‘Beyond the Years‘ by Paul Laurence Dunbar was first published posthumously in 1913; appearing in the volume, The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. The poem is short, composed of only three stanzas, and divided into three sections. The stanzas follow a strict and consistent rhyme scheme of AABABAB, CCACACA, DDADADA. This repetition of the “A” end rhyme creates a continual string of sound throughout the poem, unifying it in its totality.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that after death one will come upon “the answer.” There will be an end to the grieving experienced on earth, and no longer will one be confined by “rod-chastened” Faith. All will be free of fear and “Sorrow.”
The speaker continues on to say that after death there will be no need to pray for the rest, as that’s now possible for the rest of eternity. “Morn,” or morning, meaning the light of God, will be triumphant on the mountaintop. There, the light will dispel any darkness.
In conclusion, the speaker describes how the “light” will clear the blood from all eyes, and everyone will live in long yearned for peace.
Analysis of Beyond the Years
Beyond the years the answer lies,
Beyond where brood the grieving skies
And Night drops tears.
Where Faith rod-chastened smiles to rise
And doff its fears,
And carping Sorrow pines and dies—
Beyond the years.
The first stanza, and the first section of this poem, begins by addressing the general answer to the question of what one will find after death. “Beyond the years” of life, there will be “answers.” These answers will only be found after the days of brooding, “grieving skies,” under which mourn those saddened by the death, are over. The answers are only attainable when one moves beyond the grieving tears of “Night.”
Beyond the realm of mourning living, one will find “Faith.” This embodiment of faith is said to be, “rod-chastened” it has been beaten figuratively, or literally, into submission. This “Faith” will remove it’s “fears” with which it was embedded during life, and “Sorrow” will stop “carping,” or endlessly complaining, and die away. Death is an end to man-made faith and a return to the true faith of God in which there is no fear.
Generally, this speaker is trying to show that the human part of faith, mourning, and sorrow will not exist in the afterlife. There, one will experience “answers,” and a feeling of peace long yearned for.
Beyond the years the prayer for rest
Shall beat no more within the breast;
The darkness clears,
And Morn perched on the mountain’s crest
Her form uprears—
The day that is to come is best,
Beyond the years.
In the second stanza and second section of the poem, the speaker further elucidates what the afterlife is going to be like. “Beyond the years” there shall be no more need for “prayer[s] for rest” as one shall experience that state eternally. This desire to find somewhere tranquil will no longer “beat” persistently like an unresolved mantra “within the breast.”
Beyond the living years of one’s life “Morn” will be on the mountaintop. Representing here the light of God, “Morn,” meaning the rising of the sun, or light of protective warmth will be there watching over those deceased. There will be no more fear of cold darkness “beyond the years.” Morn is triumphant, rearing “on the mountain’s crest.”
The day which one should have been looking forward to all throughout the living days is here at last. It is the “best” of all days and an unending one.
The speaker closes out this stanza by once more turning to the refrain, “Beyond the years.”
By this point in the poem, this repeating mantra has become achingly hopeful. The speaker is dreaming of the times to come. The speaker, and Dunbar himself, are hoping to dispel the very human fear of what comes after death. He has presented this picture of the afterlife in an attempt to increase the faith of the faithful and grow in those doubtful of God, a new desire to know him.
Beyond the years the soul shall find
That endless peace for which it pined,
For light appears,
And to the eyes that still were blind
With blood and tears,
Their sight shall come all unconfined
Beyond the years.
The final stanza and section of “Beyond the Years” by Paul Laurence Dunbar concludes the speaker’s contemplation of what form life will take after death. Additionally, the last section presents the most optimistic view of what is actually to come, rather than what one will no longer has to experience.
The stanza begins with the speaker stating that the “soul” will finally “find / That endless peace” it has perpetually “pined” for. This peace is described as being the penultimate desire of human life. It is a reward for a life well-lived.
Once more the speaker turns to the idea of light. While it is not explicitly stated, this light should be considered as a representation of, or literally, God himself.
After one has died, the “light appears.” It clears the eyes of all those still “blind[ed] / With blood and tears.” God is washing away the horrors, struggles, and human consequences of life. These aspects of the past are no longer relevant now that one has passed on. God frees the human soul from the bounds of humanity. All are “unconfined” after they have died.
About Paul Laurence Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio in June of 1872. His parents, Joshua and Matilda were former slaves and Dunbar was the only African American student in his high school class of 1890.
It was in high school that Dunbar first developed a love for writing as he worked editing the school newspaper and participating in literary societies. After high school, Dunbar did not have enough money to attend college or secure the type of job he was hoping for, but he eventually got a position as an elevator operator in Dayton. Dunbar’s free time was spent writing and a speaking opportunity at the Wester Association of Writer in Dayton culminated with Dunbar publishing his first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy, in 1893.
Positive reviews and endorsements from civil rights leaders such as Fredrick Douglass brought Dunbar some fan, and he spent time touring the United States and Great Britain reading his poetry aloud. Unfortunately, as Dunbar’s success grew, so too did his health problems. In 1898 Dunbar married Alice Ruth Monroe and only a year later he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
This diagnosis sent Dunbar into a tailspin. He developed a drinking problem and Alice eventually broke off contact with him after he had abused her continuously for three years. The last years of his life were spent writing all matter of works from his mother’s house in Dayton. It was there that he passed away in February of 1906.
Today, Paul Lawrence Dunbar is considered one of the most important writers of the early 20th century and his legacy continues to influence Modern American literature.