New Dunbar Volume Is Rich, Significant

Article excerpt

THE COLLECTED POETRY OF PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR Edited by Joanne M. Braxton 432 pages, University Press of Virginia $40 cloth, $14.95 paper

`THE COLLECTED POETRY of Paul Laurence Dunbar," is a beautiful book to have in hand. Dunbar's poetry is even more beautiful. The collection will no doubt cause critics and scholars to reconsider the impact of Dunbar's work and his influence upon other writers .

"The new collection displays the poet's versatility and erases the assumption that he was merely a poet of dialect. For example, witness the second stanza of "Sympathy" because it shows so wonderfully how he employed imagery as beautifully - and skillfully - as the rhythm and rhyme that serve as the music:

I know why the caged bird beats his wing

Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

For he must fly back to his perch and cling

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars

And they pulse again with a keener sting -

know why he beats his wing!

Although Dunbar became determined to write poetry in standard English, it is often his dialect poetry that is full of depth and firmly capable of addressing his condition. In "When Malindy Sings," a tribute to Dunbar's mother, he uses irony and understatement while exploring race relations:

G'way an' quit dat noise, Miss Lucy -

Put dat music book away;

What's de use to keep on tryin'? …