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About this Poem 

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

The Mystery

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.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar, born in 1872 and the author of numerous collections of poetry and prose, was one of the first African American poets to gain national recognition.

by this poet

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Because I had loved so deeply,
Because I had loved so long,
God in His great compassion
Gave me the gift of song.

Because I have loved so vainly,

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What if the wind do howl without,
And turn the creaking weather–vane;
What if the arrows of the rain
Do beat against the window–pane?
Art thou not armored strong and fast
Against the sallies of the blast?
Art thou not sheltered safe and well
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Good-night, my love, for I have dreamed of thee
In waking dreams, until my soul is lost—
Is lost in passion’s wide and shoreless sea,
Where, like a ship, unruddered, it is tost
Hither and thither at the wild waves’ will.
There is no potent Master’s voice to still
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