Poet: Paul Laurence Dunbar

220px-Paul_Laurence_Dunbar_circa_1890

He Had His Dream

He had his dream, and all through life,
Worked up to it through toil and strife.
Afloat fore’er before his eyes,
It colored for him all his skies:
The storm-cloud dark
Above his bark,
The calm and listless vault of blue
Took on its hopeful hue,
It tinctured every passing beam –
He had his dream.

He labored hard and failed at last,
His sails too weak to bear the blast,
The raging tempests tore away
And sent his beating bark astray.
But what cared he
For wind or sea!
He said, ‘The tempest will be short,
My bark will come to port.’
He saw through every cloud a gleam –
He had his dream.

 

Paul’s mother had a dream too. An ex-slave, she taught herself to read just so she could teach young Paul. Paul was a stellar student and popular at his all-white high school in Ohio where he was elected president of the high school literary society. Mother’s dream was to send Paul to law school but lack of funds prevented it.   (My son really wanted to live on campus at NYU and assumed he’d go to Columbia Law School–we all have our dreams, don’t we?). Finances are a pain.

Paul ended up an elevator operator and though a good poet, he wasn’t very good with money and always ended up in debt. People liked his work, but poetry can’t always pay the bills.

Paul met a nice girl and married, but sadly three years later was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The doctor recommended whiskey to alleviate  the symptoms of the disease. We all know how this ends, don’t we? His depression and growing dependence on alcohol caused trouble between him and wifey. She left him and Paul died a destitute alcoholic.

 

 

24 Comments Add yours

    1. Such is life–sometimes. Whiskey, your the devil! Was that song done by the Clancey Brothers? It’s stuck in my head now.

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      1. It was the Clancy Brothers – also done with Tommy Makem

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      2. I went through a intense finding my roots phase (English/Irish) and went to Irish dancing, Irish immersion language classes and of course Irish and English bars in NYC. That whiskey song frequently comes back to me–don’t know why. I guess it’s just catchy.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow that is so sad.

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    1. WE always want the happy ending, don’t we? (I do)

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  2. What a lovely homage to a great poet. Maya Angelou was influenced by Dunbar: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings taken from his line in the poem Sympathy. I love the connections between generations and the nod to those who came before in any artist. Dunbar’s poem resonate today with beauty and aspiration.

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    1. Cecile says:

      I have so much admiration for Maya Angelou and was once lucky enough to see both her and Eli Weisel discussing their lives at the University of Massachusetts. I had no idea this lovely poem was written by Maya Angelou – thanks for sharing that information.
      I have two parakeets and the phrase ‘why the caged bird sings’ often comes to mind. Thanks for the information on the original of that phrase.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d love to have heard Eli.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Cecile says:

        It was an evening I’ll never, ever forget!

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    2. I love those connections too. I imagine the poet’s optimistic worker in the poem and how the poet’s life ended. Sigh.

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    3. Alos forgot to say I had no idea about his connection to Maya–thanks for that!

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  3. Life is full of contingencies which is why we need religion, literature, art and philosophy to help us in times of trouble. Money helps too.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Cecile says:

    What a sad end to such an intelligent man who had so much potential. As you said, poetry isn’t a big money maker… As an aside, I just did a bit of research on a print I purchased when we lived in NYC, I’m very attached to it and wanted to see if I could find any info. online. Turns out the painting, which is part of the collection at the Museum of Southern Decorative Arts was painted by America’ first black artist. I was so excited to discover that! ++ Joshua Johnson (or Johnston), the country’s first professional African American artist, painted in Baltimore from the late 1790’s until he left the city in 1824. Johnson was the mulatto son of George Johnson, who purchased his freedom after Joshua finished an apprenticeship as a blacksmith. http://www.mesda.org/collections/paintings_sprite/mesda_benjaminyoe_sprite.html

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    1. Hi Cecile. I love finding out little nuggets of info like you did about Joshua!

      I remember years ago when my kids were babies I used to watch Suze something on Oprah and she said if you didn’t have an organized pocketbook you were the type who would never make money. I felt a bit bad since I didn’t even carry a pocketbook or wallet at the time 🙂 I used to have my friends carry my money, etc because I didn’t want to have to worry about it. Maybe that’s why I’ve never made a ton of money!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sad story — but pleased to see Dunbar mentioned. And loved the poem. I include a bit of his story and one of his poems in my book, Midwest Maize. The poem I used was a cheerful piece about corn husking time.

    As for the whiskey–alcohol was a common prescription for just about everything back then — even given to children. Because it was useful as an antiseptic, it was assumed it would help every form of infection. It’s amazing anyone survived the level of alcohol consumption that was common at that time.

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    1. Mercury was considered a cure-all, too. Yikes. But then some people might question our modern chemotherapy too.

      Just bought your book. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mercury must have some advantage — they put it in flu vaccines now. I suspect it’s a case of the dose makes the poison.

        And thanks for buying my book. Hope you enjoy it.

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      2. Louisa May Alcott suffered from mercury poisoning after serving as a nurse in the Civil War. They were a bit too liberal with the doses I guess.

        From what I hear you really have to watch vaccines have mercury because not all brands do. I’d hate to be a young mother now sifting through all the pros and cons of vaccinating infants!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Very sad story–poetry grows in places of sorrow. Thx for sharing this.

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    1. We all like to think we will live forever.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And this is where other animals have the advantage over us.

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