August 10 - Love Birds in Distant Nests

Story topics
Related Story

On August 10, 1898, Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C., sent a handwritten poem to his wife Alice, who was staying with her family in Massachusetts.

Little Wife-Bird:

My cold is worser but my blues is better an' I been writin' poetry to you.  Here's the song of the little hubbins bird to his wife bird on her absence.  I writ it myself, bein' somewhat inclined in that direction.

Oh little fledgling out of the nest --
Would you were cuddling here -- close to my breast
Warming and melting my heart into song,
Then were the days not so lonesome and long.
Wildly the rain's falling, blown from the west --
What a sweet time to be snug in the nest!
What a poor time to be wand'ring afar
Love where the winds and the bleak billows are.
Ah, little lady-bird, soon let us sing
Our lay connubial here wing to wing.
Yearning is burning my heart with unrest --
*Home be returning, sweet bird, to your nest!

*Note:  It is to be understood that the final line of this poem is purely figurative as the wife bird is not to come home but the hubbins bird to go to her.

From Yo' Paul.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, August 10, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Alice received Paul's letter just as she was leaving for a visit to Newport, Rhode Island.  Paul planned to join her there and give a recital in Newport on August 16.  Alice shared Paul's letter with her sister Leila Young, and with her friends Ella and Alice Smith.

My own Hubbins-bird,

Your darling letter and poem arrived this morning just a few minutes before I left the house.  I kissed it with happy tears in my eyes and read it, letter and all to Leila.  Then I read it all the way down on the train, and when I came here promptly showed it to Ella and her sister Alice.  It seems I can't wait to snuggle in Hubbin bird's armlings.  Oh, I do want to kiss you so badly!  My lips and arms fairly ache.

Ittle Wife-Bird

Alice Moore Dunbar to Paul Laurence Dunbar, August 11, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Despite the affectionate tone of their letters, Paul and Alice were in distant cities because of domestic trouble.  After only a few months of marriage, Alice left their home in Washington, D. C., and went to live with her family near Boston.  The Dunbars' reunion in Newport was brief, but the separation was long.  A month later, Paul was still asking Alice to fly home to the nest.

I suppose that even down there in benighted Boston you have heard of the death of my old friend Dr. Crummell.  We have lost a most brilliant example of the effect of the higher education upon the pure Negro.  I grieve both as a friend and as a member of his race.  But this grief does not drive out my heart-whole yearning for my sweet wife.  By this time you will have received all my other communications and may be even now fluttering about preparing to fly to me.  I do not sleep well, perhaps because there is not a dear face near my own and a little brown head on my arm.  Think that I am pressing you to my heart and raining kisses on your lips as I shall do when you are home, if I dare!

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 12, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).