Paul Laurence Dunbar: “Feliz Otoño”

Hojas del otoño_9 de octubre 2015_Toronto
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
Feliz Otoño
Es una farsa – estos cuentos que dicen,
sobre las brisas que suspiran,
y gemidos en el campo y valle
– porque está muriendo el año.
Tantos principios son muy absurdos
– no me importa quien los ha aprendido –
porque no hay nada entendida por bestia o pájaro
para hacer un otoño solemne.
En tiempos solemnes, cuando el luto domina
con el semblante angustiante,
notarás que hay más negro y gris en su ropa.
Ahora los tintes púrpuros están en todas partes;
el cielo es azul, y suave;
aun la hierba pone el suelo
de verde modesto al amarillo.
El erizo de la semilla ríe y raja sobre mota-hierba de pluma,
y estramonio;
y las hojas que deben estar arregladas en negro
están todas adornadas en carmesí.
Una mariposa va más allá, sobre sus alas,
y un pájaro-cantante viene después;
y La Naturaleza, de la tierra hasta el cielo,
se desborda con risa.
Las olas pequeñas tocan los arroyuelos,
como unas chamacas brillantes;
la luz del sol corre en las colinas,
y ríe entre las hierbas del campo.
Nuestra tierra está tan llena de diversión,
no puede contenerla;
y arroyos de júbilo corren tan libremente que
el cielo parece llover con la dicha.
No me hables de días solemnes
durante el tiempo esplendoroso del otoño,
porque el sol muestra rayos más raros,
y estos se vuelven biselados y esbeltos.
En hecho: es el clímax del año
– el momento más alto para vivir –
hasta que, naturalmente,
su hurra que rebosa pues se integra al
Día de Acción de Gracias.

. . .
Paul Laurence Dunbar
Merry Autumn
T’s all a farce, — these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing,
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.
Such principles are most absurd, —
I care not who first taught ’em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.
In solemn times, when grief holds sway
With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and grey
Will then be used in dressing.
Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow;
And e’en the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.
The seed burrs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.
A butterfly goes winging by;
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o’er with laughter.
The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills,
And laughs among the grasses.
The earth is just so full of fun
It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.
Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.
Why, it’s the climax of the year,—
The highest time of living!—
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into Thanksgiving.

. . . . .

Thanksgiving Poems: a Cornucopia

Thanksgiving Bounty 

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

I had no time to Hate”


I had no time to Hate –


The Grave would hinder Me –

And Life was not so

Ample I

Could finish – Enmity –


Nor had I time to Love –

But since

Some Industry must be –

The little Toil of Love –

I thought

Be large enough for Me –

.     .     .

Emily Dickinson

They might not need me – yet they might”


They might not need me – yet they might –

I’ll let my Heart be just in sight –

A smile so small as mine might be

Precisely their necessity.

Emily Dickinson_1830-1886

Emily Dickinson

Who has not found the Heaven – below”


Who has not found the Heaven – below –

Will fail of it above –

For Angels rent the House next ours,

Wherever we remove –

Paul Laurence Dunbar at age 19_1892

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

A Prayer”


O Lord, the hard-won miles

Have worn my stumbling feet:

Oh, soothe me with thy smiles,

And make my life complete.


The thorns were thick and keen

Where’er I trembling trod;

The way was long between

My wounded feet and God.


Where healing waters flow

Do thou my footsteps lead.

My heart is aching so;

Thy gracious balm I need.

.     .     .

Paul Laurence Dunbar

The Sum”


A little dreaming by the way,

A little toiling day by day;

A little pain, a little strife,

A little joy,–and that is life.


A little short-lived summer’s morn,

When joy seems all so newly born,

When one day’s sky is blue above,

And one bird sings,–and that is love.


A little sickening of the years,

The tribute of a few hot tears,

Two folded hands, the failing breath,

And peace at last,–and that is death.


Just dreaming, loving, dying so,

The actors in the drama go–

A flitting picture on a wall,

Love, Death, the themes;  but is that all?

.     .     .

Guido Guinizelli (1230-1276)

Of Moderation and Tolerance”


He that has grown to wisdom hurries not,

But thinks and weighs what Reason bids him do;

And after thinking he retains his thought

Until as he conceived the fact ensue.

Let no man to o’erweening pride be wrought,

But count his state as Fortune’s gift and due.

He is a fool who deems that none has sought

The truth, save he alone, or knows it true.

Many strange birds are on the air abroad,

Nor all are of one flight or of one force,

But each after his kind dissimilar:

To each was portion’d of the breath of God,

Who gave them divers instincts from one source.

Then judge not thou thy fellows what they are.


Translation from the Italian: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1861)

.     .     .

Luci Shaw (born 1928)

But not forgotten”


Whether or not I find the missing thing

it will always be

more than my thought of it.

Silver-heavy, somewhere it winks

in its own small privacy


the waiting game for me.


And the real treasures do not vanish.

The precious loses no value

in the spending.

A piece of hope spins out

bright, along the dark, and is not

lost in space;

verity is a burning boomerang;

love is out orbiting and will

come home.

.     .     .

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)



Hope means to keep living

amid desperation,

and to keep humming in darkness.

Hoping is knowing that there is love,

it is trust in tomorrow

it is falling asleep

and waking again

when the sun rises.

In the midst of a gale at sea,

it is to discover land.

In the eye of another

it is to see that he understands you.

As long as there is still hope

there will also be prayer.

And God will be holding you

in His hands.

.     .     .

Walt Whitman(1819-1892)

When I heard the learn’d astronomer”


When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured

with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

Speech to the Young, Speech to the Progress-Toward

(Among them Nora and Henry III)”


Say to them

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers:

Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night.”

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.

Live not for the battles won.

Live not for the-end-of-the-song.

Live in the along.

Rabindranath Tagore in 1886

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

Closed Path”


I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,

that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted,
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that Thy Will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

.     .     .

William Matthews (1942-1997)



How easily happiness begins by   

dicing onions. A lump of sweet butter   

slithers and swirls across the floor   

of the sauté pan, especially if its   

errant path crosses a tiny slick

of olive oil. Then a tumble of onions.


This could mean soup or risotto   

or chutney (from the Sanskrit

chatni, to lick). Slowly the onions   

go limp and then nacreous

and then what cookbooks call clear,   

though if they were eyes you could see


clearly the cataracts in them.

It’s true it can make you weep

to peel them, to unfurl and to tease   

from the taut ball first the brittle,   

caramel-coloured and decrepit

papery outside layer, the least


recent the reticent onion

wrapped around its growing body,   

for there’s nothing to an onion

but skin, and it’s true you can go on   

weeping as you go on in, through   

the moist middle skins, the sweetest


and thickest, and you can go on   

in to the core, to the bud-like,   

acrid, fibrous skins densely   

clustered there, stalky and in-

complete, and these are the most   

pungent, like the nuggets of nightmare


and rage and murmury animal   

comfort that infant humans secrete.   

This is the best domestic perfume.   

You sit down to eat with a rumour

of onions still on your twice-washed   

hands and lift to your mouth a hint


of a story about loam and usual   

endurance. It’s there when you clean up   

and rinse the wine glasses and make   

a joke, and you leave the minutest   

whiff of it on the light switch,

later, when you climb the stairs.

.     .     .     .     .

“Go on and up!”: the tight-rope-walking poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar

ZP_Paul Laurence Dunbar_a studio photographic portrait from 1896

ZP_Paul Laurence Dunbar_a studio photographic portrait from 1896

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906, Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A.)



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 needn’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.


.     .     .


“A Negro Love Song”


Seen my lady home las’ night,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Hel’ huh han’ an’ sque’z it tight,

Jump back, honey, jump bck.

Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,

Seen a light gleam f’om huh eye,

An’ a smile go flittin’ by –

Jump back, honey, jump back.


Hyeahd de win’ blow thoo de pine,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Mockin’-bird was singin’ fine,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

An’ my hea’t was beatin’ so,

When I reached my lady’s do’,

Dat I couldn’t ba’ to go –

Jump back, honey, jump back.


Put my ahm aroun’ huh wais’,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Raised huh lips an’ took a tase,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Love me, honey, love me true?

Love me well ez I love you?

An’ she answe’d, “ ’Cose I do” –

Jump back, honey, jump back.


.     .     .




Lucy done gone back on me,

Dat’s de way wif life.

Evaht’ing was movin’ free,

T’ought I had my wife.

Den some dahky comes along,

Sings my gal a little song,

Since den, evaht’ing’s gone wrong,

Evah day dey’s strife.


Didn’t answer me to-day,

W’en I called huh name,

Would you t’ink, she’d ac’ dat way

W’en I ain’t to blame?

Dat’s de way dese women do,

W’en dey fin’s a fellow true,

Den dey  ’buse him thoo an’ thoo;

Well, hit’s all de same.


Somep’n’s wrong erbout my lung,

An’ I’s glad hit’s so.

Doctah says  ’at I’ll die young,

Well, I wants to go!

Whut’s de use o’ livin’ hyeah,

W’en de gal you loves so deah,

Goes back on you clean an’ cleah –

I sh’d like to know!


.     .     .




Hit ‘s been drizzlin’ an’ been sprinklin’,

Kin’ o’ techy all day long.

I ain’t wet enough fu’ toddy,

I ‘s too damp to raise a song,

An’ de case have set me t’inkin’,

Dat dey ‘s folk des lak de rain,

Dat goes drizzlin’ w’en dey’s talkin’,

An’ won’t speak out flat an’ plain.


Ain’t you nevah set an’ listened

At a body ‘splain his min’?

W’en de t’oughts dey keep on drappin’

Was n’t big enough to fin’?

Dem ‘s whut I call drizzlin’ people,

Othahs call ’em mealy mouf,

But de fust name hits me bettah,

Case dey nevah tech a drouf.


Dey kin talk from hyeah to yandah,

An’ f’om yandah hyeah ergain,

An’ dey don’ mek no mo’ ‘pression,

Den dis powd’ry kin’ o’ rain.

En yo’ min’ is dry ez cindahs,

Er a piece o’ kindlin’ wood,

‘T ain’t no use a-talkin’ to ’em,

Fu’ dey drizzle ain’t no good.


Gimme folks dat speak out nachul,

Whut ‘ll say des whut dey mean,

Whut don’t set dey wo’ds so skimpy

Dat you got to guess between.

I want talk des’ lak de showahs

Whut kin wash de dust erway,

Not dat sprinklin’ convusation,

Dat des drizzle all de day.


.     .     .


“The Lawyer’s Ways”


I ‘ve been list’nin’ to them lawyers

In the court house up the street,

An’ I ‘ve come to the conclusion

That I’m most completely beat.

Fust one feller riz to argy,

An’ he boldly waded in

As he dressed the tremblin’ pris’ner

In a coat o’ deep-dyed sin.


Why, he painted him all over

In a hue o’ blackest crime,

An’ he smeared his reputation

With the thickest kind o’ grime,

Tell I found myself a-wond’rin’

In a misty way and dim,

How the Lord had come to fashion

Sich an awful man as him.


Then the other lawyer started,

An’ with brimmin’, tearful eyes,

Said his client was a martyr

That was brought to sacrifice.

An’ he give to that same pris’ner

Every blesséd human grace,

Tell I saw the light o’ virtue

Fairly shinin’ from his face.


Then I own ‘at I was puzzled

How sich things could rightly be;

An’ this aggervatin’ question

Seems to keep a-puzzlin’ me.

So, will some one please inform me,

An’ this mystery unroll–

How an angel an’ a devil

Can persess the self-same soul?


.     .     .




Well, mebbe ya don’t remember Tim

Little feller, lank an’ slim

Jest about as big as a minute

With an eye like coal, with a sparkle in it.

Newsboys ust to carry The Press

Littlest one on the force I guess

But he wasn’t afeared to run and holler

Spry as a cricket an’ bright as a dollar.

Wall, like a book I knowed this Tim

use to work along a’ him

When The Press was a little measley sheet,

An’ I reckon this team was hard to beat.

Sell papers, well know you’re a talkin’ sin;

When we got out we made a din

All up and down the busy street

Till every blesséd printed sheet

We had was gone, then me and Tim

We’d hurry home in the twilight dim

Down to our cellar an’ while away

The darkenin’ hours in quiet play.

Fur we wuz only kids, us two

And played like other youngsters do.

Orphans, we wuz without friend

His aid er helpin’ hand to lend

Yes we wuz poor as poor could be

But we wuz happy – Tim and me.

And the days went by like a song of joy

You know what it is to be a boy

I reckon you’ll laugh when you hear me say

That we fell in love in a boyish way.


.     .     .


“To a Captious Critic”


Dear critic, who my lightness so deplores,

Would I might study to be prince of bores,

Right wisely would I rule that dull estate –

But, sir, I may not, till you abdicate.


.     .     .




My heart to thy heart,

My hand to thine;

My lip to thy lips,

Kisses are wine

Brewed for the lover in sunshine and shade;

Let me drink deep, then, my African maid.


Lily to lily,

Rose unto rose;

My love to thy love

Tenderly grows.

Rend not the oak and the ivy in twain,

Nor the swart maid from her swarthier swain.


.     .     .


“Ode to Ethiopia”


O Mother Race! to thee I bring

This pledge of faith unwavering,

This tribute to thy glory.

I know the pangs which thou didst feel,

When Slavery crushed thee with its heel,

With thy dear blood all gory.


Sad days were those – ah, sad indeed!

But through the land the fruitful seed

Of better times was growing.

The plant of freedom upward sprung,

And spread its leaves so fresh and young –

Its blossoms now are blowing.


On every hand in this fair land,

Proud Ethiope’s swarthy children stand

Beside their fairer neighbour;

The forests flee before their stroke,

Their hammers ring, their forges smoke –

They stir in honest labour.


They tread the fields where honour calls;

Their voices sound through senate halls

In majesty and power.

To right they cling; the hymns they sing

Up to the skies in beauty ring,

And bolder grow each hour.


Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul;

Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll

In characters of fire.

High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky

Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,

And truth shall lift them higher.


Thou hast the right to noble pride,

Whose spotless robes were purified

By blood’s severe baptism.

Upon thy brow the cross was laid,

And labour’s painful sweat-beads made

A consecrating chrism.


No other race, or white or black,

When bound as thou wert, to the rack,

So seldom stooped to grieving;

No other race, when free again,

Forgot the past and proved them men

So noble in forgiving.


Go on and up! Our souls and eyes

Shall follow thy continuous rise;

Our ears shall list thy story

From bards who from thy root shall spring,

And proudly tune their lyres to sing

Of Ethiopia’s glory.


.     .     .


“We Wear the Mask”


We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.


Why should the world be over-wise

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.


We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!


.     .     .




Out of my heart, one day, I wrote a song,

With my heart’s blood imbued,

Instinct with passion, tremulously strong,

With grief subdued;

Breathing a fortitude


And one who claimed much love for what I wrought,

Read and considered it,

And spoke:

“Ay, brother –  ’tis well writ,

But where’s the joke?”


.     .     .




Deep in my heart that aches with the repression,

And strives with plenitude of bitter pain,

There lives a thought that clamours for expression,

And spends its undelivered force in vain.


What boots it that some other may have thought it?

The right of thoughts’ expression is divine;

The price of pain I pay for it has bought it,

I care not who lays claim to it –’t is mine!


And yet not mine until it be delivered;

The manner of its birth shall prove the test.

Alas, alas, my rock of pride is shivered –

I beat my brow – the thought still unexpressed.


.     .     .


“A Choice”


They please me not – these solemn songs

That hint of sermons covered up.

’T is true the world should heed its wrongs,

But in a poem let me sup,

Not simples brewed to cure or ease

Humanity’s confessed disease,

But the spirit-wine of a singing line,

Or a dew-drop in a honey cup!


.     .     .




With what thou gavest me, O Master,

I have wrought.

Such chances, such abilities,

To see the end was not for my poor eyes,

Thine was the impulse, thine the forming thought.


Ah, I have wrought,

And these sad hands have right to tell their story,

It was no hard up striving after glory,

Catching and losing, gaining and failing,

Raging me back at the world’s raucous railing.

Simply and humbly from stone and from wood,

Wrought I the things that to thee might seem good.


If they are little, ah God! but the cost,

Who but thou knowest the all that is lost!

If they are few, is the workmanship true?

Try them and weigh me, whate’er be my due!


.     .     .     .     .

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872 – less than a decade after the Emancipation Act – to a mother and a father who had been slaves in Kentucky.  His mother had learned to read expressly for the purpose of saying aloud the Bible and Dunbar learned to read at his mother’s knee – from The Good Book.  He wrote his first poem at the age of 6 and by the end of high school in Dayton he had had poems published in The Herald newspaper.  His first book of poems, Oak and Ivy, was published in 1893.  Editor and critic William Dean Howells wrote a glowing review of Dunbar’s second book of poetry, Majors and Minors, in 1896.  Combining the two books into one, Lyrics of Lowly Life, with an introduction by the influential Howells, Dunbar had a best-seller and was soon nationally famous.  Drawing attention to Dunbar’s dark skin, as if mulatto writers somehow didn’t count, Howells had written that Dunbar was “the only man of pure African blood and of African civilization to feel the Negro life aesthetically and express it lyrically”.  Hogwash, a good half of that extravagant statement.  But Howells was writing for white readers of poetry who preferred something authentic, something other than the common Coon Songs/Minstrel Music of the 1890s.  And all this just as Jim Crow legislation – ‘separate but equal’ bylaws – became firmly entrenched.

Thereafter, Dunbar would walk a literary tightrope.  He tried to be true to his own ambition to develop and showcase his considerable range as a poet while being clamoured after for Negro-Dialect poems (verses using everyday Black speech from The South – which had constituted just a quarter of the 100-plus poems in Lyrics).  And yet – Dunbar’s Negro-Dialect poems can in instances go beyond the popular Minstrel-influenced poems and songs of the era because he voiced in them a very-real sadness sometimes, some subtly subversive wit – and cynicism as well.   It is notable that he also wrote other Peoples’ dialect poems that showed a supple command of Irish, German and Southern-White speech patterns.  Briefly and unhappily Dunbar was married to Alice Ruth Moore – later a journalist and anti-lynching campaigner – from 1898 to 1902.  Diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1900 he was prescribed “the whiskey diet” plus the pure air of Colorado.   Feeling perhaps that Time was running out, he began writing essays and unusual, inventive stage plays – which scholars since the 1990s have been re-appraising (along with Dunbar’s Negro-Dialect poems).  His health worsened and he returned to Ohio in 1904, dying there in 1906 at the age of 33.   After much academic argument about Paul Laurence Dunbar’s legacy it is now agreed that he was the finest Black-American poet before the cultural blossoming of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.

.     .     .     .     .