Paul Laurence Dunbar


Know you, winds that blow your course
Down the verdant valleys,
That somewhere you must, perforce,
Kiss the brow of Alice?
When her gentle face you find,
Kiss it softly, naughty wind.

Roses waving fair and sweet
Thro’ the garden alleys,
Grow into a glory meet
For the eye of Alice;
Let the wind your offering bear
Of sweet perfume, faint and rare.

Lily holding crystal dew
In your pure white chalice,
Nature kind hath fashioned you
Like the soul of Alice;
It of purest white is wrought,
Filled with gems of crystal thought.


Reprinted from Lyrics of a Lowly Life, 1913.


Dunbar wrote this poem for his wife, Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson (July 19, 1875 – September 18, 1935), who he married in 1898. She was already a published author when they wed, of Violets and Other Tales (1895). She published one more book, switching to Dunbar’s publisher, The Goodness of St. Rocque (1899). They lived in DC in the early days of their marriage, in the LeDroit Park neighborhood, but separated in 1902. Dunbar-Moore would marry two more times, but always retained her famous first husband’s last name. She remained in the Mid-Atlantic region, working as a journalist, teacher, and activist for civil rights and women’s rights.

Paul Laurence Dunbar (June 27, 1872 - February 9, 1906) was the first African American poet to become nationally known. His books of poems include Oak and Ivy (1892), Majors and Minors (1895), Lyrics of a Lowly Life (1896), Poems of Cabin and Field (1899), When Malindy Sings (1903), and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905). His works of fiction include The Uncalled (1898), Folks from Dixie (1898), The Strength of Gideon (1900), and The Sport of the Gods (1902). He also wrote the lyrics for In Dahomey, the first musical written and performed entirely by African Americans to appear on Broadway. Dunbar moved to DC in 1898 to take a job at the Library of Congress. He married another writer, Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson, that same year. In 1900, diagnosed with tuberculosis and alcoholic, he left the area to try to regain his health. He returned to DC only briefly, then moved into to his mother's home in Dayton, OH where he died in 1906 at the age of 33. To read more about this author: "Paul Laurence Dunbar" by Naomi Ayala (Memorial Issue, Fall 2003)