Paul Laurence Dunbar uses rhythm to make his poems themselves into music. Though his poems cover a large range, many of them do rely on poetic rhythms to make them sound more musical. Some of the poems in this collection are written using anapests, meaning the stress is on every third syllable. This mimics a galloping horse and speeds up the poem, making us want to chant or sing the words.
Dunbar's poems also include a lot of well placed rhymes, which make them sound more musical and make the reader think of songs and chants.
You can also see Dunbar's musical theme just by scrolling through the titles of his poems. We see several music-related titles, such as "A Banjo Song," "Song of Summer," "A Negro Love Song," "When Malindy Sings," and "A Hymn."
As you read through Dunbar's poems, you will also see that many of his poems include a lot of details about sound. Some of these are about music or songs; others are just rich details of noises that add to the poem. This shows that the poet was conscious of sound and its impact on a reader. He wanted poems that elicit memory of sound.
For example, in his poem "Ships that Pass in the Night," Dunbar includes several different sounds: "I can hear a solemn booming gun," "cry aloud," and "out of sight and sound." Though these descriptions are not of music, they encourage the reader to imagine the sounds and, in this poem, to be aware of the absence of music.