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Wherefore this busy labor without rest? Is it an idle dream to which we cling, Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing Unto the world their hope? “Build we our best. By hand and thought,” they cry, “although unblessed.” So the great engines throb, and anvils ring, And so the thought is wedded to the thing; But what shall be the end, and what the test? Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see Not many steps ahead, but this we know— If all our toilsome building is in vain, Availing not to set our manhood free, If envious hate roots out the seed we sow, The South will wear eternally a stain.
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 ez 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’ playmate an’ joy. Come to you’ pallet now—go to you’ 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!
What dreams we have and how they fly Like rosy clouds across the sky; Of wealth, of fame, of sure success, Of love that comes to cheer and bless; And how they wither, how they fade, The waning wealth, the jilting jade – The fame that for a moment gleams, Then flies forever, -dreams, ah -dreams!
O burning doubt and long regret O tears with which our eyes are wet, Heart-throbs, heart-aches, the glut of pain, The somber cloud, the bitter rain, You were not of those dreams – ah! well, Your full fruition who can tell? Wealth, fame, and love, ah! love that beams Upon our souls, all dreams – ah! dreams.
Temples he built and palaces of air, And, with the artist’s parent-pride aglow, His fancy saw his vague ideals grow Into creations marvelously fair; He set his foot upon Fame’s nether stair. But ah, his dream,—it had entranced him so He could not move. He could no farther go; But paused in joy that he was even there!
He did not wake until one day there gleamed Thro’ his dark consciousness a light that racked His being till he rose, alert to act. But lo! What he had dreamed, the while he dreamed, Another, wedding action unto thought, Into the living, pulsing world had brought.
from "The Book of American Negro Poetry" by James Weldon Johnson