Paul Laurence Dunbar

(1872-1906 / Ohio / United States)

Ships that Pass in the Night Poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Out in the sky the great dark clouds are massing;
I look far out into the pregnant night,
Where I can hear the solemn booming gun
And catch the gleaming of a random light,
That tells me that the ship I seek
is passing, passing.
My tearful eyes my soul's deep hurt are glassing;
For I would hail and check that ship of ships.
I stretch my hands imploring, cry aloud,
My voice falls dead a foot from mine own lips,
And but its ghost doth reach that vessel, passing, passing.
O Earth, O Sky, O Ocean, both surpassing,
O heart of mine, O soul that dreads the dark!
Is there no hope for me? Is there no way
That I may sight and check that speeding bark
Which out of sight and sound is passing, passing?

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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Comments about this poem (Ships that Pass in the Night by Paul Laurence Dunbar )

  • Rookie Ali Anmin (3/28/2015 9:08:00 AM)

    Why did he use the words "pregnant night" ? Maybe to tell how much was the sky was full of clouds ? (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 12,043 Points Kim Barney (3/6/2015 4:12:00 PM)

    Haunting. Seems some things we want or need or think we need are always just out of sight or out of reach... (Report) Reply

  • Bronze Star - 2,463 Points John Richter (3/6/2015 10:39:00 AM)

    I noticed Mr. Dunbar mentioned a signal cannon in this poem, which was once used by vessels to alert US Customs officials that they had arrived in harbor. As a former Customs Officer I was curious about why he was looking for a ship in harbor so I read his biography page. If you haven't done that yet then I suggest that you please do. Mr. Dunbar is quite fascinating and was friends with the likes of Orville and Wilbur Wright. This is my first encounter with his poetry but I am looking forward to reading much more. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 7 Points Sylva Portoian (1/30/2010 9:19:00 PM)

    Died very young, unfair, like John Keats.
    He could have produced more!
    We should feel lucky that we are living long. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Sara S (9/29/2009 10:49:00 AM)

    lou guzman- if you want to know more about l. dunbar, read as many of his poems as you can! morning and ships that pass in the night are just one side of his poems! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Lou Guzman (9/24/2006 2:30:00 PM)

    I love this poem! I've only read one other poem by L. Dunbar tittled 'Morning'. I could not control my impulse do more research on the author. There is a tragic desperate tone in this poem, the helplessness of not being able to influence in any way ones need and longing and having to experience the frustration as it slips away beyond ones reach. I want to know more about this man. (Report) Reply

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