The Paradox

The Paradox

Paul Laurence Dunbar

i am the mother of sorrows,
I am the ender of grief;
I am the bud and the blossom,
I am the late-falling leaf.

i am thy priest and thy poet,
I am thy serf and thy king;
I cure the tears of the heartsick,
When I come near they shall sing.

White are my hands as the snowdrop;
Swart are my fingers as clay;
Dark is my frown as the midnight,
Fair is my brow as the day.

Battle and war are my minions,
Doing my will as divine;
I am the calmer of passions,
Peace is a nursling of mine.

Speak to me gently or curse me,
Seek me or fly from my sight;
I am thy fool in the morning,
Thou art my slave in the night.

Down to the grave will I take thee,
Out from the noise of the strife;
Then shalt thou see me and know me—
Death, then, no longer, but life.

Then shalt thou sing at my coming,
Kiss me with passionate breath,
Clasp me and smile to have thought me
Aught save the foeman of Death.

Come to me, brother, when weary,
Come when thy lonely heart swells;
I’ll guide thy footsteps and lead thee
Down where the Dream Woman dwells.

Summary of The Paradox

Popularity of “The Paradox”: “The Paradox” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African American poet, is an interesting poetic piece. The poem first appeared in 1899 in his collection, Lyrics of the Hearthside. It has appeared in various anthologies for students. The poem highlights paradoxes in our lives and our role in the world. It also shows the poet’s imaginative potential in that he demonstrates his unique individuality through common paradoxes.

  • The Paradox” As a Representative of Paradoxes in Life: The poet personifies paradox, a literary device, that starts presenting itself as the mother of sorrows, ender of grief as well as a late falling leaf. It goes on to say that it is a priest, poet, serf, king, tear, heartsick, and a singer. After saying this, the paradox goes on to enumerate its different qualities such as having hands like a snowdrop, fingers like clay, and a fair brow. It continues with this saying that it also tells about the battle, war, will, and passions to add to the voice that you can do whatever you want with you, you can pray for it or curse it, you can say it a fool, or a sane, or you can identify the paradox and now that it is a paradox and that you praisesit for its qualities. In the end, it says that even if you are tired or sorrowful, it will guide you to the residence of a dream lady.
  • Major Themes in “The Paradox”: The beauty of paradox, its different attributes and its quality of satisfying a person are three major thematic strands of this poem. The poet has personified the paradox to state that whatever you think about it, it is the opposite of it. This is the beauty of paradox. It has various attributes as it makes a person stupid or even sane. It seems that a person can adopt any attitude to look anything. Therefore, it is the quality of a paradox to lead you to your desired goal.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used In The Paradox

literary devices make poems impressive. Paul Laurence Dunbar has also used some literary devices in this poem whose analysis is as follows.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /a/ in “I am the late-falling leaf” the sound of /e/ in “I cure the tears of the heartsick” and again the sound of /e/ in “Doing my will as divine.”
  2. Alliteration: The poem shows the use of alliteration in the shape of initial consonant sounds of the neighboring words such as the sound of /f/ in “fly from.”
  3. Anaphora: It means the repetition of the first part of the sentence in its next clause or in the next verse such as the repetition of “I am…” in the first or the second stanza.
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /d/ and /w/ in “Down where the Dream Woman dwells” and the sound of /s/ and /m/ in “Then shalt thou see me and know me.”
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

Come when thy lonely heart swells;
I’ll guide thy footsteps and lead thee
Down where the Dream Woman dwells.

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Paul Laurence Dunbar has used imagery in this poem such as “Then shall thou sing at my coming”, “Clasp me and smile to have thought me”, and “Come to me, brother, when weary.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poet has used the extended metaphor of paradox to show its different qualities.
  3. Personification: The poet has personified paradox in the poem showing it as a long metaphor. He has shown it as if it has life and emotions of its own.
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. The poem shows the use of symbols such as day, night and strife, and peace to show human life and its problems.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in The Paradox

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction and Tone: The poem shows very simple and colloquial diction with a serious and pleasant tone.
  2. Quatrain: A stanza of four lines borrowed from Persian poetry is a quatrain.
  3. Rhyme Scheme: The poem shows ABAB rhyme scheme in all of its stanzas.
  4. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are eight stanzas with each having four verses.

Quotes to be Used

These lines from “The Paradox” are appropriate to quote when consoling somebody.

Come to me, brother, when weary,
Come when thy lonely heart swells;
I’ll guide thy footsteps and lead thee
Down where the Dream Woman dwells.