African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Maurice N. Corbett, "Paul Laurence Dunbar" (1914)

Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Life's tournament is being run,
And in the contests there must none
Save men of world-wide fame appear
And trappings of knighterrants bear.
A black knight, bearing sword and shield,
A stranger on this honored field
Unbidden comes; the brazen thing
Has shied his castor in the ring!
This knight in sable armor clad
The best knights challenged! Is he mad
That he should dare the courses run
With Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson,
Longfellow, Bryant, Pope and Poe?
How dares he thus such spirit show
When giant knights like these contend
For honor's wreath and glory's end?
The bugle sounds; the knights advance
Sword clangs to sword, lance points to lance,
The Black Knight's plume is seen to wave
Amongst the bravest of the brave.
He reels from many a well-aimed blow;
'Tis over! Is he unhorsed? NO!!!
Unscathed he rides from honor's field
With victory written on his shield!

Who is this dauntless, sable knight
Who won his way to yonder height
Of eminence? Give us the name
His shield will bear in the hall of fame!
Paul Laurence Dunbar, Afric's son
This day the wreath of fame has won.
His name for aye is handed down
Mongst bards and poets of renown.
Paul Laurence Dunbar, thou hast won
Renown not for thyself alone,
But for thy persecuted race
Have thy great poems won a place
Mongst men of letters, and have taught
The men who delve in realm of thought
Jehovah, in creation's plan,
Equipped the Negro as a man.

Published in The Harp of Ethiopia, 1914

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