Friday, October 2, 2015

Jump Back & Sing! 3 Poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Hello, and Happy first Poetry Friday of October! WOW! October is one of the very best months, isn't it?? Be sure to visit Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe for Roundup.

I'm excited to share with you today 3 poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Last week at MY FAVORITE POEM, one of the readers shared Dunbar's "Sympathy" from which Maya Angelou took the phrase "I know why the caged bird sings," and that set me on a Dunbar reading binge! I read oh about 450 Dunbar poems this week, and I'm delighted to share with you my favorites. Also, I'm excited about a new picture book biography JUMP BACK, PAUL: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar by Sally Derby, illus. by Sean Qualls. I haven't gotten my hands on the book yet, so I will be curious to see if any of the poems I've selected here are included in the book!

The first one is quite timely! Hurray for all that makes October beautiful! I particularly love the last lines.

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

October is the treasurer of the year,
And all the months pay bounty to her store;
The fields and orchards still their tribute bear,
And fill her brimming coffers more and more.
But she, with youthful lavishness,
Spends all her wealth in gaudy dress,
And decks herself in garments bold
Of scarlet, purple, red, and gold.
She heedeth not how swift the hours fly,
But smiles and sings her happy life along;
She only sees above a shining sky;
She only hears the breezes' voice in song.
Her garments trail the woodlands through,
And gather pearls of early dew
That sparkle, till the roguish Sun
Creeps up and steals them every one.
But what cares she that jewels should be lost,
When all of Nature's bounteous wealth is hers?
Though princely fortunes may have been their cost,
Not one regret her calm demeanor stirs.
Whole-hearted, happy, careless, free,
She lives her life out joyously,
Nor cares when Frost stalks o'er her way
And turns her auburn locks to gray.

This next one is perfect for introducing young readers to Dunbar's work:

The Seedling
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

AS a quiet little seedling
Lay within its darksome bed,
To itself it fell a-talking,
And this is what it said:

'I am not so very robust,
But I'll do the best I can;'
And the seedling from that moment
Its work of life began.

So it pushed a little leaflet
Up into the light of day,
To examine the surroundings
And show the rest the way.

The leaflet liked the prospect,
So it called its brother, Stem;
Then two other leaflets heard it,
And quickly followed them.

To be sure, the haste and hurry
Made the seedling sweat and pant;
But almost before it knew it
It found itself a plant.

The sunshine poured upon it,

And the clouds they gave a shower;

And the little plant kept growing
Till it found itself a flower.

Little folks, be like the seedling,

Always do the best you can;

Every child must share life's labor
Just as well as every man.

And the sun and showers will help you

Through the lonesome, struggling hours,

Till you raise to light and beauty
Virtue's fair, unfading flowers. 

And finally, my favorite Dunbar poem! It's joyful, yet acknowledges our struggles. Love the refrain "I sing my song, and all is well." Yes!

The Poet and His Song
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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.


  1. Love Dunbar's work. His "Invitation to Love" makes me sigh happily every time. Thanks for spotlighting him, Irene :-)

  2. Love all three poems. Beautiful! I can see why you went on a Dunbar reading binge. I need to do the same. And I can't wait to see the new picture book about him. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. Dunbar's poems are amazing. I especially love "October" because it is my favorite month. There's something so serene about autumn trees. Thanks for sharing these, Irene. I look forward to seeing the new picture book. : )

  4. I don't remember reading "October" before; but it is so perfectly beautiful!! Thank you for sharing all these great poems. And I will be looking for the Derby biography.

  5. Thank you for sharing these and highlighting Dunbar's work. Looking forward to the PB biography.

  6. These are wonderful, Irene. I think I would also pick "October" as my favorite for its imagination. That first line pulls me in. But "The Poet and His Song" is the most inspiring. What philosophy of life he had!

  7. These are wonderful. I haven't read his poetry in many years. It's time to read some more. Thanks for sharing these. I look forward to reading the book.

  8. I'll try to live like October at the end of the poem, at the end of the month, at the end of the season as my (not really) auburn locks turn gray!

  9. Oh, richness! Love the book and Sean Qualls's art. This Poetry Friday is getting EXPENSIVE!

  10. I had not heard of Paul Dunbar before. I love the poems you shared of his.
    I loved listening to you read them too!

  11. We all owe such a debt to this man, and all he accomplished facing a discrimination that would have racked a lesser mortal.

  12. We all owe such a debt to this man, and all he accomplished facing a discrimination that would have racked a lesser mortal.


Your thoughts?