26 pages 52 minutes read

Paul Laurence Dunbar

An Ante-Bellum Sermon

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1895

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Literary Devices

Form and Meter

Dunbar’s “An Ante-Bellum Sermon” consists of 11 stanzas of eight lines each, with an alternating pattern of octosyllabic (eight syllables) and heptasyllabic (seven syllables) lines. While the poem does include rhyming throughout, the rhyme scheme varies depending on the stanza. The first, third, fifth, eighth, and ninth stanzas follow an ABCBDEFE rhyme scheme, and the fourth, tenth, and eleventh stanzas follow an ABABCDED rhyme scheme. The second, sixth, and seventh stanzas follow ABCBCDDD, ABCBCDED, and ABCBDDED rhyme schemes, respectively. Although there are common patterns and recurring rhyme schemes in many of the stanzas, Dunbar employs a somewhat irregular rhyme scheme to reflect his speaker’s spontaneous and excited preaching style.

The poem is also written entirely in Dunbar’s approximation of the Black Southern dialect. The poem features hybridized words like “a-judgin’” (Line 49) and “a-handin’” (Line 52), shortened words like “’splain” (Line 6) rather than “explain,” and grammatically incorrect contractions like “I’se” (Lines 48, 51, 52) and “we’se” (Line 87). The dialect and the poem’s simultaneously parallel and irregular rhyme scheme accurately replicate the exciting, dynamic, and at times humorous sermon the speaker delivers.

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