Written for the 1921 Philadelphia Public Ledger "Woman in History" contest, Dunbar-Nelson's Italian sonnet "To Madame Curie" is notable for its brilliant allusiveness to Keats's famous "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" and its fine literary style. "To the Negro Farmers of the United States" baldly announces its topic--a tribute to these peaceful "brave ones of the soil" for their agrarian simplicity and their "gift supreme to foil / The bare-fanged wolves of hunger." This sonnet is reminiscent of Georgia Douglas Johnson's honorific race poems in Bronze. Last among this group of works is "I Sit and Sew," which has recently been revived for its feminist spirit. A war poem published in 1920, it is spoken by a woman who chafes against the "useless task" of sewing while more important fighting is needed. . . .
A sharp distinction is made between the world of men (which is referred to in a heavier diction: "martial tred," "grim-faced," "stern-eyed") and the slighter, confined world of women (typified by the repetitive sewing). Rhythmic disjunctions in the poem's iambic meter reflect this distinction, as well as the speaker's resulting agitation. The question of war's desirability aside, one woman's complaint about her specific "uselessness" becomes an impassioned commentary on the narrowness of culturally defined sexual roles.