Paul Laurence Dunbar

Slow Through the Dark

Volume 16:1, January 2015
Sonnet Issue

Slow Through the Dark

Slow moves the pageant of a climbing race;
Their footsteps drag far, far below the height,
And, unprevailing by their utmost might,
Seem faltering downward from each hard won place.
No strange, swift-sprung exception we; we trace
A devious way thro’ dim, uncertain light,–
Our hope, through the long vistaed years, a sight
Of that our Captain’s soul sees face to face.
Who, faithless, faltering that the road is steep,
Now raiseth up his drear insistent cry?
Who stoppeth here to spend a while in sleep
Or curseth that the storm obscures the sky?
Heed not the darkness round you, dull and deep;
The clouds grow thickest when the summit’s nigh.



The river sleeps beneath the sky,
And clasps the shadows to its breast;
The crescent moon shines dim on high;
And in the lately radiant west
The gold is fading into gray.
Now stills the lark his festive lay,
And mourns with me the dying day.

While in the south the first faint star
Lifts to the night its silver face,
And twinkles to the moon afar
Across the heaven’s graying space,
Low murmurs reach me from the town,
As Day puts on her somber crown,
And shakes her mantle darkly down.


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)