The Mystery

- 1872-1906

I was not; now I am—a few days hence
I shall not be; I fain would look before
And after, but can neither do; some Power
Or lack of power says “no” to all I would.
I stand upon a wide and sunless plain,
Nor chart nor steel to guide my steps aright.
Whene’er, o’ercoming fear, I dare to move,
I grope without direction and by chance.
Some feign to hear a voice and feel a hand
That draws them ever upward thro’ the gloom.
But I—I hear no voice and touch no hand,
Tho’ oft thro’ silence infinite I list,
And strain my hearing to supernal sounds;
Tho’ oft thro’ fateful darkness do I reach,
And stretch my hand to find that other hand.
I question of th’ eternal bending skies
That seem to neighbor with the novice earth;
But they roll on, and daily shut their eyes
On me, as I one day shall do on them,
And tell me not the secret that I ask.

More by Paul Laurence Dunbar

A Negro Love Song

Seen my lady home las' night,
    Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hel' huh han' an' sque'z it tight,
    Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,
Seen a light gleam f'om huh eye,
An' a smile go flittin' by--
    Jump back, honey, jump back.

Hyeahd de win' blow thoo de pine,
    Jump back, honey, jump back,
Mockin'-bird was singin' fine,
    Jump back, honey, jump back.
An' my hea't was beatin' so,
When I reached my lady's do',
Dat I couldn't ba' to go--
    Jump back, honey, jump back.

Put my ahm aroun' huh wais',
    Jump back, honey, jump back.
Raised huh lips an' took a tase,
    Jump back, honey, jump back.
Love me, honey, love me true?
Love me well ez I love you?
An' she answe'd, "'Cose I do"--
    Jump back, honey, jump back.

Signs of the Times

Air a-gittin' cool an' coolah, 
   Frost a-comin' in de night, 
Hicka' nuts an' wa'nuts fallin', 
   Possum keepin' out o' sight. 
Tu'key struttin' in de ba'nya'd, 
   Nary a step so proud ez his; 
Keep on struttin', Mistah Tu'key, 
   Yo' do' know whut time it is. 


Cidah press commence a-squeakin' 
   Eatin' apples sto'ed away, 
Chillun swa'min' 'roun' lak ho'nets, 
   Huntin' aigs ermung de hay. 
Mistah Tu'key keep on gobblin' 
   At de geese a-flyin' souf, 
Oomph! dat bird do' know whut's comin'; 
   Ef he did he'd shet his mouf. 


Pumpkin gittin' good an' yallah 
   Mek me open up my eyes; 
Seems lak it's a-lookin' at me 
   Jes' a-la'in' dah sayin' "Pies." 
Tu'key gobbler gwine 'roun' blowin', 
   Gwine 'roun' gibbin' sass an' slack; 
Keep on talkin', Mistah Tu'key, 
   You ain't seed no almanac. 


Fa'mer walkin' th'oo de ba'nya'd 
   Seein' how things is comin' on, 
Sees ef all de fowls is fatt'nin' — 
   Good times comin' sho's you bo'n. 
Hyeahs dat tu'key gobbler braggin', 
   Den his face break in a smile — 
Nebbah min', you sassy rascal, 
   He's gwine nab you atter while. 


Choppin' suet in de kitchen, 
   Stonin' raisins in de hall, 
Beef a-cookin' fu' de mince meat, 
   Spices groun' — I smell 'em all. 
Look hyeah, Tu'key, stop dat gobblin', 
   You ain' luned de sense ob feah, 
You ol' fool, yo' naik's in dangah, 
   Do' you know Thanksgibbin's hyeah?

In Summer

Oh, summer has clothed the earth
In a cloak from the loom of the sun!
And a mantle, too, of the skies' soft blue,
And a belt where the rivers run.

And now for the kiss of the wind,
And the touch of the air's soft hands,
With the rest from strife and the heat of life,
With the freedom of lakes and lands.

I envy the farmer's boy
Who sings as he follows the plow;
While the shining green of the young blades lean
To the breezes that cool his brow.

He sings to the dewy morn,
No thought of another's ear;
But the song he sings is a chant for kings
And the whole wide world to hear.

He sings of the joys of life,
Of the pleasures of work and rest,
From an o'erfull heart, without aim or art;
'T is a song of the merriest.

O ye who toil in the town,
And ye who moil in the mart,
Hear the artless song, and your faith made strong
Shall renew your joy of heart.

Oh, poor were the worth of the world
If never a song were heard,—
If the sting of grief had no relief,
And never a heart were stirred.

So, long as the streams run down,
And as long as the robins trill,
Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
And sing in the face of ill.

Related Poems

Discovery

The gray path glided before me
Through cool, green shadows;
Little leaves hung in the soft air
Like drowsy moths;
A group of dark trees, gravely conferring,
Made me conscious of the gaucherie of sound;
Farther on, a slim lilac
Drew me down to her on the warm grass.
“How sweet is peace!”
My serene heart said.

Then, suddenly, in a curve of the road,
Red tulips!
A bright battalion, swaying,
They marched with fluttering flags,
And gay fifes playing!

A swift flame leapt in my heart;
I burned with passion;
I was tainted with cruelty;
I wanted to march in the wind,
To tear the silence with gay music,
And to slash the sober green
Until it sobbed and bled.

The tulips have found me out.