A Thanksgiving Poem
By Paul Laurence Dunbar
The sun hath shed its kindly light,
Our harvesting is gladly o’er
Our fields have felt no killing blight,
Our bins are filled with goodly store.
From pestilence, fire, flood, and sword
We have been spared by thy decree,
And now with humble hearts, O Lord,
We come to pay our thanks to thee.
We feel that had our merits been
The measure of thy gifts to us,
We erring children, born of sin,
Might not now be rejoicing thus.
No deed of our hath brought us grace;
When thou were nigh our sight was dull,
We hid in trembling from thy face,
But thou, O God, wert merciful.
Thy mighty hand o’er all the land
Hath still been open to bestow
Those blessings which our wants demand
From heaven, whence all blessings flow.
Thou hast, with ever watchful eye,
Looked down on us with holy care,
And from thy storehouse in the sky
Hast scattered plenty everywhere.
Then lift we up our songs of praise
To thee, O Father, good and kind;
To thee we consecrate our days;
Be thine the temple of each mind.
With incense sweet our thanks ascend;
Before thy works our powers pall;
Though we should strive years without end,
We could not thank thee for them all.
About this Poem
“A Thanksgiving Poem” by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a heartfelt expression of gratitude and devotion to God. The poem rejoices in the bountiful harvest and acknowledges divine protection from calamities. It reflects on human imperfection and the recognition that their blessings are a result of God’s grace and mercy, not their merits. Dunbar emphasizes divine providence and the vastness of God’s blessings. The poem invokes feelings of reverence, awe, and gratitude, inspiring readers to embrace a spirit of thanksgiving and humility in the face of divine abundance.
About this Poet
Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first African American poets to gain national recognition, was born on June 27, 1872, in Dayton, Ohio. By the age of fourteen, Dunbar had poems published in the Dayton Herald. While attending Dayton Central High School, where he was the only student of color, Dunbar further distinguished himself by publishing in the high school newspaper, and then by serving as its editor-in-chief. He was also president of the school’s literary society and was class poet. In his free time, he read the works of the Romantic poets, including John Keats and William Wordsworth, as well as the works of the American poets John Greenleaf Whittier and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Later that year, Dunbar moved to Chicago, hoping to find work at the first World’s Fair. He befriended Frederick Douglass, who found him a job as a clerk, and also arranged for Dunbar to read a selection of his poems at the exposition. Douglass said of Dunbar that he was “the most promising young colored man in America.” By 1895, Dunbar’s poems began appearing in major national newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times. With the help of friends, he published his second collection, Majors and Minors (Hadley & Hadley, 1895). The poems that were written in standard English were called “majors,” while those in dialect were termed “minors.” Although the “major” poems outnumber those written in dialect, it was the dialect poems that brought Dunbar the most attention. The noted novelist and critic William Dean Howells gave a favorable review to the poems in Harper’s Weekly.
Howells’s recognition helped Dunbar gain national and international acclaim, and, in 1897, he embarked on a six-month reading tour of England. He also produced a new collection, Lyrics of Lowly Life (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1896). Upon returning to America, Dunbar received a clerkship at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter, he married the writer Alice Ruth Moore. While living in Washington, Dunbar published a short story collection, Folks from Dixie (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1898); a novel entitled The Uncalled (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1898); and two more collections of poems—Lyrics of the Hearthside (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1899) and Poems of Cabin and Field (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1899). He also contributed lyrics to a number of musical reviews.
In 1898, Dunbar’s health deteriorated; he believed the dust in the library contributed to his tuberculosis. He left his job to dedicate himself full time to writing and giving readings. Over the next five years, he would produce three more novels and three short story collections. Dunbar separated from Alice Dunbar in 1902 and, soon thereafter, he suffered a nervous breakdown and a bout of pneumonia. Although ill, Dunbar continued to write poems. His collections from this time include Lyrics of Love and Laughter (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1903); Howdy, Howdy, Howdy (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1905); and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (Dodd, Mead and Co., 1903). These books confirmed his position as America’s premier Black poet. Dunbar’s steadily deteriorating health caused him to return to his mother’s home in Dayton, Ohio, where he died on February 9, 1906, at the age of thirty-three.