Friday, May 20, 2016

Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul Laurence Dunbar. 290 pages. [Source: Library]

Last year I reviewed Jump Back, Paul a lovely biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar for middle grade and up by Sally Derby. I had never heard of Dunbar before picking up that book, and, it hooked me. I have been meaning to go and read MORE of his work ever since. Almost nine months later, I checked out The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

It includes:
  • An introduction to Lyrics of Lowly Life by William Dean Howells
  • Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896)
  • Lyrics of the Hearthside (1902)
  • Lyrics of Love and Laughter
  • Lyrics of Love and Sorrow
  • Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905)
  • Miscellaneous
Some of the sections seem to be titled after poetry collections published during his life. But not all. Since the book claims to be the COMPLETE poems, I'm assuming that poems from his other published books have been arranged and gathered into the other sections.

I enjoyed reading this one very much. Enjoyed may not convey how deeply I feel about this collection of poetry! I loved it. I truly LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. As in, why did NO ONE tell me about him before?!?! How could I have gone this long without knowing who he is and what he wrote?!?!

So roughly half of his poems--give or take--are written in dialect. Now readers may have valid reactions to this--either loving or hating it. I personally loved it. I did. I think the key to deciphering dialect is to HEAR it as you read.

Here is one of the first dialect poems that appears in Lyrics of Lowly Life. It is called Accountability.
FOLKS ain't got no right to censuah othah folks about dey habits;
Him dat giv' de squir'ls de bushtails made de bobtails fu' de rabbits.
Him dat built de gread big mountains hollered out de little valleys,
Him dat made de streets an' driveways wasn't shamed to make de alleys.

We is all constructed diff'ent, d'ain't no two of us de same;
We cain't he'p ouah likes an' dislikes, ef we'se bad we ain't to blame.
Ef we'se good, we need n't show off, case you bet it ain't ouah doin'
We gits into su'ttain channels dat we jes' cain't he'p pu'suin'.

But we all fits into places dat no othah ones could fill,
An' we does the things we has to, big er little, good er ill.
John cain't tek de place o' Henry, Su an' Sally ain't alike;
Bass ain't nuthin' like a suckah, chub ain't nuthin' like a pike.

When you come to think about it, how it's all planned out it's splendid.
Nuthin's done er evah happens, 'dout hit's somefin' dat's intended;
Don't keer whut you does, you has to, an' hit sholy beats de dickens,--
Viney, go put on de kittle, I got one o' mastah's chickens.
Dunbar also wrote in "literary English." (That is how they are referred to by Howells in the introduction.) Half of the poems are written in this way, this style.

Here is one of his "literary" poems that appears early in that same collection. (It's the second poem.) It's called The Poet and His Song.
A SONG is but a little thing,
And yet what joy it is to sing!
In hours of toil it gives me zest,
And when at eve I long for rest;
When cows come home along the bars,
And in the fold I hear the bell,
As Night, the shepherd, herds his stars,
I sing my song, and all is well.

There are no ears to hear my lays,
No lips to lift a word of praise;
But still, with faith unfaltering,
I live and laugh and love and sing.
What matters yon unheeding throng?
They cannot feel my spirit's spell,
Since life is sweet and love is long,
I sing my song, and all is well.

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.

Sometimes the sun, unkindly hot,
My garden makes a desert spot;
Sometimes a blight upon the tree
Takes all my fruit away from me;
And then with throes of bitter pain
Rebellious passions rise and swell;
But - life is more than fruit or grain,
And so I sing, and all is well.
Here are my favorite 'literary' poems:
  • The Seedling
  • We Wear the Mask 
  •  The Unsung Heroes (about African American soldiers) 
  • The Poet and His Song
  • Dawn
  • Christmas Carol
  • Riding to Town
  • If
  • Yesterday and Tomorrow
  • A Hymn 
  • By Rugged Ways
  • Sympathy
  • Roses 
  • Ione
Here are my favorite 'dialect' poems:
  • A Negro Love Song (with the refrain Jump back, honey, jump back)
  • Deacon Jones' Grievance
  • The Ol' Tunes
  • The Spellin'-Bee
  • Joggin' Erlong
  • When de Co'n Pone's Hot
  • Accountability
  • Signs of the Times (a poem about Thanksgiving) 
  • Soliloquy of a Turkey (a poem about Christmas)
  • Foolin' Wid de Seasons
  • James Whitcomb Riley

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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