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The Boogah Man – Paul Laurence Dunbar

Recently , while researching ghost poetry I came across a poet and story-teller that I really like and felt like his style was right up my alley of spooky historical verse. His poems are simple and stirring and reflect the times in which he lived.  I could not decide on just one, so I am including 3 of my favorites so far, that I enjoyed reading. The first one, made me feel like a kid again, sitting by a warm fire on a dark night, listening to a good spooky bedtime story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The Boogah Man

W’en de evenin’ shadders
Come a-glidin’ down,
Fallin’ black an’ heavy
Ovah hill an’ town,
Ef you listen keerful,
Keerful ez you kin,
So ‘s you boun’ to notice

Des a drappin’ pin;
Den you ‘ll hyeah a funny
Soun’ ercross de lan’;
Lay low; dat’s de callin’
Of de Boogah Man!

Woo-oo, woo-oo!
Hyeah him ez he go erlong de way;
Woo-oo, woo-oo!
Don’ you wish de night ‘ud tu’n to day?
Woo-oo, woo-oo!
Hide yo’ little peepers ‘hind yo’ han’;
Woo-oo, woo-oo!
Callin’ of de Boogah Man.

W’en de win ‘s a-shiverin’

Thoo de gloomy lane,
An’ dey comes de patterin’
Of de evenin’ rain,
W’en de owl ‘s a-hootin’,
Out daih in de wood,
Don’ you wish, my honey,
Dat you had been good?
‘T ain’t no use to try to
Snuggle up to Dan;
Bless you, dat ‘s de callin’
Of de Boogah Man!
 
Ef you loves yo’ mammy,
An’ you min’s yo’ pap,
Ef you nevah wriggles
Outen Sukey’s lap;
Ef you says yo’ “Lay me”
Evah single night
 
‘Fo’ dey tucks de kivers
An’ puts out de light,
Den de rain kin pattah,
Win’ blow lak a fan,
But you need n’ bothah
‘Bout de Boogah Man!
 

The next poem on my list of favorites by this author,  is The Phantom Kiss. It is a dreamy little poem that made me smile and yet still left me with a little shiver.

The Phantom Kiss

One night in my room, still and beamless,
With will and with thought in eclipse,

I rested in sleep that was dreamless;
When softly there fell on my lips

A touch, as of lips that were pressing
Mine own with the message of bliss—
A sudden, soft, fleeting caressing,
A breath like a maiden’s first kiss.

I woke—and the scoffer may doubt me—
I peered in surprise through the gloom;
But nothing and none were about me,
And I was alone in my room.

Perhaps ‘t was the wind that caressed me
And touched me with dew-laden breath;
Or, maybe, close-sweeping, there passed me
The low-winging Angel of Death.

Some sceptic may choose to disdain it,
Or one feign to read it aright,
Or wisdom may seek to explain it—
This mystical kiss in the night.

But rather let fancy thus clear it:
That, thinking of me here alone,
The miles were made naught, and, in spirit,
Thy lips, love, were laid on mine own.

Lastly, I chose The Haunted Oak. This poem has a lot of historical significance. Being from Mississippi, I have often been attracted to old trees and have often wondered when I am near one that seems alive with a story, if it were possible that the events mentioned in this poem, had ever happened on it’s branches. If only the trees could speak their secrets.

The Haunted Oak

Pray why are you so bare, so bare,
Oh, bough of the old oak-tree;
And why, when I go through the shade you throw,
Runs a shudder over me?
My leaves were green as the best, I trow,
And sap ran free in my veins,
But I say in the moonlight dim and weird
A guiltless victim’s pains.
They’d charged him with the old, old crime,
And set him fast in jail:
Oh, why does the dog howl all night long,
And why does the night wind wail?

He prayed his prayer and he swore his oath,
And he raised his hand to the sky;
But the beat of hoofs smote on his ear,
And the steady tread drew nigh.
Who is it rides by night, by night,
Over the moonlit road?
And what is the spur that keeps the pace,
What is the galling goad?
And now they beat at the prison door,
“Ho, keeper, do not stay!
We are friends of him whom you hold within,
And we fain would take him away
“From those who ride fast on our heels
 
With mind to do him wrong;
They have no care for his innocence,
And the rope they bear is long.”
They have fooled the jailer with lying words,
They have fooled the man with lies;
The bolts unbar, the locks are drawn,
And the great door open flies.
Now they have taken him from the jail,
And hard and fast they ride,
And the leader laughs low down in his throat,
As they halt my trunk beside.

Oh, the judge, he wore a mask of black,
And the doctor one of white,
And the minister, with his oldest son,
Was curiously bedight.
Oh, foolish man, why weep you now?

‘Tis but a little space,
And the time will come when these shall dread
The mem’ry of your face.
I feel the rope against my bark,
And the weight of him in my grain,
I feel in the throe of his final woe
The touch of my own last pain.
And never more shall leaves come forth
On the bough that bears the ban;
I am burned with dread, I am dried and dead,
From the curse of a guiltless man.
And ever the judge rides by, rides by,
And goes to hunt the deer,
And ever another rides his soul
In the guise of a mortal fear.
And ever the man he rides me hard,
And never a night stays he;
For I feel his curse as a haunted bough,
On the trunk of a haunted tree.
 

“The Haunted Oak,” written and publsihed in 1900, could have been based on one of the 105 lynchings that occurred that year, but it was inspired in Washington, D.C., by a story that Dunbar heard an old black man relate concerning his nephew in Alabama who bad been hanged on an oak tree by a mob of whites after having been falsely accused of “a grave crime.” According to the story, shortly afterwards the leaves on the limb used for the lynching yellowed and fell off; and, unlike the rest of the normal tree, the offending bough shriveled and died. Townspeople began to call the tree “the haunted oak.” Dunbar, using the ballad form to enhance the superstition, personifies the tree and makes it the most sensitive and remorseful participant in the crime.”  from a review by James A. Emanuel

About The Author

Paul Lawrence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first African-American to gain national prominence as a poet. Born in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio, he was the son of ex-slaves and classmate to Orville Wright of aviation fame.
Dunbar was prolific, writing short stories, novels, librettos, plays, songs and essays as well as the poetry for which he became well known. He was popular with black and white readers of his day, and his works are celebrated today by scholars and school children alike.
His style encompasses two distinct voices — the standard English of the classical poet and the evocative dialect of the turn-of-the-century black community in America. He was gifted in poetry — the way that Mark Twain was in prose — in using dialect to convey character.

Dunbar was born on June 27, 1872, to Matilda and Joshua Dunbar, both natives of Kentucky. His mother was a former slave and his father had escaped from slavery and served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War. Matilda and Joshua had two children before separating in 1874. Matilda also had two children from a previous marriage. Dunbar married Alice Ruth Moore in 1898. A graduate of Straight University (now Dillard University) in New Orleans, her most famous works include a short story entitled “Violets”. She and her husband also wrote books of poetry as companion pieces. An account of their love, life and marriage was depicted in a play by Kathleen McGhee-Anderson titled Oak and Ivy.
Dunbar took a job at the Library of Congress in Washington. In 1900, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and moved to Colorado with his wife on the advice of his doctors. Dunbar and his wife separated in 1902, but they never divorced.
He wrote a dozen books of poetry, four books of short stories, five novels, and a play. He also wrote lyrics for In Dahomey – the first musical written and performed entirely by African-Americans to appear on Broadway in 1903
His essays and poems were published widely in the leading journals of the day. His work appeared in Harper’s Weekly, the Saturday Evening Post, the Denver Post, Current Literature and a number of other publications.
Depression and declining health drove him to a dependence on alcohol, which further damaged his health. He moved back to Dayton to be with his mother in 1904. Dunbar died from tuberculosis on February 9, 1906, at age thirty-three.

He was interred in the Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio. To read more about this poet and writings, please see the resource links below. See his Find A Grave Memorial Here:

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=307

Research Links

More Poems : http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/dunbar/additionalpoems.htm

http://www.dunbarsite.org/

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/302

“The Crowded Years: Paul Laurence Dunbar in History” in A Singer in the Dawn: Reinterpretations of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Ed. Jay Martin. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1975. Copyright © 1975 by Jay Martin.

Black Poets of the United States, from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Langston Hughes, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973. Copyright © 1973 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/dunbar/poetryindex/the_boogah_man.html

http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/dunbar/poetryindex/the_phantom_kiss.html

http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/dunbar/poetryindex/

http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/dunbar/bookcover_gallery.html

University of Dayton –http://www.dunbarsite.org/

Modern American Poetry Web Site – English Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/dunbar/dunbar.htm

Paul Laurence Dunbar House Ohio Historical Society
http://www.ohiohistory.org/places/dunbar/

Paul Laurence Dunbar PAL: Perspectives in American Literature A Research and Reference Guide – An Ongoing Project
http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap6/dunbar.html

Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection at the Dayton and Montgomery County Library
http://home.dayton.lib.oh.us/archives/dunbar/DTABCONTENTS.html

The Writings of Paul Laurence Dunbar Springfield Library
http://www.springfieldlibrary.org/dunbar/dunbar.html

Ohio Memory – Paul Laurence Dunbar Scrapbook
http://worlddmc.ohiolink.edu/OMP/YourScrapbook?scrapid=6698

http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/dunbar/gallery/dunbar_photos.html

compiled and posted by Angela L Burke – MSSPI

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The Christmas Ghost

from Hauntings In My Head , A Collection of Ghostly Southern Poetry published in 2009 by Angela L Burke

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Ghost

Twinkling lights, aglow on the tree.

Children all gathered around on their knees.

The stockings are hanging above a warm fire.

The nut crackers stand tall to guard the empire.

A jolly ole Santa sits up on the mantle.

A flame flickers softly from a cinnamon candle.

Gingerbread cookies and striped candycanes,

Pretty wrapped present with bright bows and the names,

Of all of the people that I love the most.

To bad they can’t see me,

Because I’m a ghost.

Big frosty snowflakes sit bright on the sill.

Mary and Joseph and the shephards all kneal,

In a tiny nativity that sits on the table.

Now everyone’s laughing, how I wish I were able,

To reach out and touch them, too tell them I’m here.

I’m so sad, I would cry, if I had some tears.

For the ones I love most, can’t see me

Because I’m a ghost.

So I’ll move round the room.

Whisper softly in their ears

A memory might flash and for a moment a tear

Might well up in their eyes as they think of past years.

And just maybe, they’ll know that I’m here.

Now their smiles light up as they lift up their cups

and they toast to the season with cheer!

“Merry Christmas!”  they shout, as I sit here and pout,

While they hug and they kiss by the tree.

I miss that the most, but because I’m a ghost,

I know that they cannot see me.

Now my time here is gone.

I must be moving on, there are lots of things I need to do.

But I thank God for the favor.

See , he gave me a waiver

So I could spend Christmas with you.

 

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