Saturday, May 15, 2010

Paul Laurence Dunbar: Life and Poetry

Paul Laurence Dunbar
I am not a great admirer of English poetry.  My literary taste is nourished on classics of Urdu poetry.  My philosophy about life owes a lot to the great poets of Urdu language from Ghalib to Iqbal and Faiz to Faraz.  Also in my own mother tongue Marathi, we have some fine pieces of poetry from medieval ages of Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram to modern voice of Marathi Dalit poetry.  Hailing from such a great literary background, I am a bit skeptic about English poetry.  It is true that I have read only a little of it, but whatever I read, it could not catch my nerves and soul.  But all of this was only until yesterday when I saw the name of Paul Laurence Dunbar somewhere while surfing.  I saw his name somewhere in some google ad and just for curiosity made a google search.  The words were:

My days are never days of ease;
I till my ground and prune my trees.
When ripened gold is all the plain,
I put my sickle to the grain.
I labor hard, and toil and sweat,
          While others dream within the dell;
But even while my brow is wet,
          I sing my song, and all is well.
                                                (The Poet and His Song, 1885)

These words, as they sound pretty similar to the Marathi Dalit poetry, prompted me to make a further search.

Paul Laurence Dunbar born in an African-American former slave family in the State of Ohio just a few years after the American Civil War ended.  His mother was a former slave.  His father was a Veteran in American Army during the Civil War.  After separation of his parents, Paul grew up under the loving care of his mother.  She always encouraged Paul to read and write poetry and he began writing as early as six.  His first poetry collection Oak and Ivy published in 1892 when he was just 20 years old.  Though his book was received well locally, Dunbar still had to work as an elevator operator to help pay off his debt to his publisher.  In 1893, he was invited to recite at the World's Fair, where he met Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist who rose from slavery to political and literary prominence in America.  Douglass called Dunbar "the most promising young colored man in America."  It was Dunbar's second book that propelled him to national fame. William Dean Howells, a novelist and widely respected literary critic who edited Harper's Weekly, praised Dunbar's book in one of his weekly columns and launched Dunbar's name into the most respected literary circles across the country.

Dunbar died at a very early age of 33 from tuberculosis and depression from separation from his wife.  He ultimately produced 12 books of poetry, four books of short stories, a play and five novels. His work appeared in Harper's Weekly, the Sunday Evening Post, the Denver Post, Current Literature and a number of other magazines and journals.  He was a poet with a dream and he had his dream all through his life.

He had his dream, and all through life,
Worked up to it through toil and strife.
Afloat fore'er before his eyes,
It colored for him all his skies:
          The storm-cloud dark
          Above his bark,
The calm and listless vault of blue
Took on its hopeful hue,
It tinctured every passing beam --
          He had his dream.

He labored hard and failed at last,
His sails too weak to bear the blast,
The raging tempests tore away
And sent his beating bark astray.
          But what cared he
          For wind or sea!
He said, "The tempest will be short,
My bark will come to port."
He saw through every cloud a gleam --
          He had his dream.
                                    (He Had His Dream)


  1. You can also search poems by maya angelou. just thought you might like it :) thanks for dropping by on my blog. :)

  2. @Olive Oyl I have read some of them. I know why the caged bird sings!

  3. Nice blog & good post. You have beautifully maintained it, you must try this website which really helps to increase your traffic. hope u have a wonderful day & awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

  4. Thanks Claudia for your feedback and thanks again for dropping by ghalibana. ~Ganesh.


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