Saturday, April 26, 2014

Poem of the Day: "Beyond the Years" by Paul Laurence Dunbar

"Beyond the Years" by Paul Laurence Dunbar is the Songs of Eretz Poem of the Day and the offering from Poets.org's Poem-A-Day for April 26, 2014.  It was first published (posthumously) in 1913 and is, therefore, in the public domain and legally reprinted here.

Beyond the Years
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

I



Beyond the years the answer lies,

Beyond where brood the grieving skies
   
And Night drops tears.

Where Faith rod-chastened smiles to rise
   
And doff its fears,

And carping Sorrow pines and dies—
   
Beyond the years.



II



Beyond the years the prayer for rest

Shall beat no more within the breast;
   
The darkness clears,

And Morn perched on the mountain’s crest
   
Her form uprears—

The day that is to come is best,
   
Beyond the years.



III



Beyond the years the soul shall find

That endless peace for which it pined,
   
For light appears,

And to the eyes that still were blind
   
With blood and tears,

Their sight shall come all unconfined
 
Beyond the years.

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 - 1906) (pictured) composed poems in standard English and Negro dialect.  At the turn of the last century, he was considered by critics to be the America's first great Negro poet, and it was his dialect poems that were the most popular and highly praised.  Today, one hundred years later, he is still considered to be America's first great Negro poet but on the strength of his standard English poems.  A controversial figure before and after his death from tuberculosis at the age of only thirty-three, he was derided by some as an exploiter of racism for personal material gain while hailed by others as a fierce opponent of and spokesman against the evils of racism.  Reference to this and additional biographical information may be found here:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/paul-laurence-dunbar.

"Beyond the Years" is obviously one of Dunbar's standard English poems; however, the theme is one commonly used in traditional Negro verse and song.  Dunbar employs a unique rhyme and refrain scheme in the three septets--a form reminiscent of but not the same as the many traditional septet forms (follow this link http://www.thepoetsgarret.com/septet.html for a summary of those forms).  The rhythm, in feet, is:  4-4-2-4-2-4-2, with the last line forming a refrain out of the first three words of the first line.  The rhyme scheme--aababab, ccbcbcb, ddbdbdb--uses the "b" rhyme to tie together the three numbered parts of the poem.

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