Here’s a tiny piece of Paul Dunbar’s “An Ante-Bellum Sermon.” You can read the whole poem here , or, if you like listening more than reading, there are a couple renditions up on Youtube.
An’ de lan’ shall hyeah his thundah
Lak a blas’ from Gab’el’s ho’n.
Fu’ de Lawd of hosts is mighty
When he girds his ahmor on.
But fu’ feah some one mistakes me,
I will pause right hyeah to say,
Dat I’m still a-preachin’ ancient,
I ain’t talkin’ ’bout to-day.
I wanted to write about this because I’ve been working on a project with, uh, I hope, a layer of meaning beyond the literal one. Which can be hard. Because sometimes you really want to grab people and shake them by the lapels and say “This is what I mean!” But that often results in bad writing. Part of the pleasure of reading is the joy of feeling like you’re figuring something out. And if somebody spoonfeeds you meaning, you lose that.
And yet, Paul Dunbar really shakes you here. “Look at the parallel!” But by slapping that layer of irony on top, by explicitly claiming you shouldn’t see what he makes so easy to see, he keeps reading fun. So, congratulations, dude. Your poem is great. Sure, you can’t hear my congratulations, and hopefully you already knew. Still, thanks.