Vox Populi

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Alice Dunbar-Nelson: Sonnet

I had no thought of violets of late,
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
In wistful April days, when lovers mate
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.
The thought of violets meant florists’ shops,
And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;
And garish lights, and mincing little fops
And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine. 
So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed, 
I had forgot wide fields, and clear brown streams
The perfect loveliness that God has made,—
Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.
And now—unwittingly, you’ve made me dream
Of violets, and my soul’s forgotten gleam.

Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar-Nelson was born on July 19, 1875 in New Orleans. Nelson published a collection of short stories, poems, and essays in a volume entitled Violets and Other Tales (Monthly Review, 1895), which was followed by The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories (Dodd, Mead & Company 1899), a collection about Creole life and culture in New Orleans. Nelson married Paul Laurence Dunbar in New York in 1898 and moved to Washington, D.C. The couple divorced in 1902, but Nelson retained Dunbar’s name. Her poems appeared in James Weldon Johnson’s seminal anthology, The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1931). Nelson began to keep a personal diary in 1921. Her entries from 1926 to 1931 were later edited by scholar Gloria T. Hull for a volume entitled Give Us Each Day: The Diary of Alice Dunbar-Nelson (W. W. Norton, 1984). The volume explores Nelson’s professional life, her travels, friendships, financial hardship, and her lesbian relationships. Toward the end of her public career, Nelson focused on journalism and public speaking. She gave numerous speeches as the executive secretary of the American Friends Inter-Racial Peace Committee from 1928 to 1931. From 1926 to 1930, Nelson wrote newspaper columns and became an activist for women’s suffrage and civil rights. In 1922, she advocated for the passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, and helped establish the Industrial School for Colored Girls in Delaware. Dunbar-Nelson died on September 18, 1935 in Philadelphia. (source: Academy of American Poets)

2 comments on “Alice Dunbar-Nelson: Sonnet

  1. Sean Sexton
    April 7, 2023

    How always,
    a fine sonnet is worthy
    of our attention.


    • Vox Populi
      April 7, 2023

      Thanks, Sean. Dubai-Nelson is one of a great many poets of past generations who deserve more of a readership today.


      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on April 7, 2023 by in Poetry and tagged , , , , , , .

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