Common Things
December 14, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

I LIKE to hear of wealth and gold, And El Doradoes in their glory; I like for silks and satins bold To sweep and rustle through a story.

The nightingale is sweet of song;
The rare exotic smells divinely;
And knightly men who stride along,
The role heroic carry finely.
But then, upon the other hand,
Our minds have got a way of running
To things that aren't quite so grand,
Which, maybe, we are best in shunning.
For some of us still like to see
The poor man in his dwelling narrow,
The hollyhock, the bumblebee,
The meadow lark, and chirping sparrow.
We like the man who soars and sings
With high and lofty inspiration;
But he who sings of common things
Shall always share our admiration.

Born in Dayton, Ohio to former slaves, Paul Laurence Dunbar perservered through difficult times to become an 'overnight' success. The only African American at Dayton Central High, he edited the school paper and graduated high in his class. Unable to find better employment, he worked as an elevator operator. To survive the monotony he composed poems, eventually compiling enough for Oak and Ivy, published in 1893 using his $4 a week salary as collateral. To recoup the $125 cost, Dunbar found an audience by (business executives take note) perfecting his "elevator speech" to sell copies to his passengers.

Dunbar had two lucky breaks over the course of his career. One was meeting Dr. Henry Archibald Tobey from Toledo, who became a friend and benefactor. Tobey backed the publishing of Dunbar's second book of poems, Majors and Minors in 1895. The volume contains many of Dunbar's best works, along with a number of poems and lyrics written in dialect.

Dunbar's second break was when Majors and Minors was reviewed by in the popular column of William Dean Howels (also thanks to Dr. Tobey) in the same issue of Harper's Weekly that announced William McKinley's nomination for president. The combination of a glowing review and a wide circulation made Dunbar, just turned 24, into a household name overnight.

Welcome to Poets' Corner, one of the largest and oldest text resources on the web. The goal of this ongoing project is to develop a user-friendly library that is both a useful reference and an appealing place to browse and explore - and there is plenty of material here to explore. The collection covers roughly 7,000 works by about 800 poets - including some of the best known works in the English language - and many obscure and forgotten works that are well worth reading .

Since its inception in 1994, this site has grown through thousands of hours of transcription, editing and coding, through the efforts of the site editors, and through the contributions of volunteers around the world. The collection contains items ranging from sundial inscriptions to book-length works. The site is updated regularly (well, maybe sporadically) - click here to see what's new, often with a little commentary.

There are many ways to search and browse the content of this site. The most comprehensive listing is through the Author Index (This is the series of letters across the top of the page, below the logo). This is a series of 13 detailed files containing a great deal of additional annotated information about each poet and their works. There is also a Condensed Version, which provides a quicker way of scanning through poets names.

Thanks to the efforts of Jon Lachelt there is an annotated Subject Index with 44 topics, A Title Index, a First Line Index and a Combined Index, and a roughly Chronological Index. Note: these indexes are not as inclusive as the Author Index, which covers over 95% of the collection
posted by infinite intimation (9 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
(4) You are welcome to link to any part of the collection. Every author and every poem has a unique URL and anchor tag. Please note that our index files, graphic content, and hypertext formatting are copyrighted, and may not be duplicated without permission.
posted by clavdivs at 10:00 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lax Christian charity -
No mental clarity
Ruling its movements
For fabric improvements -
Demands admonition
And strict supervision
When bent on enshrining
Rapscallions, and signing
Their names on God's stonework,
As if like His own work
Were their lucubrations:
And passed is my patience
That such a creed-scorner
(Not mentioning horner)
Should claim Poet's Corner.

(PS, Thomas Hardy's opinion)
posted by jfuller at 10:16 AM on December 14, 2010

Nice! Thanks for this... I love poems that beg to be read aloud.

The quoted poem reminds me of this, an old favorite of mine even though I'm not in any way religious.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:29 AM on December 14, 2010

Having grown up in Dayton, Dunbar always played fifth wheel to the Wright brothers, Kettering and the Air Force Base. His work is amazing and I always wished Dayton would point to Dunbar more than the other 'important' historical figures or places.

Great post! Thank you for sharing.
posted by glaucon at 10:36 AM on December 14, 2010

Excellent. Living up to your username, as per usual. I can't wait until I get a week off to read this.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:55 AM on December 14, 2010

Dunbar actually hung out with the Wright brothers in school. The controversy over his dialect poems in many ways presaged modern opinions about "ebonics," hip-hop, and art.
posted by rikschell at 2:04 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have always felt rather bad for Dunbar. He gained a reputation as the most gifted poet of his race--but the demand that he always be "of his race" seems to have worn him down terribly. His non-dialect poems were often ignored, and even Howells, whose review made his reputation, did it in such a way as to firmly keep him in his place as not just a poet, not just a black poet, but the Voice of His Race--and so keep him in the mode of the Plantation Tradition twaddle, if he wanted to keep being big.

Never mind that Dunbar, the class poet and newspaper editor of an otherwise un-integrated high school in Ohio, had to sham plantation dialect as much as the white writers writing black dialect stories.

TB exacerbated by alcoholism and lecture-circuit overwork, a disastrous marriage with spousal violence, and an early early death: there's quite a tragedy there
posted by LucretiusJones at 4:27 PM on December 14, 2010

Having grown up in Dayton, Dunbar always played fifth wheel to the Wright brothers, Kettering and the Air Force Base. His work is amazing and I always wished Dayton would point to Dunbar more than the other 'important' historical figures or places.

glaucon, I respectfully disagree.

The Wright Brothers inarguably dominated the beginning of powered flight, which in turn dominated 20th-century commerce, warfare, and travel.

Kettering made modern automobiles possible. 'Nuff said. (Also, he & his widow funded so many public buildings & institutions that every other building is named after them.)

The AFB generates so much revenue for Dayton/Fairborn that it is completely naive to think that anything else at all would garner as much attention.

Paul was a great poet, but even were he Robert Frost's rival in skill and fame, he would not equal the historic significance of any of those three.

Now, albeit perhaps not back when you were growing up, Paul is given a tremendous amount of respect from the city. Paul has half of the Wright Brothers/Paul Lawrence Dunbar Museum devoted to him (one whole floor of three, at least; IIRC the first floor isn't much of anything). He has memorial statues & quotes carved into the public library's granite.

posted by IAmBroom at 6:26 PM on December 14, 2010

Damned unclosed tags.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:27 PM on December 14, 2010

« Older like pornography, you know it when you see it.   |   Practical effects has really fallen by the wayside... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments