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The Poems “Blessed Hope” by Harper and “Unexpressed” by Dunbar

Blessed Hope by Frances E.W. Harper

Oh! crush it not, that hope so blest,
Which cheers the fainting heart,
And points it to the coming rest,
Where sorrow has no part.
Tear from my heart each worldly prop,
Unbind each earthly string,
But to this blest and glorious hope,
Oh! let my spirit cling.
It cheer’d amid the days of old,
Each holy patriarch’s breast;
It was an anchor to their souls,
Upon it let me rest.
When wandering in dens and caves,
In sheep and goat skins dress’d,
A peel’d and scatter’d people learned
To know this hope was blest.
Help me, amid this world of strife,
To long for Christ to reign,
That when He brings the crown of life,
I may that crown obtain.

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Unexpressed by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

DEEP in my heart that aches with the
And strives with plenitude of bitter pain,
There lives a thought that clamors for
And spends its undelivered force in vain.
What boots it that some other may have
thought it?
The right of thoughts’ expression is divine;
The price of pain I pay for it has bought it,
I care not who lays claim to it — ‘t is mine!
And yet not mine until it be delivered;
The manner of its birth shall prove the test.
Alas, alas, my rock of pride is shivered
I beat my brow — the thought still

The two poems selected are Blessed Hope by Frances Harper published before the civil war in 1860 and Unexpressed by Paul Laurence Dunbar published in the 19th century before World War I. Though distinct from each other, the two poems have been successful in capturing unique, African American perspectives of life in the United States during the two periods. Dunbar’s poem uses very strong words to depict the level of repression faced by the persona. The fact that the poem was written long after the Declaration of Independence, which decreed that all men are created equal, depicts the length of time the African Americans have not been allowed to freely express themselves. The words in the first stanza lines 2 and 3 states that the persona is striving with a lot of pain and his or her thoughts demand the opportunity to be expressed. The words paint a vivid picture of a person forced to keep his or her thoughts and opinions to themselves despite the desire to speak up and be heard.

The vehement calls for the freedom of expression continue into the following stanza. In line 2 of the second stanza, Dunbar used the term ‘divine’ to describe the freedom of expression. Such a strong word captures the imagination and essence of human existence where natural rights apply to all human beings. In this case, the pain combined with desire is the picture painted by the poet. Historically, the declaration of independence and the abolishment of the slave trade did not necessarily make African Americans free people. Such is the perspective created by the poet that African Americans have paid a high price for freedom, which is yet to be delivered. In a nutshell, the poet illustrates that ultimate freedom for the blacks is yet to be achieved as long as the right to expression continues to elude them.

Blessed hope was written before the Civil War, which should give us a different perspective of African American life. Even though a religious tone can be found in the poem, desperation and strife in life are more obvious, and hence the prayer that hope does not fade. As a female poet, it can be argued that she represents all African American women and their suffering from double oppression. In other words, racial and gender oppression were meted out to black women. It can be argued that most may have turned to religion for solace. Such a position can be manifested by the words and phrases used by Harper in the poem. For example, glorious hope, resting souls, sorrow, and a world of strife are all terminologies that can be associated with suffering and helplessness whereby hope is the only element that keeps the person going. However, it is important to acknowledge that the nature of suffering is not outlined in the poem.

The context of racial and gender oppression can only be inferred from the period of publication and the knowledge that African Americans were subjected to multiple forms of oppression by their European masters. The words and phrases mentioned earlier speak to me because they trigger memories of slavery in the Americas, even though it is only learned from history books and other literary materials. Additionally, the words express the helplessness of a person who has nowhere else to look for help, which tends to attract the sympathy of the audience. Hope is critical because it helps people overcome tough times and experiences. However, the words in the poem illustrate that there is a chance that the hope may be crushed, which insinuates the extent of suffering the persona faces.

Works Cited

Dunbar, Paul. “Unexpressed.AfroPoets.Net – Famous Black Writers, 1913. Web.

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Harper, Frances. “Blessed Hope.AfroPoets.Net – Famous Black Writers, 1846. Web.

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