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
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
America American Black History Celebration Faith James Weldon Johnson poet Poetry Religion and Spirituality Uncategorized United States

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”


by James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson circa
(1900 – 1920) / SOURCE: U.S. Library of Congress
“Lift Every Voice” / Original Version


Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

“Lift Every Voice” by James Weldon Johnson, sung by Committed


Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

Alicia Keys – Lift Every Voice and Sing Performance

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.

This poem is in the public domain.

Categories
America American American Poetry Marianne Moore poet Poetry Uncategorized United States women women poets

“A Jelly Fish”


by Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore posing for the camera for photography George Platt Lynes. Moore is wearing a black dress.
Mrarianne Moore Photographed by George Platt Lynes (1935)

Visible, invisible,
A fluctuating charm,
An amber-colored amethyst
Inhabits it; your arm
Approaches, and
It opens and
It closes;
You have meant
To catch it,
And it shrivels;
You abandon
Your intent—
It opens, and it
Closes and you
Reach for it—
The blue
Surrounding it
Grows cloudy, and
It floats away
From you.

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 America American American Poetry Black History Leslie Pinckney Hill Poetry Uncategorized United States

“Tuskegee” by Leslie Pinckney Hill (1880 – 1960)


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.

Categories
20th century America American American Poetry Black History Lucian B. Watkins United States

“Star of Ethiopia” by Lucian B. Watkins (1871 – 1938)


Out in the Night thou art the sun
Toward which thy soul-charmed children run,
  The faith-high height whereon they see
  The glory of their Day To Be—
The peace at last when all is done.

The night is dark but, one by one,
Thy signals, ever and anon,
  Smile beacon answers to their plea,
  Out in the Night.

Ah, Life! thy storms these cannot shun;
Give them a hope to rest upon,
  A dream to dream eternally,
  The strength of men who would be free
And win the battle race begun,
  Out in the Night!

Categories
20th century African-American America American American Poetry Black History Paul Laurence Dunbar United States

“Little Brown Baby” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)


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!