This is the debt I pay
Just for one riotous day,
Years of regret and grief,
Sorrow without relief.
Pay it I will to the end —
Until the grave, my friend,
Gives me a true release —
Gives me the clasp of peace.
Slight was the thing I bought,
Small was the debt I thought,
Poor was the loan at best —
God! but the interest!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem The Debt


  1. andrew kemp says:

    Yes that sounds like a fine idea. The poem can be very visceral to one locked up. I was considering a more metaphoric approach. I teach at a school for teen moms. I am anxious to see if the young ladies stuble on the parent for life as the result of one hot moment metaphor. I don’t suggest that any of us don’t cherish our children, but God the interest!

  2. Desiree Moore says:

    My husband suggested that I use this poem as a follow up to a field trip that I took with some of my middle school students to a prison yesterday. These boys have multiple disciplinary referrals and participated in a program called Project Aware where inmates with natural life sentences try to sway the behaviors of young children with a riveting and authentic presentation. The words of the poem are so strong that maybe after yesterday, it will get through to my boys.

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