there ‘s many a sun ‘at you ‘ve seen rise
    An’ many a one you ‘ve seen go down
    Sence yore step was light an’ yore hair was brown,
    An’ storms an’ snows have had their way–
    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray.

    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray,
    An’ the youthful pranks ‘at you used to play
    Are dreams of a far past long ago
    That lie in a heart where the fires burn low–
    That has lost the flame though it kept the glow,
    An’ spite of drivin’ snow an’ storm,
    Beats bravely on forever warm.
    December holds the place of May–
    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray.

    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray–
    Who cares what the carpin’ youngsters say?
    For, after all, when the tale is told,
    Love proves if a man is young or old!
    Old age can’t make the heart grow cold
    When it does the will of an honest mind;
    When it beats with love fur all mankind;
    Then the night but leads to a fairer day–
    Hello, ole man, you ‘re a-gittin’ gray!

   
   

_____

#20

   

On the River
   

    The sun is low,
    The waters flow,
    My boat is dancing to and fro.
    The eve is still,
    Yet from the hill
    The killdeer echoes loud and shrill.

    The paddles plash,
    The wavelets dash,
    We see the summer lightning flash;
    While now and then,
    In marsh and fen
    Too muddy for the feet of men,

    Where neither bird
    Nor beast has stirred,
    The spotted bullfrog’s croak is heard.
    The wind is high,
    The grasses sigh,
    The sluggish stream goes sobbing by.

    And far away
    The dying day
    Has cast its last effulgent ray;
    While on the land
    The shadows stand
    Proclaiming that the eve’s at hand.

   
   

_____

#19


   

When Malindy Sings
   

    G’way an’ quit dat noise, Miss Lucy–
      Put dat music book away;
    What’s de use to keep on tryin’?
      Ef you practise twell you ‘re gray,
    You cain’t sta’t no notes a-flyin’
      Lak de ones dat rants and rings
    F’om de kitchen to be big woods
      When Malindy sings.

    You ain’t got de nachel o’gans
      Fu’ to make de soun’ come right,
    You ain’t got de tu’ns an’ twistin’s
      Fu’ to make it sweet an’ light.
    Tell you one thing now, Miss Lucy,
      An’ I ‘m tellin’ you fu’ true,
    When hit comes to raal right singin’,
      ‘T ain’t no easy thing to do.

    Easy ‘nough fu’ folks to hollah,
      Lookin’ at de lines an’ dots,
    When dey ain’t no one kin sence it,
      An’ de chune comes in, in spots;
    But fu’ real melojous music,
      Dat jes’ strikes yo’ hea’t and clings,
    Jes’ you stan’ an’ listen wif me
      When Malindy sings.

    Ain’t you nevah hyeahd Malindy?
      Blessed soul, tek up de cross!
    Look hyeah, ain’t you jokin’, honey?
      Well, you don’t know whut you los’.
    Y’ ought to hyeah dat gal a-wa’blin’,
      Robins, la’ks, an’ all dem things,
    Heish dey moufs an’ hides dey faces
      When Malindy sings.

    Fiddlin’ man jes’ stop his fiddlin’,
      Lay his fiddle on de she’f;
    Mockin’-bird quit tryin’ to whistle,
      ‘Cause he jes’ so shamed hisse’f.
    Folks a-playin’ on de banjo
      Draps dey fingahs on de strings–
    Bless yo’ soul–fu’gits to move em,
      When Malindy sings.

    She jes’ spreads huh mouf and hollahs,
      “Come to Jesus,” twell you hyeah
    Sinnahs’ tremblin’ steps and voices,
      Timid-lak a-drawin’ neah;
    Den she tu’ns to “Rock of Ages,”
      Simply to de cross she clings,
    An’ you fin’ yo’ teahs a-drappin’
      When Malindy sings.

    Who dat says dat humble praises
      Wif de Master nevah counts?
    Heish yo’ mouf, I hyeah dat music,
      Ez hit rises up an’ mounts–
    Floatin’ by de hills an’ valleys,
      Way above dis buryin’ sod,
    Ez hit makes its way in glory
      To de very gates of God!

    Oh, hit’s sweetah dan de music
      Of an edicated band;
    An’ hit’s dearah dan de battle’s
      Song o’ triumph in de lan’.
    It seems holier dan evenin’
      When de solemn chu’ch bell rings,
    Ez I sit an’ ca’mly listen
      While Malindy sings.

    Towsah, stop dat ba’kin’, hyeah me!
      Mandy, mek dat chile keep still;
    Don’t you hyeah de echoes callin’
      F’om de valley to de hill?
    Let me listen, I can hyeah it,
      Th’oo de bresh of angels’ wings,
    Sof an’ sweet, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,”
      Ez Malindy sings.

   
   

_____

#18

   

Dirge for a Soldier
   

    In the east the morning comes,
    Hear the rollin’ of the drums
        On the hill.
    But the heart that beat as they beat
    In the battle’s raging day heat
        Lieth still.
    Unto him the night has come,
    Though they roll the morning drum.

    What is in the bugle’s blast?
    It is: “Victory at last!
        Now for rest.”
    But, my comrades, come behold him,
    Where our colors now enfold him,
        And his breast
    Bares no more to meet the blade,
    But lies covered in the shade.

    What a stir there is to-day!
    They are laying him away
        Where he fell.
    There the flag goes draped before him;
    Now they pile the grave sod o’er him
        With a knell.
    And he answers to his name
    In the higher ranks of fame.

    There’s a woman left to mourn
    For the child that she has borne
        In travail.
    But her heart beats high and higher,
    With the patriot mother’s fire,
        At the tale.
    She has borne and lost a son,
    But her work and his are done.

    Fling the flag out, let it wave;
    They ‘re returning from the grave–
        “Double quick!”
    And the cymbals now are crashing,
    Bright his comrades’ eyes are flashing
        From the thick
    Battle-ranks which knew him brave,
    No tears for a hero’s grave.

    In the east the morning comes,
    Hear the rattle of the drums
        Far away.
    Now no time for grief’s pursuing,
    Other work is for the doing,
        Here to-day.
    He is sleeping, let him rest
    With the flag across his breast.

   
   

_____

#17


   

When the Old Man Smokes
   

    In the forenoon’s restful quiet,
      When the boys are off at school,
    When the window lights are shaded
      And the chimney-corner cool,
    Then the old man seeks his armchair,
      Lights his pipe and settles back;
    Falls a-dreaming as he draws it
      Till the smoke-wreaths gather black.

    And the tear-drops come a-trickling
      Down his cheeks, a silver flow–
    Smoke or memories you wonder,
      But you never ask him,–no;
    For there ‘s something almost sacred
      To the other family folks
    In those moods of silent dreaming
      When the old man smokes.

    Ah, perhaps he sits there dreaming
      Of the love of other days
    And of how he used to lead her
    Through the merry dance’s maze;
    How he called her “little princess,”
      And, to please her, used to twine
    Tender wreaths to crown her tresses,
      From the “matrimony vine.”

    Then before his mental vision
      Comes, perhaps, a sadder day,
    When they left his little princess
      Sleeping with her fellow clay.
    How his young heart throbbed, and pained him!
      Why, the memory of it chokes!
    Is it of these things he ‘s thinking
      When the old man smokes?

    But some brighter thoughts possess him,
      For the tears are dried the while.
    And the old, worn face is wrinkled
      In a reminiscent smile,
    From the middle of the forehead
      To the feebly trembling lip,
    At some ancient prank remembered
      Or some long unheard-of quip.

    Then the lips relax their tension
      And the pipe begins to slide,
    Till in little clouds of ashes,
      It falls softly at his side;
    And his head bends low and lower
      Till his chin lies on his breast,
    And he sits in peaceful slumber
      Like a little child at rest.

    Dear old man, there ‘s something sad’ning,
      In these dreamy moods of yours,
    Since the present proves so fleeting,
      All the past for you endures.
    Weeping at forgotten sorrows,
      Smiling at forgotten jokes;
    Life epitomized in minutes,
      When the old man smokes.

   
   

_____

#16

   

A Summer Pastoral
   

    It’s hot to-day. The bees is buzzin’
      Kinder don’t-keer-like aroun’
    An’ fur off the warm air dances
      O’er the parchin’ roofs in town.
    In the brook the cows is standin’;
      Childern hidin’ in the hay;
    Can’t keep none of ’em a workin’,
      ‘Cause it’s hot to-day.

    It’s hot to-day. The sun is blazin’
      Like a great big ball o’ fire;
    Seems as ef instead o’ settin’
      It keeps mountin’ higher an’ higher.
    I’m as triflin’ as the children,
      Though I blame them lots an’ scold;
    I keep slippin’ to the spring-house,
      Where the milk is rich an’ cold.

    The very air within its shadder
      Smells o’ cool an’ restful things,
    An’ a roguish little robin
      Sits above the place an’ sings.
    I don’t mean to be a shirkin’,
      But I linger by the way
    Longer, mebbe, than is needful,
    ‘Cause it’s hot to-day.

    It’s hot to-day. The horses stumble
      Half asleep across the fiel’s;
    An’ a host o’ teasin’ fancies
      O’er my burnin’ senses steals,–
    Dreams o’ cool rooms, curtains lowered,
      An’ a sofy’s temptin’ look;
    Patter o’ composin’ raindrops
      Or the ripple of a brook.

    I strike a stump! That wakes me sudden;
      Dreams all vanish into air.
    Lordy! how I chew my whiskers;
      ‘Twouldn’t do fur me to swear.
    But I have to be so keerful
      ‘Bout my thoughts an’ what I say;
    Somethin’ might slip out unheeded,
      ‘Cause it’s hot to-day.

    Git up, there, Suke! you, Sal, git over!
      Sakes alive! how I do sweat.
    Every stitch that I’ve got on me,
    Bet a cent, is wringin’ wet.
    If this keeps up, I’ll lose my temper.
      Gee there, Sal, you lazy brute!
    Wonder who on airth this weather
      Could ‘a’ be’n got up to suit?

    You, Sam, go bring a tin o’ water;
      Dash it all, don’t be so slow!
    ‘Pears as ef you tuk an hour
      ‘Tween each step to stop an’ blow.
    Think I want to stand a meltin’
      Out here in this b’ilin’ sun,
    While you stop to think about it?
      Lift them feet o’ your’n an’ run.

    It ain’t no use; I’m plumb fetaggled.
      Come an’ put this team away.
    I won’t plow another furrer;
      It’s too mortal hot to-day.
    I ain’t weak, nor I ain’t lazy,
      But I’ll stand this half day’s loss
    ‘Fore I let the devil make me
      Lose my patience an’ git cross.

   
   

_____

#15


   

Weltschmertz
   

    You ask why I am sad to-day,
    I have no cares, no griefs, you say?
    Ah, yes, ‘t is true, I have no grief–
    But–is there not the falling leaf?

    The bare tree there is mourning left
    With all of autumn’s gray bereft;
    It is not what has happened me,
    Think of the bare, dismantled tree.

    The birds go South along the sky,
    I hear their lingering, long good-bye.
    Who goes reluctant from my breast?
    And yet–the lone and wind-swept nest.

    The mourning, pale-flowered hearse goes by,
    Why does a tear come to my eye?
    Is it the March rain blowing wild?
    I have no dead, I know no child.

    I am no widow by the bier
    Of him I held supremely dear.
    I have not seen the choicest one
    Sink down as sinks the westering sun.

    Faith unto faith have I beheld,
    For me, few solemn notes have swelled;
    Love bekoned me out to the dawn,
    And happily I followed on.

    And yet my heart goes out to them
    Whose sorrow is their diadem;
    The falling leaf, the crying bird,
    The voice to be, all lost, unheard–

    Not mine, not mine, and yet too much
    The thrilling power of human touch,
    While all the world looks on and scorns
    I wear another’s crown of thorns.

    Count me a priest who understands
    The glorious pain of nail-pierced hands;
    Count me a comrade of the thief
    Hot driven into late belief.

    Oh, mother’s tear, oh, father’s sigh,
    Oh, mourning sweetheart’s last good-bye,
    I yet have known no mourning save
    Beside some brother’s brother’s grave.

   
   

_____

#14

   

The Old Cabin
   

    In de dead of night I sometimes,
      Git to t’inkin’ of de pas’
    An’ de days w’en slavery helt me
      In my mis’ry–ha’d an’ fas’.
    Dough de time was mighty tryin’,
      In dese houahs somehow hit seem
    Dat a brightah light come slippin’
      Thoo de kivahs of my dream.

    An’ my min’ fu’gits de whuppins
      Draps de feah o’ block an’ lash
    An’ flies straight to somep’n’ joyful
      In a secon’s lightnin’ flash.
    Den hit seems I see a vision
      Of a dearah long ago
    Of de childern tumblin’ roun’ me
      By my rough ol’ cabin do’.

    Talk about yo’ go’geous mansions
      An’ yo’ big house great an’ gran’,
    Des bring up de fines’ palace
      Dat you know in all de lan’.
    But dey’s somep’n’ dearah to me,
      Somep’n’ faihah to my eyes
    In dat cabin, less you bring me
      To yo’ mansion in de skies.

    I kin see de light a-shinin’
      Thoo de chinks atween de logs,
    I kin hyeah de way-off bayin’
      Of my mastah’s huntin’ dogs,
    An’ de neighin’ of de hosses
      Stampin’ on de ol’ bahn flo’,
    But above dese soun’s de laughin’
      At my deah ol’ cabin do’.

    We would gethah daih at evenin’,
      All my frien’s ‘ud come erroun’
    An’ hit wan’t no time, twell, bless you,
      You could hyeah de banjo’s soun’.
    You could see de dahkies dancin’
      Pigeon wing an’ heel an’ toe–
    Joyous times I tell you people
      Roun’ dat same ol’ cabin do’.

    But at times my t’oughts gits saddah,
      Ez I riccolec’ de folks,
    An’ dey frolickin’ an’ talkin’
      Wid dey laughin’ an dey jokes.
    An’ hit hu’ts me w’en I membahs
      Dat I’ll nevah see no mo’
    Dem ah faces gethered smilin’
      Roun’ dat po’ ol’ cabin do’.

   
   

_____

#13

   

Slow Through the Dark
   

    Slow moves the pageant of a climbing race;
      Their footsteps drag far, far below the height,
      And, unprevailing by their utmost might,
    Seem faltering downward from each hard won place.
    No strange, swift-sprung exception we; we trace
      A devious way thro’ dim, uncertain light,–
      Our hope, through the long vistaed years, a sight
    Of that our Captain’s soul sees face to face.
      Who, faithless, faltering that the road is steep,
    Now raiseth up his drear insistent cry?
      Who stoppeth here to spend a while in sleep
    Or curseth that the storm obscures the sky?
      Heed not the darkness round you, dull and deep;
    The clouds grow thickest when the summit’s nigh.

   
   

_____

#12

   

Farewell to Arcady
   

    With sombre mien, the Evening gray
    Comes nagging at the heels of Day,
    And driven faster and still faster
    Before the dusky-mantled Master,
    The light fades from her fearful eyes,
    She hastens, stumbles, falls, and dies.

    Beside me Amaryllis weeps;
    The swelling tears obscure the deeps
    Of her dark eyes, as, mistily,
    The rushing rain conceals the sea.
    Here, lay my tuneless reed away,–
    I have no heart to tempt a lay.

    I scent the perfume of the rose
    Which by my crystal fountain grows.
    In this sad time, are roses blowing?
    And thou, my fountain, art thou flowing,

    While I who watched thy waters spring
    Am all too sad to smile or sing?
    Nay, give me back my pipe again,
    It yet shall breathe this single strain:
            Farewell to Arcady!

   
   

_____

#11

   

At Candle-Lightin’ Time
   

    When I come in f’om de co’n-fiel’ aftah wo’kin’ ha’d all day,
    It ‘s amazin’ nice to fin’ my suppah all erpon de way;
    An’ it ‘s nice to smell de coffee bubblin’ ovah in de pot,
    An’ it ‘s fine to see de meat a-sizzlin’ teasin’-lak an’ hot.

    But when suppah-time is ovah, an’ de t’ings is cleahed away;
    Den de happy hours dat foller are de sweetes’ of de day.
    When my co’ncob pipe is sta’ted, an’ de smoke is drawin’ prime,
    My ole ‘ooman says, “I reckon, Ike, it ‘s candle-lightin’ time.”

    Den de chillun snuggle up to me, an’ all commence to call,
    “Oh, say, daddy, now it ‘s time to mek de shadders on de wall.”
    So I puts my han’s togethah–evah daddy knows de way,–
    An’ de chillun snuggle closer roun’ ez I begin to say:–

    “Fus’ thing, hyeah come Mistah Rabbit; don’ you see him wo’k his eahs?
    Huh, uh! dis mus’ be a donkey,–look, how innercent he ‘pears!
    Dah ‘s de ole black swan a-swimmin’–ain’t she got a’ awful neck?
    Who ‘s dis feller dat ‘s a-comin’? Why, dat ‘s ole dog Tray, I ‘spec’!”

    Dat ‘s de way I run on, tryin’ fu’ to please ’em all I can;
    Den I hollahs, “Now be keerful–dis hyeah las’ ‘s de buga-man!”
    An’ dey runs an’ hides dey faces; dey ain’t skeered–dey ‘s lettin’ on:
    But de play ain’t raaly ovah twell dat buga-man is gone.

    So I jes’ teks up my banjo, an’ I plays a little chune,
    An’ you see dem haids come peepin’ out to listen mighty soon.
    Den my wife says, “Sich a pappy fu’ to give you sich a fright!
    Jes, you go to baid, an’ leave him: say yo’ prayers an’ say good-night.”

   
   

_____

#10


   

Chrismus on the Plantation
   

    It was Chrismus Eve, I mind hit fu’ a mighty gloomy day–
    Bofe de weathah an’ de people–not a one of us was gay;
    Cose you ‘ll t’ink dat ‘s mighty funny ‘twell I try to mek hit cleah,
    Fu’ a da’ky ‘s allus happy when de holidays is neah.

    But we wasn’t, fu’ dat mo’nin’ Mastah ‘d tol’ us we mus’ go,
    He ‘d been payin’ us sence freedom, but he couldn’t pay no mo’;’
    He wa’n’t nevah used to plannin’ ‘fo’ he got so po’ an’ ol’,
    So he gwine to give up tryin’, an’ de homestead mus’ be sol’.

    I kin see him stan’in’ now erpon de step ez cleah ez day,
    Wid de win’ a-kind o’ fondlin’ thoo his haih all thin an’ gray;
    An’ I ‘membah how he trimbled when he said, “It’s ha ‘d fu’ me,
    Not to mek yo’ Chrismus brightah, but I ‘low it wa’n’t to be.”

    All de women was a-cryin’, an’ de men, too, on de sly,
    An’ I noticed somep’n shinin’ even in ol’ Mastah’s eye.
    But we all stood still to listen ez ol’ Ben come f’om de crowd
    An’ spoke up, a-try’n’ to steady down his voice and mek it loud:–

    “Look hyeah, Mastah, I ‘s been servin’ you’ fu’ lo! dese many yeahs,
    An’ now, sence we ‘s got freedom an’ you ‘s kind o’ po’, hit ‘pears
    Dat you want us all to leave you ’cause you don’t t’ink you can pay.
    Ef my membry has n’t fooled me, seem dat whut I hyead you say.

    “Er in othah wo’ds, you wants us to fu’git dat you ‘s been kin’,
    An’ ez soon ez you is he’pless, we ‘s to leave you hyeah behin’.
    Well, ef dat ‘s de way dis freedom ac’s on people, white er black,
    You kin jes’ tell Mistah Lincum fu’ to tek his freedom back.

    “We gwine wo’k dis ol’ plantation fu’ whatevah we kin git,
    Fu’ I know hit did suppo’t us, an’ de place kin do it yit.
    Now de land is yo’s, de hands is ouahs, an’ I reckon we ‘ll be brave,
    An’ we ‘ll bah ez much ez you do w’en we has to scrape an’ save.”

    Ol’ Mastah stood dah trimblin’, but a-smilin’ thoo his teahs,
    An’ den hit seemed jes’ nachul-like, de place fah rung wid cheahs,
    An’ soon ez dey was quiet, some one sta’ted sof an’ low:
    “Praise God,” an’ den we all jined in, “from whom all blessin’s flow!”

    Well, dey was n’t no use tryin’, ouah min’s was sot to stay,
    An’ po’ ol’ Mastah could n’t plead ner baig, ner drive us ‘way,
    An’ all at once, hit seemed to us, de day was bright agin,
    So evahone was gay dat night, an’ watched de Chrismus in.

   
   

_____

#9

   

She Told Her Beads
   

    She told her beads with down-cast eyes,
      Within the ancient chapel dim;
      And ever as her fingers slim
    Slipt o’er th’ insensate ivories,
    My rapt soul followed, spaniel-wise.
    Ah, many were the beads she wore;
      But as she told them o’er and o’er,
    They did not number all my sighs.
    My heart was filled with unvoiced cries
      And prayers and pleadings unexpressed;
      But while I burned with Love’s unrest,
    She told her beads with down-cast eyes.

   
   

_____

#8

   

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 saw in the moonlight dim and weird
      A guiltless victim’s pains.

    I bent me down to hear his sigh;
      I shook with his gurgling moan,
    And I trembled sore when they rode away,
      And left him here alone.

    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 a 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.

   
   

_____

#7

   

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!

   
   

_____

#6


   

When Dey ‘Listed Colored Soldiers
   

    Dey was talkin’ in de cabin, dey was talkin’ in de hall;
    But I listened kin’ o’ keerless, not a-t’inkin’ ’bout it all;
    An’ on Sunday, too, I noticed, dey was whisp’rin’ mighty much,
    Stan’in’ all erroun’ de roadside w’en dey let us out o’ chu’ch.
    But I did n’t t’ink erbout it ‘twell de middle of de week,
    An’ my ‘Lias come to see me, an’ somehow he could n’t speak.
    Den I seed all in a minute whut he ‘d come to see me for;–
    Dey had ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias gwine to wah.

    Oh, I hugged him, an’ I kissed him, an’ I baiged him not to go;
    But he tol’ me dat his conscience, hit was callin’ to him so,
    An’ he could n’t baih to lingah w’en he had a chanst to fight
    For de freedom dey had gin him an’ de glory of de right.
    So he kissed me, an’ he lef me, w’en I ‘d p’omised to be true;
    An’ dey put a knapsack on him, an’ a coat all colo’ed blue.
    So I gin him pap’s ol’ Bible f’om de bottom of de draw’,–
    W’en dey ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias went to wah.

    But I t’ought of all de weary miles dat he would have to tramp,
    An’ I could n’t be contented w’en dey tuk him to de camp.
    W’y my hea’t nigh broke wid grievin’ ‘twell I seed him on de street;
    Den I felt lak I could go an’ th’ow my body at his feet.
    For his buttons was a-shinin’, an’ his face was shinin’, too,
    An’ he looked so strong an’ mighty in his coat o’ sojer blue,
    Dat I hollahed, “Step up, manny,” dough my th’oat was so’ an’ raw,–
    W’en dey ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias went to wah.

    Ol’ Mis’ cried w’en mastah lef huh, young Miss mou’ned huh brothah Ned,
    An’ I did n’t know dey feelin’s is de ve’y wo’ds dey said
    W’en I tol’ ’em I was so’y. Dey had done gin up dey all;
    But dey only seemed mo’ proudah dat dey men had hyeahed de call.
    Bofe my mastahs went in gray suits, an’ I loved de Yankee blue,
    But I t’ought dat I could sorrer for de losin’ of ’em too;
    But I could n’t, for I did n’t know de ha’f o’ whut I saw,
    ‘Twell dey ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias went to wah.

    Mastah Jack come home all sickly; he was broke for life, dey said;
    An’ dey lef my po’ young mastah some’r’s on de roadside,–dead.
    W’en de women cried an’ mou’ned ’em, I could feel it thoo an’ thoo,
    For I had a loved un fightin’ in de way o’ dangah, too.
    Den dey tol’ me dey had laid him some’r’s way down souf to res’,
    Wid de flag dat he had fit for shinin’ daih acrost his breas’.
    Well, I cried, but den I reckon dat ‘s whut Gawd had called him for,
    W’en dey ‘listed colo’ed sojers an’ my ‘Lias went to wah.

   
   

_____

#5

   

The Sum
   

    A little dreaming by the way,
    A little toiling day by day;
    A little pain, a little strife,
    A little joy,–and that is life.

    A little short-lived summer’s morn,
    When joy seems all so newly born,
    When one day’s sky is blue above,
    And one bird sings,–and that is love.

    A little sickening of the years,
    The tribute of a few hot tears
    Two folded hands, the failing breath,
    And peace at last,–and that is death.

    Just dreaming, loving, dying so,
    The actors in the drama go–
    A flitting picture on a wall,
    Love, Death, the themes; but is that all?

   
   

_____

#4

   

A Spring Wooing
   

    Come on walkin’ wid me, Lucy; ‘t ain’t no time to mope erroun’
      Wen de sunshine ‘s shoutin’ glory in de sky,
    An’ de little Johnny-Jump-Ups ‘s jes’ a-springin’ f’om de groun’,
      Den a-lookin’ roun’ to ax each othah w’y.
    Don’ you hyeah dem cows a-mooin’? Dat ‘s dey howdy to de spring;
      Ain’ dey lookin’ most oncommon satisfied?
    Hit ‘s enough to mek a body want to spread dey mouf an’ sing
      Jes’ to see de critters all so spa’klin’-eyed.

    W’y dat squir’l dat jes’ run past us, ef I did n’ know his tricks,
      I could swaih he ‘d got ‘uligion jes’ to-day;
    An’ dem liza’ds slippin’ back an’ fofe ermong de stones an’ sticks
      Is a-wigglin’ ’cause dey feel so awful gay.
    Oh, I see yo’ eyes a-shinin’ dough you try to mek me b’lieve
      Dat you ain’ so monst’ous happy ’cause you come;
    But I tell you dis hyeah weathah meks it moughty ha’d to ‘ceive
      Ef a body’s soul ain’ blin’ an’ deef an’ dumb.

    Robin whistlin’ ovah yandah ez he buil’ his little nes’;
      Whut you reckon dat he sayin’ to his mate?
    He’s a-sayin’ dat he love huh in de wo’ds she know de bes’,
      An’ she lookin’ moughty pleased at whut he state.
    Now, Miss Lucy, dat ah robin sholy got his sheer o’ sense,
      An’ de hen-bird got huh mothah-wit fu’ true;
    So I t’ink ef you ‘ll ixcuse me, fu’ I do’ mean no erfence,
      Dey ‘s a lesson in dem birds fu’ me an’ you.

    I ‘s a-buil’in’ o’ my cabin, an’ I ‘s vines erbove de do’
      Fu’ to kin’ o’ gin it sheltah f’om de sun;
    Gwine to have a little kitchen wid a reg’lar wooden flo’,
      An’ dey ‘ll be a back verandy w’en hit ‘s done.
    I ‘s a-waitin’ fu’ you, Lucy, tek de ‘zample o’ de birds,
      Dat ‘s a-lovin’ an’ a-matin’ evahwhaih.
    I cain’ tell you dat I loves you in de robin’s music wo’ds,
      But my cabin ‘s talkin’ fu’ me ovah thaih!

   
   

_____

#3

   

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.

   
   

_____

#2


   

A Florida Night
   

    Win’ a-blowin’ gentle so de san’ lay low,
      San’ a little heavy f’om de rain,
    All de pa’ms a-wavin’ an’ a-weavin’ slow,
      Sighin’ lak a sinnah-soul in pain.
    Alligator grinnin’ by de ol’ lagoon,
    Mockin’-bird a-singin’ to be big full moon.
    ‘Skeeter go a-skimmin’ to his fightin’ chune
      (Lizy Ann’s a-waitin’ in de lane!).

    Moccasin a-sleepin’ in de cyprus swamp;
    Need n’t wake de gent’man, not fu’ me.
    Mule, you need n’t wake him w’en you switch an’ stomp,
      Fightin’ off a ‘skeeter er a flea.
    Florida is lovely, she’s de fines’ lan’
    Evah seed de sunlight f’om de Mastah’s han’,
    ‘Ceptin’ fu’ de varmints an’ huh fleas an’ san’
      An’ de nights w’en Lizy Ann ain’ free.

    Moon ‘s a-kinder shaddered on de melon patch;
      No one ain’t a-watchin’ ez I go.
    Climbin’ of de fence so ‘s not to click de latch
      Meks my gittin’ in a little slow.
    Watermelon smilin’ as it say, “I’ s free;”
    Alligator boomin’, but I let him be,
    Florida, oh, Florida ‘s de lan’ fu’ me–
      (Lizy Ann a-singin’ sweet an’ low).

   
   

_____

#1

   
   
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!

   
   

_____

_____

4 Comments »

  1. a beautiful collection. so far, my favorites are ‘the old front gate,’ and ‘she told her beads.’

    thank you.

    Comment by catnapping — August 15, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

  2. I love your website!

    Comment by Anonymous — February 25, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

  3. I love all of mr.dunbar’s works of art

    Comment by michael anthony briggs — October 24, 2012 @ 6:20 pm


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