Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kiss the Brow of Alice

Paul Laurence Dunbar, the son of ex-slaves, was the first African-American to become a nationally famous poet. When his mother was a slave, she heard the family she worked for reading poems and came to love poetry. With his mother's encouragement, Dunbar began reciting and writing poetry when he was only six. Much of his work is written in the dialect of the turn-of-the-century black community in America, often using dialect to convey character.

After High School, he became an elevator operator in Dayton while working to establish himself as a writer. He was twenty when he gave the welcoming address for the Western Association of Writers, on his birthday in 1892. It was his first public reading. James Newton Matthews, a soon-to-be friend of Dunbar's, wrote to a newspaper praising Dunbar's work. The letter was reprinted across the country and drew much welcome attention to the struggling poet. The moment seemed right, so Dunbar decided to publish 'Oak and Ivy', his first collection of poetry. Still working as an elevator operator he sold his book, for a dollar, to people who rode the elevator.

Dunbar moved to Toledo in 1895, where he began reciting his poems at local libraries and literary gatherings. It was there that he published his second book, 'Majors and Minors'. It was the second book that propelled him to national fame.

Dunbar married Alice Ruth Moore, a young writer and teacher (the subject of the following poem). He took a job at the Library of Congress, but found it tiresome. He left to write and recite full time. Dunbar was prolific and wrote a large body of poems, essays, novels, short stories and even a play. He died from tuberculosis at the age of thirty-three.


KNOW you, winds that blow your course
Down the verdant valleys,
That somewhere you must, perforce,
Kiss the brow of Alice?
When her gentle face you find,
Kiss it softly, naughty wind.

Roses waving fair and sweet
Thro' the garden alleys,
Grow into a glory meet
For the eye of Alice;
Let the wind your offering bear
Of sweet perfume, faint and rare.

Lily holding crystal dew
In your pure white chalice,
Nature kind hath fashioned you
Like the soul of Alice;
It of purest white is wrought,
Filled with gems of crystal thought.

Easy Goin' Feller

THER' ain't no use in all this strife,
An' hurryin', pell-mell, right thro' life.
I don't believe in goin' too fast
To see what kind o' road you've passed.
It ain't no mortal kind o' good,
'N' I would n't hurry ef I could.
I like to jest go joggin' 'long,
To limber up my soul with song;
To stop awhile 'n' chat the men,
'N' drink some cider now an' then.
Do' want no boss a-standin' by
To see me work; I allus try
To do my dooty right straight up,
An' earn what fills my plate an' cup.
An' ez fur boss, I'll be my own,
I like to jest be let alone,
To plough my strip an' tend my bees,
An' do jest like I doggoned please.
My head's all right, an' my heart's meller,
But I'm a easy-goin' feller.

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