Selections from
Lyrics of the


Paul Laurence Dunbar

  1. In an English Garden
  2. On the Sea Wall
  3. Love's Phases
  4. Remembered
  5. The Sum
  6. Harriet Beecher Stowe
  7. The Voice of the Banjo
  8. Communion
  9. The Paradox
  10. Sympathy
  11. Theology
  12. Distinction
  13. A Choice
  14. The King is Dead
  15. Waiting
  16. The End of the Chapter
  17. Dreams
  18. Love's Apotheosis
  19. Absence
  20. The Mystic Sea
  21. In Summer
  22. The Right to Die
  23. A Bridal Measure
  24. With the Lark
  25. Over the Hills
  26. Vengeance is Sweet
  27. Mortality
  28. Christmas in the Heart

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Paul Laurence Dunbar
Selections from
Lyrics of the Hearthside

by Paul Laurence Dunbar


. In an English Garden

    IN THIS old garden, fair, I walk to-day
       Heart-charmed with all the beauty of the scene:
       The rich, luxuriant grasses' cooling green,
    The wall's environ, ivy-decked and gray,
    The waving branches with the wind at play,
       The slight and tremulous blooms that show between,
       Sweet all: and yet my yearning heart doth lean
    Toward Love's Egyptian fleshpots far away.

    Beside the wall, the slim Laburnum grows
       And flings its golden flow'rs to every breeze.
       But e'en among such soothing sights as these,
    I pant and nurse my soul-devouring woes.
    Of all the longings that our hearts wot of,
    There is no hunger like the want of love!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. On the Sea Wall

    I SIT upon the old sea wall,
    And watch the shimmering sea,
    Where soft and white the moonbeams fall,
    Till, in a fantasy,
    Some pure white maiden's funeral pall
    The strange light seems to me.

    The waters break upon the shore
    And shiver at my feet,
    While I dream old dreams o'er and o'er,
    And dim old scenes repeat;
    Tho' all have dreamed the same before,
    They still seem new and sweet.

    The waves still sing the same old song
    That knew an elder time;
    The breakers' beat is not more strong,
    Their music more sublime;
    And poets thro' the ages long
    Have set these notes to rhyme.

    But this shall not deter my lyre,
    Nor check my simple strain;
    If I have not the old-time fire,
    I know the ancient pain:
    The hurt of unfulfilled desire,--
    The ember quenched by rain.

    I know the softly shining sea
    That rolls this gentle swell
    Has snarled and licked its tongues at me
    And bared its fangs as well;
    That 'neath its smile so heavenly,
    There lurks the scowl of hell!

    But what of that? I strike my string
    (For songs in youth are sweet);
    I 'll wait and hear the waters bring
    Their loud resounding beat;
    Then, in her own bold numbers sing
    The Ocean's dear deceit!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Love's Phases

    LOVE hath the wings of the butterfly,
    Oh, clasp him but gently,
    Pausing and dipping and fluttering by
    Stir not his poise with the breath of a sigh;
    Love hath the wings of the butterfly.

    Love hath the wings of the eagle bold,
    Cling to him strongly--
    What if the look of the world be cold,
    And life go wrongly?
    Rest on his pinions, for broad is their fold;
    Love hath the wings of the eagle bold.

    Love hath the voice of the nightingale,
    Hearken his trilling--
    List to his song when the moonlight is pale,--
    Passionate, thrilling.
    Cherish the lay, ere the lilt of it fail;
    Love hath the voice of the nightingale.

    Love hath the voice of the storm at night,
    Wildly defiant.
    Hear him and yield up your soul to his might,
    Tenderly pliant.
    None shall regret him who heed him aright;
    Love hath the voice of the storm at night.

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Remembered

    SHE sang, and I listened the whole song thro'.
    (It was sweet, so sweet, the singing.)
    The stars were out and the moon it grew
    From a wee soft glimmer way out in the blue
    To a bird thro' the heavens winging.

    She sang, and the song trembled down to my breast,--
    (It was sweet, so sweet the singing.)
    As a dove just out of its fledgling nest,
    And, putting its wings to the first sweet test,
    Flutters homeward so wearily winging.

    She sang and I said to my heart "That song,
    That was sweet, so sweet i' the singing,
    Shall live with us and inspire us long,
    And thou, my heart, shalt be brave and strong
    For the sake of those words a-winging."

    The woman died and the song was still.
    (It was sweet, so sweet, the singing.)
    But ever I hear the same low trill,
    Of the song that shakes my heart with a thrill,
    And goes forever winging.

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. 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?

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Harriet Beecher Stowe

    SHE told the story, and the whole world wept
       At wrongs and cruelties it had not known
       But for this fearless woman's voice alone.
       She spoke to consciences that long had slept:
    Her message, Freedom's clear reveille, swept
       From heedless hovel to complacent throne.
       Command and prophecy were in the tone
       And from its sheath the sword of justice leapt.
    Around two peoples swelled a fiery wave,
       But both came forth transfigured from the flame.
    Blest be the hand that dared be strong to save,
       And blest be she who in our weakness came--
       Prophet and priestess! At one stroke she gave
       A race to freedom and herself to fame.

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. 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."

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. 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."

    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.

    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!

    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?

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Distinction

    "I AM but clay," the sinner plead,
    Who fed each vain desire.
    "Not only clay," another said,
    "But worse, for thou art mire."

    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!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. The King is Dead

    AYE, lay him in his grave, the old dead year!
    His life is lived--fulfilled his destiny.
    Have you for him no sad, regretful tear
    To drop beside the cold, unfollowed bier?
    Can you not pay the tribute of a sigh?

    Was he not kind to you, this dead old year?
    Did he not give enough of earthly store?
    Enough of love, and laughter, and good cheer?
    Have not the skies you scanned sometimes been clear?
    How, then, of him who dies, could you ask more?

    It is not well to hate him for the pain
    He brought you, and the sorrows manifold.
    To pardon him these hurts still I am fain;
    For in the panting period of his reign,
    He brought me new wounds, but he healed the old.

    One little sigh for thee, my poor, dead friend--
    One little sigh while my companions sing.
    Thou art so soon forgotten in the end;
    We cry e'en as thy footsteps downward tend:
    "The king is dead! long live the king!"

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Waiting

    THE sun has slipped his tether
    And galloped down the west.
    (Oh, it's weary, weary waiting, love.)
    The little bird is sleeping
    In the softness of its nest.
    Night follows day, day follows dawn,
    And so the time has come and gone:
    And it's weary, weary waiting, love.

    The cruel wind is rising
    With a whistle and a wail.
    (And it's weary, weary waiting, love.)
    My eyes are seaward straining
    For the coming of a sail;
    But void the sea, and void the beach
    Far and beyond where gaze can reach!
    And it's weary, weary waiting, love.

    I heard the bell-buoy ringing--
    How long ago it seems!
    (Oh, it's weary, weary waiting, love.)
    And ever still, its knelling
    Crashes in upon my dreams.
    The banns were read, my frock was sewn;
    Since then two seasons' winds have blown--
    And it's weary, weary waiting, love.

    The stretches of the ocean
    Are bare and bleak to-day.
    (Oh, it's weary, weary waiting, love.)
    My eyes are growing dimmer--
    Is it tears, or age, or spray?
    But I will stay till you come home.
    Strange ships come in across the foam!
    But it's weary, weary waiting, love.

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. The End of the Chapter

    AH, YES, the chapter ends to-day;
    We even lay the book away;
    But oh, how sweet the moments sped
    Before the final page was read!

    We tried to read between the lines
    The Author's deep-concealed designs;
    But scant reward such search secures;
    You saw my heart and I saw yours.

    The Master,--He who penned the page
    And bade us read it,--He is sage:
    And what he orders, you and I
    Can but obey, nor question why.

    We read together and forgot
    The world about us. Time was not.
    Unheeded and unfelt, it fled.
    We read and hardly knew we read.

    Until beneath a sadder sun,
    We came to know the book was done.
    Then, as our minds were but new lit,
    It dawned upon us what was writ;

    And we were startled. In our eyes,
    Looked forth the light of great surprise.
    Then as a deep-toned tocsin tolls,
    A voice spoke forth: "Behold your souls!"

    I do, I do. I cannot look
    Into your eyes: so close the book.
    But brought it grief or brought it bliss,
    No other page shall read like this!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Dreams

    DREAM on, for dreams are sweet:
    Do not awaken!
    Dream on, and at thy feet
    Pomegranates shall be shaken.

    Who likeneth the youth
    Of life to morning?
    'Tis like the night in truth,
    Rose-coloured dreams adorning.

    The wind is soft above,
    The shadows umber.
    (There is a dream called Love.)
    Take thou the fullest slumber!

    In Lethe's soothing stream,
    Thy thirst thou slakest.
    Sleep, sleep; 't is sweet to dream.
    Oh, weep when thou awakest!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Love's Apotheosis

    LOVE me. I care not what the circling years
    To me may do.
    If, but in spite of time and tears,
    You prove but true.

    Love me--albeit grief shall dim mine eyes,
    And tears bedew,
    I shall not e'en complain, for then my skies
    Shall still be blue.

    Love me, and though the winter snow shall pile,
    And leave me chill,
    Thy passion's warmth shall make for me, meanwhile,
    A sun-kissed hill.

    And when the days have lengthened into years,
    And I grow old,
    Oh, spite of pains and griefs and cares and fears,
    Grow thou not cold.

    Then hand and hand we shall pass up the hill,
    I say not down;
    That twain go up, of love, who 've loved their fill,--
    To gain love's crown.

    Love me, and let my life take up thine own,
    As sun the dew.
    Come, sit, my queen, for in my heart a throne
    Awaits for you!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Absence

    GOOD-NIGHT, my love, for I have dreamed of thee
    In waking dreams, until my soul is lost--
    Is lost in passion's wide and shoreless sea,
    Where, like a ship, unruddered, it is tost
    Hither and thither at the wild waves' will.
    There is no potent Master's voice to still
    This newer, more tempestuous Galilee!

    The stormy petrels of my fancy fly
    In warning course across the darkening green,
    And, like a frightened bird, my heart doth cry
    And seek to find some rock of rest between
    The threatening sky and the relentless wave.
    It is not length of life that grief doth crave,
    But only calm and peace in which to die.

    Here let me rest upon this single hope,
    For oh, my wings are weary of the wind,
    And with its stress no more may strive or cope.
    One cry has dulled mine ears, mine eyes are blind,--
    Would that o'er all the intervening space,
    I might fly forth and see thee face to face.
    I fly; I search, but, love, in gloom I grope.

    Fly home, far bird, unto thy waiting nest;
    Spread thy strong wings above the wind-swept sea.
    Beat the grim breeze with thy unruffled breast
    Until thou sittest wing to wing with me.
    Then, let the past bring up its tales of wrong;
    We shall chant low our sweet connubial song,
    Till storm and doubt and past no more shall be!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. The Mystic Sea

    THE smell of the sea in my nostrils,
    The sound of the sea in mine ears;
    The touch of the spray on my burning face,
    Like the mist of reluctant tears.

    The blue of the sky above me,
    The green of the waves beneath;
    The sun flashing down on a gray-white sail
    Like a scimitar from its sheath.

    And ever the breaking billows,
    And ever the rocks' disdain;
    And ever a thrill in mine inmost heart
    That my reason cannot explain.

    So I say to my heart, "Be silent,
    The mystery of time is here;
    Death's way will be plain when we fathom the main,
    And the secret of life be clear."

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. In Summer

    OH, SUMMER has clothed the earth
    In a cloak from the loom of the sun!
    And a mantle, too, of the skies' soft blue,
    And a belt where the rivers run.

    And now for the kiss of the wind,
    And the touch of the air's soft hands,
    With the rest from strife and the heat of life,
    With the freedom of lakes and lands.

    I envy the farmer's boy
    Who sings as he follows the plow;
    While the shining green of the young blades lean
    To the breezes that cool his brow.

    He sings to the dewy morn,
    No thought of another's ear;
    But the song he sings is a chant for kings
    And the whole wide world to hear.

    He sings of the joys of life,
    Of the pleasures of work and rest,
    From an o'erfull heart, without aim or art;
    'T is a song of the merriest.

    O ye who toil in the town,
    And ye who moil in the mart,
    Hear the artless song, and your faith made strong
    Shall renew your joy of heart.

    Oh, poor were the worth of the world
    If never a song were heard,--
    If the sting of grief had no relief,
    And never a heart were stirred.

    So, long as the streams run down,
    And as long as the robins trill,
    Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
    And sing in the face of ill.

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. The Right to Die

    I HAVE no fancy for that ancient cant
    That makes us masters of our destinies,
    And not our lives, to hold or give them up
    As will directs; I cannot, will not think
    That men, the subtle worms, who plot and plan
    And scheme and calculate with such shrewd wit,
    Are such great blund'ring fools as not to know
    When they have lived enough. Men court not death
    When there are sweets still left in life to taste.
    Nor will a brave man choose to live when he,
    Full deeply drunk of life, has reached the dregs,
    And knows that now but bitterness remains.
    He is the coward who, outfaced in this,
    Fears the false goblins of another life.
    I honor him who being much harassed
    Drinks of sweet courage until drunk of it,--
    Then seizing Death, reluctant, by the hand,
    Leaps with him, fearless, to eternal peace!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. A Bridal Measure

    COME, essay a sprightly measure,
    Tuned to some light song of pleasure.
       Maidens, let your brows be crowned
       As we foot this merry round.

    From the ground a voice is singing,
    From the sod a soul is springing.
       Who shall say 't is but a clod
       Quick'ning upward toward its God?

    Who shall say it? Who may know it,
    That the clod is not a poet
       Waiting but a gleam to waken
       In a spirit music-shaken?

    Phyllis, Phyllis, why be waiting?
    In the woods the birds are mating.
       From the tree beside the wall,
       Hear the am'rous robin call.

    Listen to yon thrush's trilling;
    Phyllis, Phyllis, are you willing,
       When love speaks from cave and tree,
       Only we should silent be?

    When the year, itself renewing,
    All the world with flowers is strewing,
       Then through Youth's Arcadian land,
       Love and song go hand in hand.

    Come, unfold your vocal treasure,
    Sing with me a nuptial measure,--
       Let this springtime gambol be
       Bridal dance for you and me.

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. With the Lark

    NIGHT is for sorrow and dawn is for joy,
    Chasing the troubles that fret and annoy;
    Darkness for sighing and daylight for song,--
    Cheery and chaste the strain, heartfelt and strong.
    All the night through, though I moan in the dark,
    I wake in the morning to sing with the lark.

    Deep in the midnight the rain whips the leaves,
    Softly and sadly the wood-spirit grieves.
    But when the first hue of dawn tints the sky,
    I shall shake out my wings like the birds and be dry;
    And though, like the rain-drops, I grieved through the dark,
    I shall wake in the morning to sing with the lark.

    On the high hills of heaven, some morning to be,
    Where the rain shall not grieve thro' the leaves of the tree,
    There my heart will be glad for the pain I have known,
    For my hand will be clasped in the hand of mine own;
    And though life has been hard and death's pathway been dark,
    I shall wake in the morning to sing with the lark.

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Over the Hills

    OVER the hills and the valleys of dreaming
    Slowly I take my way.
    Life is the night with its dream-visions teeming,
    Death is the waking at day.

    Down thro' the dales and the bowers of loving,
    Singing, I roam afar.
    Daytime or night-time, I constantly roving,--
    Dearest one, thou art my star.

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Vengeance is Sweet

    WHEN I was young I longed for Love,
    And held his glory far above
    All other earthly things. I cried:
    "Come, Love, dear Love, with me abide;"
    And with my subtlest art I wooed,
    And eagerly the wight pursued.
    But Love was gay and Love was shy,
    He laughed at me and passed me by.

    Well, I grew old and I grew gray,
    When Wealth came wending down my way.
    I took his golden hand with glee,
    And comrades from that day were we.
    Then Love came back with doleful face,
    And prayed that I would give him place.
    But, though his eyes with tears were dim,
    I turned my back and laughed at him.

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Mortality

    ASHES to ashes, dust unto dust,
    What of his loving, what of his lust?
    What of his passion, what of his pain?
    What of his poverty, what of his pride?
    Earth, the great mother, has called him again:
    Deeply he sleeps, the world's verdict defied.
    Shall he be tried again? Shall he go free?
    Who shall the court convene? Where shall it be?
    No answer on the land, none from the sea.
    Only we know that as he did, we must:
    You with your theories, you with your trust,--
    Ashes to ashes, dust unto dust!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

. Christmas in the Heart

    THE snow lies deep upon the ground,
    And winter's brightness all around
    Decks bravely out the forest sere,
    With jewels of the brave old year.
    The coasting crowd upon the hill
    With some new spirit seems to thrill;
    And all the temple bells achime.
    Ring out the glee of Christmas time.

    In happy homes the brown oak-bough
    Vies with the red-gemmed holly now;
    And here and there, like pearls, there show
    The berries of the mistletoe.
    A sprig upon the chandelier
    Says to the maidens, "Come not here!"
    Even the pauper of the earth
    Some kindly gift has cheered to mirth!

    Within his chamber, dim and cold,
    There sits a grasping miser old.
    He has no thought save one of gain,--
    To grind and gather and grasp and drain.
    A peal of bells, a merry shout
    Assail his ear: he gazes out
    Upon a world to him all gray,
    And snarls, "Why, this is Christmas Day!"

    No, man of ice,--for shame, for shame!
    For "Christmas Day" is no mere name.
    No, not for you this ringing cheer,
    This festal season of the year.
    And not for you the chime of bells
    From holy temple rolls and swells.
    In day and deed he has no part--
    Who holds not Christmas in his heart!

    Paul Laurence Dunbar

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