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Friday, February 01, 2008

Paul Laurence Dunbar

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! ~Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar
In February we celebrate Black History Month as a special way to remember the important people and events in African-American history. We owe the celebration of Black History Month, and more importantly, the study of black history, to Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Born to parents who were former slaves, he spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at age twenty. He graduated within two years and later went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. The scholar was disturbed to find in his studies that history books largely ignored the black American population-and when blacks did figure into the picture, it was generally in ways that reflected the inferior social position they were assigned at the time.

Woodson, always one to act on his ambitions, decided to take on the challenge of writing black Americans into the nation's history. He established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History) in 1915, and a year later founded the widely respected Journal of Negro History. In 1926, he launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of black people throughout American history.

Woodson chose the second week of February for Negro History Week because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the black American population, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. February has much more than Douglass and Lincoln to show for its significance in black American history. I would like to share with you a bit of information about a man whose work is special to me. Paul Laurence Dunbar was not the first African American poet and writer, but he was the first to achieve a national reputation and to be accepted by both white and black audiences. He is a native son of my hometown and a man whose work I studied in both High School and college.
Paul Laurence Dunbar
Love of home, sublimest passion That the human heart can know! Changeless still, though fate and fashion Rise and fall and ebb and flow, To the glory of our nation, To the welfare of our state, Let us all with veneration Every effort consecrate. And our city, shall we fail her? Or desert her gracious cause? Nay--with loyalty we hail her And revere her righteous laws. She shall ever claim our duty, For she shines--the brightest gem That has ever decked with beauty Dear Ohio's diadem. ~Toast of Dayton by Paul Laurence Dunbar Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first African-American to gain national eminence as a poet. Born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio, he was the son of ex-slaves and classmate to Orville Wright of aviation fame. Although he lived to be only 33 years old, Dunbar was prolific, writing short stories, novels, librettos, plays, songs and essays as well as the poetry for which he became well known. He was popular with black and white readers of his day, and his works are celebrated today by scholars and school children alike. His style encompasses two distinct voices - the standard English of the classical poet and the evocative dialect of the turn-of-the-century black community in America. He was gifted in poetry - the way that Mark Twain was in prose - in using dialect to convey character. ~~ For more information visit: Paul Laurence Dunbar
What dreams we have and how they fly Like rosy clouds across the sky; Of wealth, of fame, of sure success, Of love that comes to cheer and bless; And how they wither, how they fade, The waning wealth, the jilting jade -- The fame that for a moment gleams, Then flies forever, --dreams, ah --dreams! O burning doubt and long regret O tears with which our eyes are wet, Heart-throbs, heart-aches, the glut of pain, The somber cloud, the bitter rain, You were not of those dreams -- ah! well, Your full fruition who can tell? Wealth, fame, and love, ah! love that beams Upon our souls, all dreams -- ah! dreams.
~Dreams by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Rosemary said...

I love learning new things from you.
It's great!!!!
You are a fantasitic lady!!
Have a wonderful weekend!

Penny @ Lavender Hill Studio said...

Hi Susie,
This is an awesome post. Thank you for letting me learn a little more about Dr. Woodson.

Janet said...


Thank you or that bit of history. I love how those poems flow. They are so easy to read , yet rather grandiose. I like them :>)

Nonie Mae.... said...

Thanks for the history. Love the poems

Cherdecor said...

Thank you for sharing some of the works of L.Dunbar. I am guessing he is the one the Dunbar High School was named after. I don't even know if that school is still there today.

Rose Mary said...

Enjoyed the Paul Laurence Dunbar quotes~my daughter has a couple of his books. Thanks for the history lessons~I still have much to learn! Stay warm, SusieQ!

The Feathered Nest said...


I never heard of Mr. Dunbar - I learned something new today and that's always a good thing. Thanks for the lesson and I loved the flow of his poems.


Pamela said...

What a great post SuzieQ.
I've read some of these before ... and had no idea who I was reading.

He sure tugs you in with her prose and insight.