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Selected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)


from Representative Poetry On-line
Prepared by members of the Department of English at the University of Toronto
from 1912 to the present and published by the University of Toronto Press from 1912 to 1967.
RPO Edited by Ian Lancashire
A UTEL (University of Toronto English Library) Edition
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries
© 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto

Image of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Index to poems

Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes,
Who's pappy's darlin' an' who's pappy's chile?
Who is it all de day nevah once tries
Fu' to be cross, er once loses dat smile?
        (Little Brown Baby, 9-12)
  1. At the Tavern
  2. The Debt
  3. The Haunted Oak
  4. The Lawyers' Ways
  5. Little Brown Baby
  6. A Negro Love Song
  7. The Old Front Gate
  8. Ships that Pass in the Night
  9. Signs of the Times
  10. Song (Wintah, summah, snow er shine)
  11. We Wear the Mask
  12. When de Co'n Pone's Hot


Notes on Life and Works

Born in Dayton, Ohio, and raised by his mother, Paul Dunbar stood out as the only black student in Central High School, the class poet, the editor of the school newspaper, and the president of its literary club, the Philomathean Society. After some years of menial work, and without having been able to study at college, Dunbar published his first book of verse, Oak and Ivy (1893) and met Frederick Douglass in Chicago, who helped bring him into literary circles. Five other volumes followed, Majors and Minors (1895), Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896), Lyrics of the Hearthside and Poems of Cabin and Field (1899), and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905). Dunbar married Alice Ruth Moore in 1898 and lived with her at 1934 Fourth St., N. W., in Washington, D.C. He earned his living from stories, novels, essays, and lectures. After separating from his wife in 1902, Dunbar returned to his mother's home, 219 North Summit St., in Dayton, where he died from alcoholism and tuberculosis at 33 years. Joanne Braxton gives a brief life in her edition of Dunbar's Collected Poetry (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1993; PS 1556 A1), and Peter Revell's Paul Laurence Dunbar a fuller one (Boston: Twayne, 1979; PS 1557 R4; both Robarts Library).

Biographical information

Given name: Paul Laurence
Family name: Dunbar
Birth date: 27 June 1872
Death date: 9 February 1906
Nationality: American
Ethnicity: African-American
Literary period: modern
Cause of death: Consumption