Yuri Vertkin introduction:

In three videos, Dyan (Dy) Jenkins-Ali (University Human Resources, University of Michigan) reads a selection of poems by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

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Life is Fine by Langston Hughes

I went down to the river, 

I set down on the bank. 

I tried to think but couldn’t, 

So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered! 

I came up twice and cried! 

If that water hadn’t a-been so cold 

I might’ve sunk and died. 

But it was Cold in that water! It was cold! 

I took the elevator 

Sixteen floors above the ground. 

I thought about my baby 

And thought I would jump down. 

I stood there and I hollered! 

I stood there and I cried! 

If it hadn’t a-been so high 

I might’ve jumped and died. 

But it was High up there! It was high! 

So since I’m still here livin’, 

I guess I will live on. 

I could’ve died for love– 

But for livin’ I was born 

Though you may hear me holler, 

And you may see me cry– 

I’ll be dogged, sweet baby, 

If you gonna see me die. 

Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!








Morning Song of Love by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Darling, my darling, my heart is on the wing,

It flies to thee this morning like a bird,

Like happy birds in springtime my spirits soar and sing,

The same sweet song thine ears have often heard.

The sun is in my window, the shadow on the lea,

The wind is moving in the branches green,

And all my life, my darling, is turning unto thee,

And kneeling at thy feet, my own, my queen.

The golden bells are ringing across the distant hill,

Their merry peals come to me soft and clear,

But in my heart’s deep chapel all incense–filled and still

A sweeter bell is sounding for thee, dear.

The bell of love invites thee to come and seek the shrine

Whose altar is erected unto thee,

The offerings, the sacrifice, the prayers, the chants are thine,

And I, my love, thy humble priest will be









When the Old Man Smokes by Paul Laurence Dunbar

In the forenoon’s restful quiet,

When the boys are off at school,

When the window lights are shaded

And the chimney–corner cool,

Then the old man seeks his armchair,

Lights his pipe and settles back;

Falls a–dreaming as he draws it

Till the smoke–wreaths gather black.

And the tear–drops come a–trickling

Down his cheeks, a silver flow—

Smoke or memories you wonder,

But you never ask him,—no;

For there ’s something almost sacred

To the other family folks

In those moods of silent dreaming

When the old man smokes.

Ah, perhaps he sits there dreaming

Of the love of other days

And of how he used to lead her

Through the merry dance’s maze;

How he called her “little princess,”

And, to please her, used to twine

Tender wreaths to crown her tresses,

From the “matrimony vine.”

Then before his mental vision

Comes, perhaps, a sadder day,

When they left his little princess

Sleeping with her fellow clay.

How his young heart throbbed, and pained him!

Why, the memory of it chokes!

Is it of these things he ’s thinking

When the old man smokes?

But some brighter thoughts possess him,

For the tears are dried the while.

And the old, worn face is wrinkled

In a reminiscent smile,

From the middle of the forehead

To the feebly trembling lip,

At some ancient prank remembered

Or some long unheard–of quip.

Then the lips relax their tension

And the pipe begins to slide,

Till in little clouds of ashes,

It falls softly at his side;

And his head bends low and lower

Till his chin lies on his breast,

And he sits in peaceful slumber

Like a little child at rest.

Dear old man, there ’s something sad’ning,

In these dreamy moods of yours,

Since the present proves so fleeting,

All the past for you endures.

Weeping at forgotten sorrows,

Smiling at forgotten jokes;

Life epitomized in minutes,

When the old man smokes.