'An Ante-Bellum Sermon' by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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We is gathahed hyeah, my brothahs,
In dis howlin' wildaness,
Fu' to speak some words of comfo't
To each othah in distress.
An' we chooses fu' ouah subjic'
Dis -- we'll 'splain it by an' by;
"An' de Lawd said, ' Moses, Moses,'
An' de man said,' Hyeah am I.'"

Now ole Pher'oh, down in Egypt,
Was de wuss man evah bo'n,
An' he had de Hebrew chillun
Down dah wukin' in his co'n;
'T well de Lawd got tiahed o' his foolin',
An' sez he: "I'll let him know --
Look hyeah, Moses, go tell Pher'oh
Fu' to let dem chillun go."

"An' ef he refuse to do it,
I will make him rue de houah,
Fu' I'll empty down on Egypt
All de vials of my powah."
Yes, he did -- an' Pher'oh's ahmy
Wasn't wuth a ha'f a dime;
Fu' de Lawd will he'p his chillun,
You kin trust him evah time.

An' yo' enemies may 'sail you
In de back an' in de front;
But de Lawd is all aroun' you,
Fu' to ba' de battle's brunt.
Dey kin fo'ge yo' chains an' shackles
F'om de mountains to de sea;
But de Lawd will sen' some Moses
Fu' to set his chillun free.

An' de lan' shall hyeah his thundah,
Lak a blas' f'om Gab'el's ho'n,
Fu' de Lawd of hosts is mighty
When he girds his ahmor on.
But fu' feah some one mistakes me,
I will pause right hyeah to say,
Dat I'm still a-preachin' ancient,
I ain't talkin' 'bout to-day.

But I tell you, fellah christuns,
Things'll happen mighty strange;
Now, de Lawd done dis fu' Isrul,
An' his ways don't nevah change,
An, de love he showed to Isrul
Wasn't all on Isrul spent;
Now don't run an' tell yo' mastahs
Dat I's preachin' discontent.

'Cause I isn't; I'se a-judgin'
Bible people by deir ac's;
I'se a-givin' you de Scriptuah,
I'se a-handin' you de fac's.
Cose ole Pher'oh b'lieved in slav'ry,

But de Lawd he let him see,
Dat de people he put bref in, --
Evah mothah's son was free.

An' dahs othahs thinks lak Pher'oh,
But dey calls de Scriptuah liar,
Fu' de Bible says "a servant
Is a-worthy of his hire."
An' you cain't git roun' nor thoo dat
An' you cain't git ovah it,
Fu' whatevah place you git in,
Dis hyeah Bible too 'll fit.

So you see de Lawd's intention,
Evah sence de worl' began,
Was dat His almighty freedom
Should belong to evah man,
But I think it would be bettah,
Ef I'd pause agin to say,
Dat I'm talkin' 'bout ouah freedom
In a Bibleistic way.

But de Moses is a-comin',
An' he's comin', suah and fas'
We kin hyeah his feet a-trompin',
We kin hyeah his trumpit blas'.
But I want to wa'n you people,
Don't you git too brigity;
An' don't you git to braggin'
'Bout dese things, you wait an' see.

But when Moses wif his powah
Comes an' sets us chillun free,
We will praise de gracious Mastah
Dat has gin us liberty;
An' we'll shout ouah halleluyahs,
On dat mighty reck'nin' day,
When we'se reco'nised ez citiz'
Huh uh! Chillun, let us pray!

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Poetry, An Ante-Bellum Sermon" by Paul Laurence Dunbar: A Masterful Exploration of the Power of Poetry

"Poetry, An Ante-Bellum Sermon" by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a poem that belongs to the African-American literary tradition of the late 19th and early 20th century. As a son of former slaves, Dunbar grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and his work reflects the realities of life in the post-Civil War era for African-Americans. In this poem, Dunbar uses the metaphor of a sermon to explore the power of poetry in a time of political and social upheaval.

The Structure and Rhetoric of a Sermon

The poem begins with the speaker addressing an imaginary congregation, "My brothers, black and brothers brown." The use of "brothers" is significant, as it suggests a sense of unity among African-Americans despite their different skin tones. The speaker then proceeds to adopt the rhetorical style of a sermon, using repetition, parallelism, and rhetorical questions to captivate his audience.

For example, the line "I come to tell you this good news" is repeated three times, emphasizing the importance of the message the speaker is about to deliver. Similarly, the line "And what is this, my brethren?" is repeated several times, inviting the audience to participate in the sermon.

The use of rhetorical questions is also a common feature of sermons. The speaker asks, "What is it that makes our heart to bleed? / What is it that makes us mourn?" These questions are designed to evoke an emotional response from the audience and to encourage them to reflect on their own experiences.

The Power of Poetry

The central message of the poem is the power of poetry. The speaker declares that "Poetry is the voice of God within us," suggesting that poetry has a divine quality that connects us to something greater than ourselves. He goes on to say that poetry can bring comfort and solace to those who are suffering: "It comes to soothe our spirits' pain / And leads us back to peace again."

Furthermore, the poem suggests that poetry has the power to inspire people to action. The speaker refers to the "mighty power of song," which can "stir the blood of men like wine / And make the heart of heroes strong." This is a reference to the role that music and poetry played in the civil rights movement, inspiring activists to fight for their rights and inspiring others to support their cause.

The Historical Context of the Poem

The poem was written during a time of great social and political upheaval in the United States. The post-Civil War era was marked by the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans, and Dunbar's work reflects this reality. The poem was published in 1896, just a few years before the Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the "separate but equal" doctrine and legalized segregation in the United States.

The poem can be seen as a call to action, urging African-Americans to use poetry as a means of expressing their frustrations and inspiring others to fight for their rights. It is also a message of hope, suggesting that poetry can bring comfort and solace to those who are suffering.


"Poetry, An Ante-Bellum Sermon" is a masterful exploration of the power of poetry. Dunbar's use of the metaphor of a sermon and his adoption of the rhetorical style of a preacher give the poem a sense of urgency and importance. The poem is a call to action and a message of hope, urging African-Americans to use poetry to express their frustrations and inspire others to fight for their rights. It is a testament to the enduring power of poetry and its ability to connect us to something greater than ourselves.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is a form of art that has the power to move people, to inspire them, and to make them think. One such poem that has stood the test of time is "An Ante-Bellum Sermon" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. This poem is a powerful commentary on the state of race relations in America during the pre-Civil War era. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used by Dunbar to convey his message.

The poem begins with the speaker addressing his congregation, saying "Brethren, rise, and let us greet the morning." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a call to action for African Americans to rise up and fight for their rights. The use of the word "brethren" is significant, as it suggests a sense of unity and brotherhood among African Americans.

Dunbar uses vivid imagery throughout the poem to convey his message. For example, he describes the "fields of cotton stretching far and wide," which represents the economic foundation of the South at the time. The use of the word "stretching" suggests the vastness of the cotton fields, which were worked by African American slaves. This imagery serves to remind the reader of the brutal reality of slavery and the exploitation of African Americans for economic gain.

The poem also contains religious imagery, which is not surprising given that it is a sermon. Dunbar uses the metaphor of a "mighty army" to describe the power of African Americans when they come together. This metaphor is particularly powerful because it suggests that African Americans have the strength and the numbers to fight for their rights and to overcome the oppression they face.

Dunbar also uses language to convey his message. He uses repetition to emphasize certain points, such as when he says "We are rising, we are rising" and "We are marching, we are marching." This repetition serves to reinforce the idea that African Americans are not going to sit idly by and accept their oppression. They are going to rise up and fight for their rights.

Another interesting aspect of the poem is the way in which Dunbar uses dialect. He writes in a dialect that is specific to African Americans in the South, which serves to give the poem an authentic voice. This dialect also serves to highlight the cultural differences between African Americans and white Americans, and the way in which African Americans were often marginalized and excluded from mainstream society.

The poem also contains a sense of hope and optimism. Dunbar writes, "The morning breaks, the shadows flee away," which suggests that a new day is dawning and that change is possible. This sense of hope is important because it suggests that African Americans can overcome the oppression they face and that a better future is possible.

Overall, "An Ante-Bellum Sermon" is a powerful poem that speaks to the struggles and aspirations of African Americans during a difficult time in American history. Dunbar's use of vivid imagery, religious metaphor, and dialect serve to give the poem an authentic voice and to convey his message in a powerful and memorable way. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to inspire and to move people, and it remains relevant and important today.

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