February 21 - It's Weary, Weary Waiting, Love

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On February 21, 1898, Alice Ruth Moore in Brooklyn wrote an anguished letter to her fiancé Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C.  Despite their plans for marriage, Alice felt insecure about the relationship.  They delayed getting married since they lacked money for a wedding, and because Alice, a teacher, insisted on waiting until the school year ended.  But remaining apart was difficult, and they considered having a secret civil ceremony right away followed later by a public wedding.

Paul, I have such dismal dreams sometimes that cause me to awake with cold beads of tears all over me.  I am swimming muddy rivers to get to you, with great waves dashing us apart.  Last night I was climbing over mounds of horrible snakes, and weeping because you would not help me by answering when I called.  Then a woman taunted me by saying she would marry you instead of me doing so.  I am not superstitious, darling, but my one cry in my heart is, "Oh, would to Heaven we were really married!"  I find myself trembling and crying in the night lest I should lose you.

There, it's a lot of superstitious nonsense.  But somehow, tonight, my heart is very heavy.  A dark foreboding returns to hang over me like a cloud.  Paul, Paul, I wish I was really married to you, if only a civil ceremony.  Such agony as I suffer sometimes, you can never know of.  My great love for you has made me a sorry coward.  I am very foolish, I know, but I feel like crying out, "Have pity on my weakness, for the dear God's sake, and make me yours legally -- then let the ceremony be performed again."  I am silly -- but I cannot help presentiments -- I can only stop here and burst into tears -- I know not why.

Alice Ruth Moore to Paul Laurence Dunbar, February 21, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Paul also expressed his anxiety over their delayed union and hinted that it could result in him being unfaithful to Alice.

Dearest, I shall do one of two things soon.  I either come and claim you or -- break out.  The tension is too much for me.  I have so many more temptations than you can possibly imagine.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, February 21, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

I don't know what I shall do when the spring comes on and the sap begins to flow.  Nature's awakening brings an awakening in me and my longing for love grows almost terrible in its intensity.  I do not know how I shall endure it when I have an object on which to spend my love and that object is withheld.  This waiting time is very dangerous for both of us.  When a man or woman's emotions are stirred for one person, it is the easiest thing in the world for them to fall to another.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, February 22, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Less than two weeks later, Paul and Alice were hurriedly married in a secret civil ceremony.