March 26 - Poetic Posts from London

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On March 26, 1897, Paul Laurence Dunbar in London wrote to his fiancée Alice Ruth Moore in Brooklyn.  He was in England for a recital tour and to find an English publisher for his book Lyrics of Lowly Life.  Paul and Alice became engaged the night before he sailed for England and he wrote to her often during his trip.

Your letter has come and made me as near happy as I can get in this fog bank of a city.  I can never tell you how I love and long for you.  Oh if you were only here so that I could take you in my arms and pour out my whole heart to you.  Pen and ink are cold and dull.  I am writing very hard and very steadily, the last few evenings past having seen me do sixteen thousand words in prose and about half a dozen poems.  This is hustling.  But a fellow who is thinking of taking a wife and making a home will hustle.  Out of my window I look upon a row of London roofs, a street where people are passing to and fro on their way to church and above all a great patch of dark gray sky.  The bells are ringing and an inexpressible sadness creeps over me.  I begin to wonder how long this exile must last.  Of course every fellow who comes over here does not feel thus, but every fellow has not such a sweetheart and such a mother three thousand miles to the west.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, March 26, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).

Paul's letter referred to his first novel, The Uncalled, which he wrote while in England.  Paul wrote several poems about his experiences overseas, describing his London apartment and his constant longing for Alice.

Within a London garret high,
Above the roofs and near the sky,
My ill-rewarding pen I ply
To win me bread.
This little chamber, six by four,
Is castle, study, den, and more --
Altho' no carpet decks the floor,
Nor down, the bed.


My room is rather bleak and bare;
I only have one broken chair,
But then, there's plenty of fresh air --
Some light, beside.
What tho' I cannot ask my friends
To share with me my odds and ends,
A liberty my aerie lends,
To most denied.

I write my rhymes and sing away,
And dawn may come or dusk or day:
Tho' fare be poor, my heart is gay
And full of glee.
Though chimney-pots be all my views;
'Tis nearer for the winging Muse,
So I am sure she'll not refuse
To visit me.

Excerpt from "The Garret," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899).

In this old garden, fair, I walk today
Heart-charmed with all the beauty of the scene:
The rich, luxuriant grasses' cooling green,
The wall's environ, ivy-decked and gray,
The waving branches with the wind at play,
The slight and tremulous blooms that show between.


Beside the wall, the slim Laburnum grows
And flings its golden flow'rs to every breeze.
But e'en among such soothing sights as these,
I pant and nurse my soul-devouring woes.
Of all the longings that our hearts wot of,
There is no hunger like the want of love!

Excerpt from "In an English Garden," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899).

Dear Miss Lucy: I been t'inkin' dat I'd write you long fo' dis,
But dis writin's mighty tejous, an' you know jes' how it is.
But I's got a little lesure, so I teks my pen in han'
Fu' to let you know my feelin's since I retched dis furrin' lan'.
I's right well, I's glad to tell you (dough dis climate ain't to blame),
An' I hopes w'en dese lines reach you, dat dey'll fin' yo' se'f de same.
Cose I'se feelin kin' o' homesick -- dat's ez nachul ez kin be,
Wen a feller's mo'n th'ee thousand miles across dat awful sea.
O, hit's mighty nice, dis trav'lin', an' I's kin' o' glad I come.
But, I reckon, now I's willin' fu' to tek my way back home.
An' I's comin' back to see you jes' as ehly as I kin,
So you better not go spa'kin' wif dat wuffless scoun'el Quin!


Excerpt from "A Letter" by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899).