Little brown baby wif spa’klin’ eyes,
Come to yo’ pappy an’ set on his knee.
What you been doin’, suh — makin’ san’ pies?
Look at dat bib — you’s es du’ty ez me.
Look at dat mouf — dat’s merlasses, I bet;
Come hyeah, Maria, an’ wipe off his han’s.
Bees gwine to ketch you an’ eat you up yit,
Bein’ so sticky an sweet — goodness lan’s!
Little brown baby wif spa’klin’ eyes,
Who’s pappy’s darlin’ an’ who’s pappy’s chile?
Who is it all de day nevah once tries
Fu’ to be cross, er once loses dat smile?
Whah did you git dem teef? My, you’s a scamp!
Whah did dat dimple come f’om in yo’ chin?
Pappy do’ know you — I b’lieves you’s a tramp;
Mammy, dis hyeah’s some ol’ straggler got in!

Let’s th’ow him outen de do’ in de san’,
We do’ want stragglers a-layin’ ‘roun’ hyeah;
Let’s gin him ‘way to de big buggah-man;
I know he’s hidin’ erroun’ hyeah right neah.
Buggah-man, buggah-man, come in de do’,
Hyeah’s a bad boy you kin have fu’ to eat.
Mammy an’ pappy do’ want him no mo’,
Swaller him down f’om his haid to his feet!

Dah, now, I t’ought dat you’d hug me up close.
Go back, ol’ buggah, you sha’n’t have dis boy.
He ain’t no tramp, ner no straggler, of co’se;
He’s pappy’s pa’dner an’ play-mate an’ joy.
Come to you’ pallet now — go to yo’ res’;
Wisht you could allus know ease an’ cleah skies;
Wisht you could stay jes’ a chile on my breas’–
Little brown baby wif spa’klin’ eyes!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem Little Brown Baby


  1. Florence Squire says:

    I am 60 and I was telling my son and daughterinlaw about this poem, my mother used to recite to me. She changed some of the words ie like brown baby with sparkalin eyes, who’s mummy’s baby? and who’s mummy’s child ….. I loved it. Conjures up beautiful memories

  2. Beverly A. Taylpr says:

    At 52, I was recently reminiscing with my mother about a talent show that my second grade teacher put me in. I represented my grade and recited this poem which she had taught me. I only remembered a few of the words, and they are a bit different than what I looked up tonight to find on the internet. I remember saying, “Little Brown Baby with tears in yo eyes…..what you been a doing,there suh? Makin mudpies? Come to yo pappy and sit on his knee….I remember dramatizing the poem with dialect and being told my teacher I was talented. I did follow this oratorical path for a time; however ultimately ended up in social work and being a believer in social justice. I commented to my mother how offensive this poem would be, and wondered if I should feel guilty for dramatizing it. She reassured me, “You were just a little girl, and it was the teacher who coached you to do the poem.” I dont know where the poem came from, but my teacher was Ms. Lucille Jones in Lawton, Oklahoma. I felt I had found an old lost friend in a way to find the poem tonight some 39 years later, and hoped my elementary citation honored Mr. Dunbar in some strange way all those years ago in an auditorium filled only with white children, teachers, and parents.

  3. Addison says:

    My mother a descendant of slaves from Tennessee, loved Paul Laurence Dunbar’s works, and especially this poem. It was recited and read to us children on those cold nights in Minnesota many times. Now I have a collection and still read them.

  4. M. Roses says:

    My father used to stretch me out across his chest as he lay on the big, worn sofa in our living room and, my face close to his, recite this poem. I can hear his gentle baritone voice in every word. I do not know in what context he, an Irish Catholic Tennessean, committed the poem to memory; but in my mind, I was the little brown baby, and I feel my father’s love in its cadence, its beauty and its message.

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