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Paul Laurence Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar

The Mystery

About this Poem 

“The Mystery” was published in Dunbar’s book Lyrics of Lowly Life (Dodd, Mead, 1896).

The Mystery

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872 - 1906

I was not; now I am—a few days hence
I shall not be; I fain would look before
And after, but can neither do; some Power
Or lack of power says “no” to all I would.
I stand upon a wide and sunless plain,
Nor chart nor steel to guide my steps aright.
Whene’er, o’ercoming fear, I dare to move,
I grope without direction and by chance.
Some feign to hear a voice and feel a hand
That draws them ever upward thro’ the gloom.
But I—I hear no voice and touch no hand,
Tho’ oft thro’ silence infinite I list,
And strain my hearing to supernal sounds;
Tho’ oft thro’ fateful darkness do I reach,
And stretch my hand to find that other hand.
I question of th’ eternal bending skies
That seem to neighbor with the novice earth;
But they roll on, and daily shut their eyes
On me, as I one day shall do on them,
And tell me not the secret that I ask.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

collection

C. D. Wright: A Tribute

On January 12, 2016, C. D. Wright died unexpectedly in her sleep at the age of sixty-seven. At the time, C. D. was serving on our Board of Chancellors, an honorary body of esteemed poets that has included W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Lucille Clifton, Adrienne Rich, Mark Strand, and many other poets who have helped define the art of poetry in the United States. During her tenure, C. D. contributed greatly to our organization. She advocated for our having an open mind about the poets we supported—more often than not, advocating for young poets. And, she played an important role on our Poets Emergency Fund committee, making sure we were sending financial assistance to poets in crisis and need. Her humor, generosity of spirit, and fiercely brilliant artistry will have a lasting impact on all of us. 

In tribute to C. D. and the many lives she touched in the poetry community—including her fellow Chancellors' and ours—we've gathered a selection of photographs, poems, essays, and tributes by those who knew her.

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Joy Harjo
collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

Academy Chancellor C. D. Wright (1949-2016) at Poets Forum, 2015, in New York City
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