January 20 - A Winter Poem

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On January 20, 1903, an editor at The Saturday Evening Post in Philadelphia wrote to Paul Laurence Dunbar in Chicago about a poem that was to be published in the magazine.

We enclose herewith for your editorial revision a galley proof of your poem, The Plantation Child's Lullaby.  Kindly correct and return to us.

The Saturday Evening Post to Paul Laurence Dunbar, January 20, 1903.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Paul's poem was published in the Thanksgiving issue later that year.  "The Plantation Child's Lullaby" is a dialect verse about a cold winter night spent in a warm and comfortable cabin.

Wintah time hit comin'
Stealin' thoo de night;
Wake up in the mo'nin'
Evaht'ing is white;
Cabin lookin' lonesome
Stannin' in de snow,
Meks you kin' o' nervous,
Wen de win' hit blow.


Hickory log a-blazin',
Light a-lookin' red,
Paih o' eyes a-peepin'
F'om a trun'le bed,
Little feet a-patterin'
Cleah across de flo';
Bettah had be keerful
Wen de win' hit blow.

Smoke-house full o' bacon,
Brown an' sweet an' good;
'Taters in de cellah,
'Possum roam de wood;
Little baby snoozin'
Des ez ef he know,
What's de use o' keerin'
Ef de win' do blow?

Excerpt from "The Plantation Child's Lullaby," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  The Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).  November 21, 1903.  Page 14.

Because The Saturday Evening Post asked Paul to approve the text, the version published in the magazine is presumed to be correct.  However, as "The Plantation Child's Lullaby" appeared in books over the years, the text has included several errors.  The same misspellings are found in L'il' Gal (published in 1904), Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905), The Life and Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1907), and The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1993).

The Saturday Evening Post published Paul's poem on the same page as work by other poets, including dialect verses by the white writers Joseph C. Lincoln and Frank L. Stanton.  There were drawings on the page, but they did not specifically illustrate Paul's verse.  In 1904, a book called L'il' Gal was published that included many of Paul's poems illustrated with photographs by Leigh Richmond Miner.  "The Plantation Child's Lullaby" was accompanied by photos that portrayed scenes from the poem, such as a snow-covered cabin and a Black child next to a fireplace.

A new volume of verses by Paul Laurence Dunbar bears the title "L'il' Gal," and is couched in negro dialect.  The half tones from photographs are really excellent, and do something toward justifying the volume, which is lavishly illustrated.

"Darky Dialect in Verse."  The Detroit Free Press Annual Holiday Book Number (Detroit, Michigan).  December 3, 1904.  Page 3.