In black love poetry, Paul Dunbar is the first famous black poet.

In black love poetry, Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first African-American poet to garner national critical acclaim. Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872, Dunbar penned a large body of dialect poems,(two of which I showcase in these pages of his black love poetry) standard English poems, essays, novels and short stories before he died at the age of 33 in 1906.

The son of freed slaves, not surprisingly, his family was poor, but his mother encouraged his literary pursuits from an early age and he wrote his first verses at the age of 6.

He was the only African-American in his class at school, where he distinguished himself as member of the debating society, editor of the school paper and president of the school's literary society. He also published an African-American newsletter in Dayton, the Dayton Tattler when he left college.

His first public reading was on his birthday in 1892 and from this venture he made influential literary friends who wrote of his talent in several newspapers across the country. This exposure afforded him regional attention and his first collection of poems Oak and Ivy, was published in 1892.

Though well received locally, Dunbar still struggled as an elevator operator, where he sold his book for a dollar to people who rode the elevator. With time his reputation grew, and he got another big break when he was invited to recite at the World's Fair, where he met Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist who rose from slavery to political and literary prominence in America. Douglass called Dunbar "the most promising young colored man in America."

His second book, Majors and Minors propelled him to national fame. William Dean Howells, a novelist and widely respected literary critic who edited Harper's Weekly, praised Dunbar's book in one of his weekly columns and launched Dunbar's name into the most respected literary circles across the country. A New York publishing firm, combined Dunbar's first two books and published them as Lyrics of a Lowly Life.

In 1897, his fame spread across the Atlantic when he traveled to England to recite his works on the London literary circuit. He returned to marry Alice Ruth Moore, a young writer, teacher and proponent of racial and gender equality who had a master's degree from Cornell University.

Dunbar produced 12 books of poetry, four books of short stories, a play and five novels. His work appeared in Harper's Weekly, the Sunday Evening Post, the Denver Post, Current Literature and a number of other magazines and journals.

His work often addressed the difficulties encountered by members of his race and the efforts of African-Americans to achieve equality in America. Let us take a look at the contributions of this early brilliant pioneer of black literaure to black love poetry:

My first two examples of Paul Dunbar's black love poetry are If and Song


IF life were but a dream, my Love,

death the waking time;

If day had not a beam, my Love,

And night had not a rhyme, --

A barren, barren world were this

Without one saving gleam;

I'd only ask that with a kiss

You'd wake me from the dream.

If dreaming were the sum of days,

And loving were the bane;

If battling for a wreath of bays

Could soothe a heart in pain, --

I'd scorn the meed of battle's might,

All other aims above

I'd choose the human's higher right,

To suffer and to love!


MY heart to thy heart,

My hand to thine;

My lips to thy lips,

Kisses are wine

Brewed for the lover in sunshine and shade;

Let me drink deep, then, my African maid.

Lily to lily,

Rose unto rose;

My love to thy love

Tenderly grows.

Rend not the oak and the ivy in twain,

Nor the swart maid from her swarthier swain.

We can see the genius of Paul Dunbar shine through these examples of his black love poetry. Probably his best known black love poetry is the next one, A Negro Love Song written in dialect:

A Negro Love Song

Seen my lady home las' night,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Hel' huh han' an' sque'z it tight,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,

Seen a light gleam f'om huh eye,

An' a smile go flittin' by--

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Hyeahd de win' blow thoo de pine,

Jump back, honey, jump back,

Mockin'-bird was singin' fine,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

An' my hea't was beatin' so,

When I reached my lady's do',

Dat I couldn't ba' to go--

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Put my ahm aroun' huh wais',

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Raised huh lips an' took a tase,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Love me, honey, love me true?

Love me well ez I love you?

An' she answe'd, "'Cose I do"--

Jump back, honey, jump back.

The last two selections of Paul Dunbar's black love poetry are Invitation To Love and another dialect poem, A Frolic:


COME when the nights are bright with stars

Or when the moon is mellow;

Come when the sun his golden bars

Drops on the hay-field yellow.

Come in the twilight soft and gray,

Come in the night or come in the day,

Come, O love, whene'er you may,

And you are welcome, welcome.

You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,

You are soft as the nesting dove.

Come to my heart and bring it rest

As the bird flies home to its welcome nest.

Come when my heart is full of grief

Or when my heart is merry;

Come with the falling of the leaf

Or with the redd'ning cherry.

Come when the year's first blossom blows,

Come when the summer gleams and glows,

Come with the winter's drifting snows,

And you are welcome, welcome.


SWING yo' lady roun' an' roun',

Do de bes' you know;

Mek yo' bow an' p'omenade

Up an' down de flo';

Mek dat banjo hump huhse'f,

Listen at huh talk:

Mastah gone to town to-night;

'T ain't no time to walk.

Lif' yo' feet an' flutter thoo,

Run, Miss Lucy, run;

Reckon you'll be cotched an' kissed

'Fo' de night is done.

You don't need to be so proud --

I's a-watchin' you,

An' I's layin' lots o' plans

Fu' to git you, too.

Moonlight on de cotton-fiel'

Shinin' sof' an' white,

Whippo'will a-tellin' tales

Out thaih in de night;

An' yo' cabin's 'crost de lot:

Run, Miss Lucy, run;

Reckon you'll be cotched an' kissed

'Fo' de night is done.

I have more compilations of famous black love poetry:

Famous Black Love Poetry 1

African 1

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