Celebrating Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, one of the first African American poets to gain recognition and influence, was born on this day, June 27th, 1872 to freed slaves in Kentucky.   Image via NPS As a child he would draw on his parents’ (Joshua and Matilda Murphy Dunbar) lives in the plantations for his writing. By the age of fourteen he had published works in the Dayton Herald. In 1893 he self-published his first poetry collection titled Oak and Ivy, which he paid for by selling a book for a dollar on the elevator he worked as an operator in. Image via …

Book Culture Diverse Voices On Writing Poetry & Drama

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, one of the first African American poets to gain recognition and influence, was born on this day, June 27th, 1872 to freed slaves in Kentucky.

 

Image via NPS

As a child he would draw on his parents’ (Joshua and Matilda Murphy Dunbar) lives in the plantations for his writing. By the age of fourteen he had published works in the Dayton Herald. In 1893 he self-published his first poetry collection titled Oak and Ivy, which he paid for by selling a book for a dollar on the elevator he worked as an operator in.

Image via amazon

By 1895 his work was getting more and more recognition, appearing in places such as The New York Times. This same year, with the help of his friends, he published his second collection Majors and Minors, which had poems written in standard English (majors) and poems written in dialect (minors). In the following years he continued to publish more poetry collections like Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896), Lyrics of the Hearthside, and Poems of Cabin and Field (1988), a short story collection Folks from Dixie (1898), and a novel titled The Uncalled (1898).

In 1898 his health began to deteriorate due to tuberculosis and he left his job at the Library of Congress. Despite this, he continued to write the following years and published poetry, three novels, and three short story collections. When his health got worse, he returned to his mother’s home in Dayton, Ohio, where he died at the age of thirty-three on February 9, 1906.

One of his most famous poems, Sympathy, reads:

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!
Featured Image via muhammad ali center