By Paul Laurence Dunbar
Thou art my lute, by thee I sing,—
My being is attuned to thee.
Thou settest all my words a-wing,
And meltest me to melody.
Thou art my life, by thee I live,
From thee proceed the joys I know;
Sweetheart, thy hand has power to give
The meed of love—the cup of woe.
Thou art my love, by thee I lead
My soul the paths of light along,
From vale to vale, from mead to mead,
And home it in the hills of song.
My song, my soul, my life, my all,
Why need I pray or make my plea,
Since my petition cannot fall;
For I’m already one with thee!
The son of former slaves, Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first African-American poet to reach a wide audience, publishing prolifically before his early death. His use of both dialect and standard English to portray his culture’s folkways, joys, and travails distinguishes him from other writers of the time. He also spoke out against racism and injustice in essays that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the Saturday Evening Post, and other mainstream publications.
More By This Poet
I am the mother of sorrows,
I am the ender of grief;
I am the bud and the blossom,
I am the late-falling leaf.
I am thy priest and thy poet,
I am thy serf and thy king;
Invitation to Love
Come when the nights are bright with stars
Or come when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
Drops on the hay-field yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come...
More Poems about Arts & Sciences
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark
I play the egg
and I play the triangle
I play the reed
and I play each angle
I play the lyre
and I play the lute
I play the snare
and I play the flute
I play the licorice stick
and I play the juke
I play the kettle
The man I pulled tonight
carried a load of books.
When I felt him watching
me uphill, I grimaced.
He gave me lunar
cakes the size
of two camel humps.
When I answered him,
I smiled to his face.
He wore the moonlight
in his specs. Pant
seams clean as the...
More Poems about Love
It’s true: I almost never
smile, but that doesn’t mean
I’m not in love: my heart
is that black violin
played slowly. You know that
moment late in the solo
when the voice
is so pure you feel
the blood in it: the wound
and complete surrender. That’s
Some people say the devil is beating
his wife. Some people say the devil
is pawing his wife. Some people say
the devil is doubling down on an overall
attitude of entitlement toward
the body of his wife. Some people
say the devil won’t need to...
More Poems about Relationships
Back Up Quick They’re Hippies
That was the year we drove
into the commune in Cornwall.
“Jesus Jim,” mam said,
“back up quick they’re hippies.”
Through the car window,
tents, row after row, flaps open,
long-haired men and women
curled around each other like babies
and the babies themselves
wandered naked across the grass.
In the warmth of night I put feet to my plan: waited
for my brothers to sleep. They’d spent the day
sharpening their hooks, repairing the great net,
filling gourds with fresh water. They’d bundled
taro wrapped in leaves sitting below the cross seats.