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Alice Dunbar-Nelson

1875–1935

Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar-Nelson was born on July 19, 1875, in New Orleans, Louisiana. She graduated from Straight University in New Orleans and worked as an elementary teacher. She was an activist for civil rights and women's suffrage, as well as a poet, journalist, short-story writer, and playwright. Her works include Violets and Other Tales (The Monthly Review, 1895) and The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1899). She married Paul Laurence Dunbar in 1898, though they later separated. She died on September 18, 1935, in Philadelphia. 

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

By This Poet

10

Sonnet

I had no thought of violets of late,      
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
In wistful April days, when lovers mate
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.       
The thought of violets meant florists’ shops,          
And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;
And garish lights, and mincing little fops
And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine. 
So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed, 
I had forgot wide fields, and clear brown streams;            
The perfect loveliness that God has made,— 
Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.
And now—unwittingly, you’ve made me dream
Of violets, and my soul’s forgotten gleam.      

The Lights at Carney’s Point

O white little lights at Carney’s Point,
      You shine so clear o’er the Delaware;
When the moon rides high in the silver sky,
      Then you gleam, white gems on the Delaware.
Diamond circlet on a full white throat,
      You laugh your rays on a questioning boat;
Is it peace you dream in your flashing gleam,
      O’er the quiet flow of the Delaware?

And the lights grew dim at the water’s brim,
      For the smoke of the mills shredded slow between;
And the smoke was red, as is new bloodshed,
      And the lights went lurid ’neath the livid screen.

O red little lights at Carney’s Point,
      You glower so grim o’er the Delaware;
When the moon hides low sombrous clouds below,
      Then you glow like coals o’er the Delaware.
Blood red rubies on a throat of fire,
      You flash through the dusk of a funeral pyre;
Are there hearth fires red whom you fear and dread
      O’er the turgid flow of the Delaware?

And the lights gleamed gold o’er the river cold,
      For the murk of the furnace shed a copper veil;
And the veil was grim at the great cloud’s brim,
      And the lights went molten, now hot, now pale.

O gold little lights at Carney’s Point,
     You gleam so proud o’er the Delaware;
When the moon grows wan in the eastering dawn,
      Then you sparkle gold points o’er the Delaware.
Aureate filagree on a Croesus’ brow,
      You hasten the dawn on a gray ship’s prow.
Light you streams of gold in the grim ship’s hold
      O’er the sullen flow of the Delaware?

And the lights went gray in the ash of day,
      For a quiet Aurora brought a halcyon balm;
And the sun laughed high in the infinite sky,
      And the lights were forgot in the sweet, sane calm.
 

The Idler

An idle lingerer on the wayside’s road,
He gathers up his work and yawns away;
A little longer, ere the tiresome load
Shall be reduced to ashes or to clay.

No matter if the world has marched along,
And scorned his slowness as it quickly passed;
No matter, if amid the busy throng,
He greets some face, infantile at the last.

His mission? Well, there is but one,
And if it is a mission he knows it, nay,
To be a happy idler, to lounge and sun,
And dreaming, pass his long-drawn days away.

So dreams he on, his happy life to pass
Content, without ambitions painful sighs,
Until the sands run down into the glass;
He smiles—content—unmoved and dies

And yet, with all the pity that you feel
For this poor mothling of that flame, the world;
Are you the better for your desperate deal,
When you, like him, into infinitude are hurled?

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