Henrietta Cordelia Ray: Odes to Toussaint L’Ouverture and Paul Laurence Dunbar

Engraving of Toussaint L'Ouverture

Henrietta Cordelia Ray (1852?-1916)

Toussaint L’Ouverture”

(from: Champions of Freedom, published 1910)


To those fair isles where crimson sunsets burn,
We send a backward glance to gaze on thee,
Brave Toussaint! thou wast surely born to be
A hero; thy proud spirit could but spurn
Each outrage on thy race. Couldst thou unlearn
The lessons taught by instinct? Nay! and we
Who share the zeal that would make all men free,
Must e’en with pride unto thy life-work turn.
Soul-dignity was thine and purest aim;
And ah! how sad that thou wast left to mourn
In chains ‘neath alien skies. On him, shame! shame!
That mighty conqueror who dared to claim
The right to bind thee. Him we heap with scorn,
And noble patriot! guard with love thy name.


Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743-1803):  Leader of the Haitian Revolution for Independence

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Two Quatrains:



What is ambition? ’tis unrest, defeat!
A goad, a spur, a Quick’ning the heart’s beat;
A fevered pulse, a grasp at shadows fleet,
A beck’ning vision, fair, illusive, sweet!




What we to-day prize and most fondly cherish,
To-morrow scarce may claim a moment’s reck’ning.
Yet why adjust the cause? Let doubt all perish.
Can argument withstand the spirit’s beck’ning?

Lyrics of Lowly Life_1897_This volume included Paul Laurence Dunbar's Oak and Ivy and Majors and Minors both under one cover.

In Memoriam: Paul Laurence Dunbar”


The Muse of Poetry came down one day,
And brought with willing hands a rare, sweet gift;
She lingered near the cradle of a child,
Who first unto the sun his eyes did lift.
She touched his lips with true Olympian fire,
And at her bidding Fancies hastened there,
To flutter lovingly around the one
So favored by the Muse’s gentle care.

Who was this child? The offspring of a race
That erst had toiled ‘neath slavery’s galling chains.
And soon he woke to utterance and sang
In sweetly cadenced and in stirring strains,
Of simple joys, and yearnings, and regrets;
Anon to loftier themes he turned his pen;
For so in tender, sympathetic mood
He caught the follies and the griefs of men.

His tones were various: we list, and lo!
“Malindy Sings,” and as the echoes die,
The keynote changes and another strain
Of solemn majesty goes floating by;
And sometimes in the beauty and the grace
Of an impassioned, melancholy lay,
We seem to hear the surge, and swell, and moan
Of soft orchestral music far away.


Paul Dunbar dead! His genius cannot die!
It lives in songs that thrill, and glow, and soar;
Their pathos and their joy will fill our hearts,
And charm and satisfy e’en as of yore.
So when we would lament our poet gone,
With sorrow that his lyre is resting now,
Let us remember, with the fondest pride,
That Fame’s immortal wreath has crowned his brow.


Paul (Laurence) Dunbar (1872-1906):  Black-American poet and playwright from Dayton, Ohio

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To read poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar click on the following link:


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Source for the above poems:   the online archives of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Harlem, New York City)

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