Categories
19th century 20th century African-American America American American Poetry E.W. Harper Ellen Watkins Harper Frances E. W. Harper General poet Poetry Uncategorized United States Victorian Era Victorian Period

Songs for the People


by Ellen Watkins Harper

Photograph of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper in 1893 as featured in the publication “Women of Distinction: Remarkable in Works and Invincible in Character by Lawson Andrew Scruggs (Raleigh) / State Library of North Carolina, Government & Heritage Library
Listen to “Songs for the People” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper / Read by Teyuna Darris (on YouTube)

Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.
Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.
Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.
Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o’er life’s highway.
I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.
Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.
Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.

Categories
19th century 20th century African-American Paul Laurence Dunbar Poetry

In Summer


by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Oh, summer has clothed the earth
In a cloak from the loom of the sun!
And a mantle, too, of the skies’ soft blue,
And a belt where the rivers run.

And now for the kiss of the wind,
And the touch of the air’s soft hands,
With the rest from strife and the heat of life,
With the freedom of lakes and lands.

I envy the farmer’s boy
Who sings as he follows the plow;
While the shining green of the young blades lean
To the breezes that cool his brow.

He sings to the dewy morn,
No thought of another’s ear;
But the song he sings is a chant for kings
And the whole wide world to hear.

He sings of the joys of life,
Of the pleasures of work and rest,
From an o’erfull heart, without aim or art;
‘T is a song of the merriest.

O ye who toil in the town,
And ye who moil in the mart,
Hear the artless song, and your faith made strong
Shall renew your joy of heart.

Oh, poor were the worth of the world
If never a song were heard,—
If the sting of grief had no relief,
And never a heart were stirred.

So, long as the streams run down,
And as long as the robins trill,
Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
And sing in the face of ill.

*From The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1913)

Categories
19th century 20th century African-American Paul Laurence Dunbar

“The Poet and His Song”


by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

A song is but a little thing,
And yet what joy it is to sing!
In hours of toil it gives me zest,
And when at eve I long for rest;
When cows come home along the bars,
And in the fold I hear the bell,
As Night, the shepherd, herds his stars,
I sing my song, and all is well.

There are no ears to hear my lays,
No lips to lift a word of praise;
But still, with faith unfaltering,
I live and laugh and love and sing.
What matters yon unheeding throng?
They cannot feel my spirit’s spell,
Since life is sweet and love is long,
I sing my song, and all is well.

My days are never days of ease;
I till my ground and prune my trees.
When ripened gold is all the plain,
I put my sickle to the grain.
I labor hard, and toil and sweat,
While others dream within the dell;
But even while my brow is wet,
I sing my song, and all is well.

Sometimes the sun, unkindly hot,
My garden makes a desert spot;
Sometimes a blight upon the tree
Takes all my fruit away from me;
And then with throes of bitter pain
Rebellious passions rise and swell;
But—life is more than fruit or grain,
And so I sing, and all is well.

Categories
18th Century African-American Literature Phillis Wheatley Phyllis Wheatley poet Poetry Uncategorized United States women women poets

“To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth”


by Phillis Wheatley

HAIL, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom’s charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear’d the Goddess long desir’d,
Sick at the view, she languish’d and expir’d;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress’d complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t’ enslave the land.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favours to renew,
Since in thy pow’r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did’st once deplore.
May heav’nly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot’s name,
But to conduct to heav’ns refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th’ ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.

This poem is in the public domain.

Categories
African-American America American American Poetry Black History General Harlem Renaissance Jean Toomer Poetry United States

“Beehive”


by Jean Toomer

Jean Toomer circa 1920 – 1930

Within this black hive to-night
There swarm a million bees;
Bees passing in and out the moon,
Bees escaping out the moon,
Bees returning through the moon,
Silver bees intently buzzing,
Silver honey dripping from the swarm of bees
Earth is a waxen cell of the world comb,
And I, a drone,
Lying on my back,
Lipping honey,
Getting drunk with that silver honey,
Wish that I might fly out past the moon
And curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower.

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
18th Century African-American American American Poetry Black History Poetry Uncategorized

From “An Anniversary Poem, Entitled, ‘The Progress of Liberty” by James Madison Bell (1826 – 1902)


 

BY James Madison Bell

Bondsman’s gloomy night has passed; The
The slavery of this land is dead;
No tyrant’s power, however vast,
Can wake it from its gory bed.
For in the order of events,
And after an ignoble reign,
It died. None mourned its going hence,
Nor followed in its funeral train;
Ignoble birth, ignoble life,
Ignoble death, ignoble doom!
Conceived by fiends in deadly strife,
And cast into a nameless tomb.

Though slavery’s dead, yet there remains
A work for those from whom the chains
Today are falling one by one;
Nor should they deem their labor done,
Nor shrink the task, however hard,
While it insures a great reward,
And bids them on its might depend
For perfect freedom in the end.

Commend yourselves through self-respect;
Let self-respect become your guide:
Then will consistency reflect
Your rightful claims to manhood’s pride.
But while you cringe and basely cower,
And while you ostracise your class,
Heaven will ne’er assume the power
To elevate you as a mass.

In this yourselves must take the lead;
You must yourselves first elevate;
Till then the world will ne’er concede
Your claims to manhood’s high estate.
Respect yourself ; this forms the base
Of manhood’s claim to man’s regard.
Next to yourself, respect your race,
Whose care should be your constant ward;
Remember that you are a class
Distinct and separate in this land,
And all the wealth you may amass,
Or skill, or learning, won’t command
That high respect you vainly seek,
Until you practice what you claim —
Until the acts and words you speak
Shall, in the concrete, be the same.

Screen not behind a pallid brow;
Paint lends no virtue to the face;
Until the Black’s respected, thou,
With all the branches of his race,
Must bow beneath the cruel ban
And often feel the wrinkled brow
Bent on you by a fellow-man
Not half so worthy, oft, as thou.

Away with caste, and let us fight
As men, the battles of the free,
And Heaven will arm you with the might
And power of man’s divinity.
There may be causes for distrust,
And many an act that seems unjust;
But who, when taking all in all,
And summing up our present state,
Would find no objects to extol,
No worthy deeds to emulate?

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
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.