"This famous poem of Dunbar's was originally written in slavery dialect, describing a slave minister delivering a sermon about freedom to a slave congregation of Christians, prior to the American Civil War," said McGinnis. "It is widely considered to be one of Dunbar's most important poems, even though the use of Dialect has been criticized by many, as demeaning to African-Americans."
Dunbar himself greatly preferred to write in Standard English, and he complained in vain that his publishers at the time would reject his Standard English poems -- no matter how good they were -- and ask him to please submit poems in Dialect, which they would then publish eagerly.
"But it seems to me that Dunbar deliberately wrote many of his Dialect poems in such a way that they could easily be converted into Near-Standard English at a future date, when the country was ready for them," said McGinnis. "A hundred and one years have now gone past since Paul Laurence Dunbar died," said McGinnis. "And I think the country is now ready for his Dialect poems to be converted into Standard English, or something almost like Standard English. I think this is what he hoped we would do when he wrote the Dialect poems."
Here is the first verse of the original Dialect poem, along with the Near-Standard English converted version.
AN ANTE-BELLUM SERMON
By Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
NOTE: This is Dunbar's poetic concept of a sermon which might have been
given by a slave minister to a slave congregation, before the
American Civil War freed all the slaves in the United States.
Written In Dialect by Paul Laurence Dunbar
and converted into Near-Standard English by Rev. Bill McGinnis
MP3 Reading (dialect) by Rev. Bill McGinnis at
MP3 Reading (near-standard English) by Rev. Bill McGinnis at
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.'"
We are gathered here, my brothers,
In this howling wilderness,
For to speak some words of comfort
To each other in distress.
We have chosen for our subject
(We'll explain it by and by);
"And the Lord said, 'Moses, Moses,'
And the man said, "Here am I.'"
You can read and download all of the verses at
Both versions of the poem and both readings are in the Public Domain, free for everyone to use without restriction.
Blessings to you. May God help us all.