Categories
20th century Black History Claude McKay modern poetry Poetry United States

“If We Must Die”


by Claude McCkay

If we must die — let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die — oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us still be brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but — fighting back!

Categories
20th century African-American America American American Poetry Black History Melvin B. Tolson poet Poetry United States

A Song for Myself


by Melvin B. Tolson

Melvin Beaunorus Tolson February 6, 1898 – August 29, 1966 // Public Domain

I judge

                                            My soul

                                            Eagle

                                            Nor mole:

                                            A man

                                            Is what

                                            He saves

                                            From rot.

                                            The corn

                                            Will fat

                                            A hog

                                            Or rat:

                                            Are these

                                            Dry bones

                                            A hut’s

                                            Or throne’s?

                                            Who filled

                                            The moat

                                            ’Twixt sheep

                                            And goat?

                                            Let Death,

                                            The twin

                                            of Life,

                                            Slip in?

                                            Prophets

                                            Arise,

                                            Mask-hid,

                                            Unwise,

                                            Divide

                                            The earth

                                            By class

                                            and birth.

                                            Caesars

                                            Without,

                                            The People

                                            Shall rout;

                                            Caesars

                                            Within,

                                            Crush flat

                                            As tin.

                                            Who makes

                                            A noose

                                            Envies

                                            The goose.

                                            Who digs

                                            A pit

                                            Dices

                                            For it.

                                            Shall tears

                                            Be shed

                                            For those

                                            Whose bread

                                            Is thieved

                                            Headlong?

                                            Tears right

                                            No wrong.

                                            Prophets

                                            Shall teach

                                            The meek

                                            To reach.

                                            Leave not

                                            To God

                                            The boot

                                            And rod.

                                            The straight

                                            Lines curve?

                                            Failure

                                            Of nerve?

                                            Blind-spots

                                            Assail?

                                            Times have

                                            Their Braille.

                                            If hue

                                            Of skin

                                            Trademark

                                            A sin,

                                            Blame not

                                            The make

                                            For God’s

                                            Mistake.

                                            Since flesh

                                            And bone

                                            Turn dust

                                            And stone,

                                            With life

                                            So brief,

                                            Why add

                                            To grief?

                                            I sift

                                            The chaff

                                            From wheat

                                            and laugh.

                                            No curse

                                            Can stop

                                            The tick

                                            Of clock.

                                            Those who

                                            Wall in

                                            Themselves

                                            And grin

                                            Commit

                                            Incest

                                            And spawn

                                            A pest.

                                            What’s writ

                                            In vice

                                            Is writ

                                            In ice.

                                            The truth

                                            Is not

                                            Of fruits

                                            That rot.

                                            A sponge,

                                            The mind

                                            Soaks in

                                            The kind

                                            Of stuff

                                            That fate’s

                                            Milieu

                                            Dictates.

                                            Jesus,

                                            Mozart,

                                            Shakespeare,

                                            Descartes,

                                            Lenin,

                                            Chladni,

                                            Have lodged

                                            With me.

                                            I snatch

                                            From hooks

                                            The meat

                                            Of books.

                                            I seek

                                            Frontiers,

                                            Not worlds

                                            On biers.

                                            The snake

                                            Entoils

                                            The pig

                                            With coils.

                                            The pig’s

                                            Skewed wail

                                            Does not

                                            Prevail.

                                            Old men

                                            Grow worse

                                            With prayer

                                            Or curse:

                                            Their staffs

                                            Thwack youth

                                            Starved thin

                                            For truth.

                                            Today

                                            The Few

                                            Yield poets

                                            Their due;

                                            Tomorrow

                                            The Mass

                                            Judgment

                                            Shall pass.

                                            I harbor

                                            One fear

                                            If death

                                            Crouch near:

                                            Does my

                                            Creed span

                                            The Gulf

                                            Of Man?

                                            And when

                                            I go

                                            In calm

                                            Or blow

                                            From mice

                                            And men,

                                            Selah!

                                            What . . . then?

 

Melvin Tolson, “A Song for Myself” from Harlem Gallery and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1999)

Source: “Harlem Gallery” and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (University Press of Virginia, 1999)

Categories
19th century 20th century American Poetry Black History Celebration modern poetry United States William Braithwaite

“Rhapsody”


by William Braithwaite

William Braithwaite (1911)

I am glad daylong for the gift of song,
For time and change and sorrow;
For the sunset wings and the world-end things
Which hang on the edge of to-morrow.
I am glad for my heart whose gates apart
Are the entrance-place of wonders,
Where dreams come in from the rush and din
Like sheep from the rains and thunders.

Categories
20th century African-American American American Poetry Langston Hughes Literature Poetry

“Song”


by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes in 1936 photo by Carl Van Vechten
Listen to / “Song” by Langston Hughes, Read by Teyuna Darris

Lovely, dark, and lonely one,
Bare your bosom to the sun,
Do not be afraid of light
You who are a child of night.
Open wide your arms to life,
Whirl in the wind of pain and strife,
Face the wall with the dark closed gate,
Beat with bare, brown fists
And wait.

This poem is in the public domain.

Categories
19th century 20th century Khalil Gibran MIddle East modern poetry poet Poetry Uncategorized

“And When My Sorrow was Born” by Khalil Gibran (1883 – 1931)


BY KAHLIL GIBRAN

And when my Joy was born, I held it in my arms and stood on the
house-top shouting, “Come ye, my neighbours, come and see, for Joy
this day is born unto me.  Come and behold this gladsome thing that
laugheth in the sun.”
 
But none of my neighbours came to look upon my Joy, and great was
my astonishment.
 
And every day for seven moons I proclaimed my Joy from the
house-top—and yet no one heeded me.  And my Joy and I were alone,
unsought and unvisited.
 
Then my Joy grew pale and weary because no other heart but mine
held its loveliness and no other lips kissed its lips.
 
Then my Joy died of isolation.
 
And now I only remember my dead Joy in remembering my dead Sorrow.
But memory is an autumn leaf that murmurs a while in the wind and
then is heard no more.

Categories
20th century American American Poetry Black History English General Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes Literature modern poetry Poetry Uncategorized United States

“My People” by Langston Hughes


Langston Hughes in 1936 by Carl Van Vechten

My People

The night is beautiful,

So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

Categories
20th century African-American America American American Poetry Black History General Langston Hughes modern poetry Poetry Uncategorized United States

“When Sue Wears Red”


by Langston Hughes



Portrait of Langston Hughes. Photo by Gordon Parks / Library of Congress.

When Susanna Jones wears red
Her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.

Come with a blast of trumpets,
Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.

Blow trumpets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like pain.

Sweet silver trumpets,
Jesus!

Categories
20th century African-American America American American Poetry General Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes modern poetry Poetry Uncategorized United States

“Theme for English B”


by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes portrait by Carl van Vechten in 1936 (SOURCE: U.S. Library of Congress)
Listen to “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Categories
20th century African-American Joseph S. Cotter, Jr. Literature United States

“And What Shall You Say?” by Joseph S. Cotter, Jr.


Brother, come!

And let us go unto our God.

And when we stand before Him

I shall say —

“Lord, I do not hate,

I am hated.

I scourge no one,

I am scourged.

I covet no lands,

My lands are coveted.

I mock no peoples,

My people are mocked.”

And, brother, what shall you say?

Categories
20th century American Poetry Black History Georgia Douglas Johnson Poetry United States women poets

“Welt” by Georgia Douglas Johnson


Would I might mend the fabric of my youth

That daily flaunts its tatters to my eyes,

Would I might compromise awhile with truth

Until our moon now waxing, wanes and dies.

For I would go a further while with you,

And drain this cup so tantalant and fair

Which meets my parched lips like cooling dew,

Ere time has brushed cold fingers thru my hair!