'Little Brown Baby' by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes,
Come to yo' pappy an' set on his knee.
What you been doin', suh -- makin' san' pies?
Look at dat bib -- you's ez du'ty ez me.
Look at dat mouf -- dat's merlasses, I bet;
Come hyeah, Maria, an' wipe off his han's.
Bees gwine to ketch you an' eat you up yit,
Bein' so sticky an sweet -- goodness lan's!

Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes,
Who's pappy's darlin' an' who's pappy's chile?
Who is it all de day nevah once tries
Fu' to be cross, er once loses dat smile?
Whah did you git dem teef? My, you's a scamp!
Whah did dat dimple come f'om in yo' chin?
Pappy do' know you -- I b'lieves you's a tramp;
Mammy, dis hyeah's some ol' straggler got in!

Let's th'ow him outen de do' in de san',
We do' want stragglers a-layin' 'roun' hyeah;
Let's gin him 'way to de big buggah-man;
I know he's hidin' erroun' hyeah right neah.
Buggah-man, buggah-man, come in de do',
Hyeah's a bad boy you kin have fu' to eat.
Mammy an' pappy do' want him no mo',
Swaller him down f'om his haid to his feet!

Dah, now, I t'ought dat you'd hug me up close.
Go back, ol' buggah, you sha'n't have dis boy.
He ain't no tramp, ner no straggler, of co'se;
He's pappy's pa'dner an' playmate an' joy.
Come to you' pallet now -- go to yo' res';
Wisht you could allus know ease an' cleah skies;
Wisht you could stay jes' a chile on my breas' --
Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Little Brown Baby: An Ode to Love and Hope

Paul Laurence Dunbar's "Little Brown Baby" is a testament to the power of love and hope. The poem is a celebration of the beauty and innocence of a child born into a world of discrimination and prejudice. Dunbar masterfully uses language and imagery to convey the depth of his emotions and the complexity of the social issues at play. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, symbols, and literary devices employed in this classic work of poetry.


Paul Laurence Dunbar was an African-American poet, novelist, and playwright who lived from 1872 to 1906. He was one of the first African-American writers to gain national recognition and critical acclaim. Dunbar's work often dealt with the experiences of Black Americans and was deeply influenced by his own life and the social and political issues of his time. "Little Brown Baby" was published in 1895 as part of his collection "Majors and Minors". The poem is written in the dialect that Dunbar used in many of his works, which was controversial at the time but has since been recognized as an important aspect of his literary legacy.


At its core, "Little Brown Baby" is a poem about love and hope. The speaker of the poem, presumably Dunbar himself, addresses the titular baby with words of affection and encouragement. He sees the child as a symbol of the future and a beacon of hope in a world that can be harsh and cruel. The poem also touches on themes of identity, belonging, and social justice. The baby, who is described as "little brown" and "woolly-headed," is a representation of the Black experience in America. The speaker acknowledges the challenges and injustices that the child will face but also emphasizes the strength and resilience of Black people in the face of adversity.


The most prominent symbol in the poem is, of course, the baby itself. The child represents not only the future but also the present struggles and triumphs of Black Americans. The fact that the baby is "little brown" and "woolly-headed" is significant because it reflects the physical characteristics that were used to justify slavery and discrimination. By celebrating these attributes, the speaker is reclaiming them as sources of pride and beauty. The poem also contains several other symbols that reinforce its themes. For example, the "vines" that the baby will "climb" represent the obstacles that it will face, but also the potential for growth and progress. The "sunbeam" that "kiss[es]" the child's face is a symbol of hope and positivity.

Literary Devices

Dunbar employs a variety of literary devices in "Little Brown Baby" to create a rich and complex poetic experience. One of the most notable is the use of dialect. Dunbar's dialect is a reflection of the way that Black people spoke at the time, but it also serves to create a sense of authenticity and intimacy. The use of repetition is also a prominent feature of the poem. The phrase "little brown baby" is repeated several times, emphasizing the importance of the child and creating a sense of rhythm and momentum. The poem also contains a number of metaphors and other figurative language. For example, the baby's "gurgling laughter" is compared to a "bubbling spring," and its "innocent prattle" is compared to the "song of a bird."


"Little Brown Baby" is a poem that can be interpreted in many different ways, depending on the reader's perspective and experiences. At its core, however, the poem is a celebration of the beauty and resilience of Black people. The speaker acknowledges the challenges that the child will face but also emphasizes the strength and hope that is inherent in the Black experience. The poem can also be seen as a call to action, urging readers to recognize and confront the systemic discrimination and racism that still exists in our society. By celebrating the beauty and humanity of Black people, the speaker is challenging the dominant narrative of the time, which portrayed Black people as inferior and unworthy of respect.


"Little Brown Baby" is a powerful and deeply moving poem that celebrates the beauty and resilience of Black people. Dunbar's use of language and imagery creates a sense of intimacy and authenticity that allows the reader to connect with the speaker's emotions and experiences. The poem is a reminder that, even in the face of adversity, love and hope can prevail. By reclaiming the physical attributes that were used to justify discrimination and celebrating the humanity of Black people, Dunbar is challenging the dominant cultural narrative of his time and asserting the value and worth of all people, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Little Brown Baby: A Masterpiece of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African-American poet, novelist, and playwright, was one of the most influential literary figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His works, which often explored the experiences of African Americans, were celebrated for their lyrical beauty and emotional depth. Among his many masterpieces, "Little Brown Baby" stands out as a timeless classic that continues to inspire and move readers today.

"Little Brown Baby" is a poem that celebrates the beauty and innocence of a young child. The poem is written in a simple, yet powerful style that captures the essence of childhood and the wonder of life. The poem begins with the lines, "Little brown baby / With sparkling eyes, / Come to your papa's arms, / Nestle and be wise." These lines set the tone for the poem, which is one of warmth, love, and tenderness.

The poem goes on to describe the child's beauty and innocence, with lines such as "Thy little heart is weary / Of standing day by day, / And thy limbs are sore and weary / With thy restless, ceaseless play." These lines capture the essence of childhood, with its endless energy and boundless curiosity. The child is described as being full of life and vitality, yet also vulnerable and in need of protection.

As the poem continues, the father speaks to the child, offering words of comfort and reassurance. He tells the child that he is loved and cherished, and that he will always be there to protect and care for him. The lines "Little brown baby / There's no cause for care, / Let papa take thee in his arms, / And all thy griefs shall share" are particularly poignant, as they capture the unconditional love and support that a parent can offer a child.

The poem concludes with the lines "Little brown baby / With soft, silky hair, / And thy mamma's eyes, / Ever shedding tears." These lines remind us that the child is not just a symbol of innocence and beauty, but also a product of his parents' love and sacrifice. The child is a reflection of his family and his community, and his well-being is intertwined with theirs.

Overall, "Little Brown Baby" is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the essence of childhood and the beauty of life. The poem is a celebration of love, family, and community, and it reminds us of the importance of cherishing and protecting the most vulnerable among us. Paul Laurence Dunbar's legacy as a poet and a voice for African Americans continues to inspire and move readers today, and "Little Brown Baby" stands as a testament to his enduring talent and vision.

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