Home > Uncategorized > Paul Laurence Dunbar: Birds of peace and deadened hearts

Paul Laurence Dunbar: Birds of peace and deadened hearts


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war


Paul Laurence Dunbar

The Sparrow (1896)

A little bird, with plumage brown,
Beside my window flutters down,
A moment chirps its little strain,
Ten taps upon my window-pane,
And chirps again, and hops along,
To call my notice to its song;
But I work on, nor heed its lay,
Till, in neglect, it flies away.

So birds of peace and hope and love
Come fluttering earthward from above,
To settle on life’s window-sills,
And ease our load of earthly ills;
But we, in traffic’s rush and din
Too deep engaged to let them in,
With deadened heart and sense plod on,
Nor know our loss till they are gone.


We Wear the Mask (1896)

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, –
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!


The Lesson (1896)

My cot was down by a cypress grove,
And I sat by my window the whole night long,
And heard well up from the deep dark wood
A mocking-bird’s passionate song.

And I thought of myself so sad and lone,
And my life’s cold winter that knew no spring;
Of my mind so weary and sick and wild,
Of my heart too sad to sing.

But e’en as I listened the mock-bird’s song,
A thought stole into my saddened heart,
And I said, “I can cheer some other soul
By a carol’s simple art.”

For oft from the darkness of hearts and lives
Come songs that brim with joy and light,
As out of the gloom of the cypress grove
The mocking-bird sings at night.

So I sang a lay for a brother’s ear
In a strain to soothe his bleeding heart,
And he smiled at the sound of my voice and lyre,
Though mine was a feeble art.

But at his smile I smiled in turn,
And into my soul there came a ray:
In trying to soothe another’s woes
Mine own had passed away.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. stugots2
    December 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Mr. Dunbar speaks to my Soul. I have stumbled upon someone who was surely known to me in another life and time.

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