Skip to main content
Berea College Special Collections and Archives

Lyrics of Lowly Life


Lyrics of Lowly Life, Paul Laurence Dunbar's third book of poetry, was published in New York City by Dodd, Mead and Company, a well-known firm with a national audience. It has been suggested that the publication of this work established Dunbar as the leading African American poet of the day.

Lyrics of Lowly Life contains 105 poems in a mixture of dialect and conventional literary English drawn from his first two volumes of poetry, Oak and Ivy (1892-1893) and Majors and Minors (1895). The work opens with an introduction by William Dean Howells.

To access this work in the Special Collections and Archives reading room, request Curio 821 D899.

An online version is available through this Google Books link.

Excerpt from Lyrics of Lowly Life


We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise.
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Paul Laurence Dunbar. Public Domain.
Lyrics of Lowly Life