Poems of Cabin and Field by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Copyright 1900
Art by Alice Morse
Photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club
Checked out 4 times in 39 years
Last checked out 11 years ago

This is a treasure, whether it’s a rebound original or a reprint. The illustrations and photographs perfectly complement the poems written in the African-American dialect of the time. Though Dunbar was raised in Ohio, the decorations, which are in the style of Celtic knotwork but with American crops of corn, watermelon, and cotton, as well as rabbits and raccoons, strongly evoke the rural south.

The dialect no doubt keeps this book from being checked out. It makes for a difficult read, and in my opinion, the poems themselves don’t yield much for the effort.

However, Paul Laurence Dunbar is a significant character in American literature and deserves a place on the shelf, beautiful book or plain book. The dialect, as well as the photographs, also give this particular volume historical value.

Still, it should not be forgotten that Dunbar wrote many poems in standard English, probably the most famous, thanks to Maya Angelou, being “Sympathy,” which is where the line “I know why the caged bird sings,” comes from. I’m hoping I find more of Dunbar in standard English mode within anthologies that are still ahead of me.


About jppoetryreader

Poetry reviewer and poetry consultant for libraries
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