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 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
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
American American Poetry Black History General History Phillis Wheatley poet Poetry Religion and Spirituality Uncategorized United States women women poets

On Being Brought from Africa to America


by Phillis Wheatley

May 8, 1753 – December 5th, 1784
Listen to “On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheatley

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

This poem is in the public domain.

Reprinted in “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African”
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
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 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 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!