Paul Laurence Dunbar was a true American son. He was born in 1872. He was the son of freed Kentucky slaves. He became a published poet at fourteen. His first book was, Oak and Ivy. He sold it to riders on his elevator as they rode with them.
He moved to Chicago and became friends with Frederick Douglas. He was an internationally recognized poet.
“Out in the sky the great dark clouds are massing;
I look far out into the pregnant night,
Where I can hear a soleman booming gun
And catch the gleaming of a random light,
That tells me that the ship I seek is passing, passing.
My tearful eyes my soul’s deep hurt are glassing;
For I would hail and check that ship of ships.
I stretch my hands imploring, cry aloud,
My voice falls dead a foot from mine own lips,
And but its ghost doth reach that vessel, passing, passing
O Earth, O Sky, O Ocean, both surpassing,
O heart of mine, O soul that dreads the dark!
Is there no hope for me? Is there no way
That I may sight and check that speeding bark
Which out of sight and sound is passing, passing?
—Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ships That Pass in the Night