Wednesday, June 03, 2015

'Life's Tragedy' by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar was a major American poet, African-American, who was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. He was a high school classmate and friend of Orville Wright. Wright, with his brother, Wilbur, of course, invented the first functional airplane. There was a lot of intellectual candle-power in Orville's and Paul's class! Dunbar was married to poet Alice Moore. Tragically, Dunbar died of tuberculosis at the age of 34.

This poem is poignant, beautiful, sad, and true all at the same time. It suggests that the greatest tragedy of life is to come close to that "perfect love," the kind "which lays aside its vanity and gives...truth."

(Sources: The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove, and The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.)

It may be misery not to sing at all,
And to go silent through the brimming day;
It may be misery never to be loved,
But deeper griefs than these beset the way.

To sing the perfect song,
And by a half-tone lost the key,
There the potent sorrow, there the grief,
The pale, sad staring of Life's Tragedy.

To have come near to the perfect love,
Not the hot passion of untempered youth,
But that which lies aside its vanity,
And gives, for thy trusting worship, truth.

This, this indeed is to be accursed,
For if we mortals love, or if we sing,
We count our joys not by what we have,
But by what kept us from that perfect thing.
© by owner.

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