Lyrics of Lowly Life is a collection of 115 lyric poems by African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The collection contains poems written in both standard English and African American dialect. The meter of the poems follows standard iambic and trochaic patterns. Dunbar employs a variety of traditional stanza and rhyme patterns.
The first poem in Lyrics of Lowly Life is “Ere Sleep Comes Down to Soothe the Weary Eyes,” written in standard English, on the subject of death. In the opening stanza, Dunbar describes the persona’s deep weariness after a day of searching unsuccessfully for “magic gold,” the goal of his waking dreams, probably material goods. He resists sleep because it brings dreams that deceive by making the world appear better than it is. This conflict between sleeping dreams and waking frustrations tortures the subject, making him desire and dread both sleep and wakefulness. In the second stanza the subject’s drowsy state causes harsh memories to become “poisonous vapors.” In the third stanza phantoms continue to invade the narrator’s consciousness until depression deepens into “teeming gloom” and “inexplicable pain.”
The poem’s second half begins with lighter images about a place “Where ranges forth the spirit far and free.” This hope for escape into imagined “lands unspeakable—beyond surmise” ends abruptly, when “Fancy fails and dies” of weariness. The next stanza depicts self-scrutiny, a sort of judgment time, hinting to the reader that when sleep does come it might be accompanied by death. The poet’s soul moves into a state beyond the “sad world’s cries,” into “the last dear sleep whose soft embrace is balm,” sealing forever the narrator’s eyes.
In addition to standard English lyrics Dunbar wrote dialect poems. The purpose of the majority of dialect poems at this time period was to entertain readers with charming characters and a...
(The entire section is 799 words.)