Categories
African-American American American Poetry Black History Poetry Uncategorized

from “The Octoroon” by Alberry Alston Whitman (1851 – 1901)


from “The Octoroon”

BY ALBERY ALLSON WHITMAN

                                    18

These creatures of the languid Orient,—

      Rare pearls of caste, in their voluptuous swoon

And gilded ease, by Eunuchs watched and pent,

      And doomed to hear the lute’s perpetual tune,

Were passion’s toys—to lust an ornament;

      But not such was our thrush-voiced Octoroon,—

The Southland beauty who was wont to hear

Faith’s tender secrets whispered in her ear.

                                    19

“An honest man’s the noblest work of”—No!

      That threadbare old mistake I’ll not repeat.

A lovely woman—do you not think so?—

      Is God’s best work. That she is man’s helpmeet,

The Bible says, and I will let it go;

      And yet she crowns and makes his life complete.

Who would not shrive himself in her dear face,

And find his sinless Heaven in her embrace!

                                    20

Young Maury loved his slave—she was his own;

      A gift, for all he questioned, from the skies.

Not other fortune had he ever known,

      Like that which sparkled in her wild blue eyes.

Her seal-brown locks and cheeks like roses blown,

      Were wealth to him that e’en the gods might prize.

And when her slender waist to him he drew,

The sum of every earthly bliss he knew.

                                    21

They had grown up together,—he and she—

      A world unto themselves. All else was bare,—

A desert to them and an unknown sea.

      Their lives were like the birds’ lives—free and fair,

And flowed together like a melody.

      They could not live apart, Ah! silly pair!

But since she was his slave, what need to say,

A swarm of troubles soon beset their way?

                                    22

Just in the dawn of blushing womanhood;

      Her swan-neck glimpsed through shocks of wavy hair;

A hint of olives in her gentle blood,

      Suggesting passion in a rosy lair;

This shapely Venus of the cabins stood,

      In all but birth a princess, tall and fair;

And is it any wonder that this brave

And proud young master came to love his slave?

                                    28

If it be shame to love a pretty woman,

      Then shameful loving is a pretty thing.

And of all things the most divinely human

      Is this:—Love purifies life’s Fountain Spring;

And he who has not quaffed that fount is no man—

      I’d rather be a lover than a king.

And then, preach as we will or may, we’ll find

That Cupid, dear young god, is sometimes blind.

                                    55

Before the world, I hold that none of these:

      The Shushan slave, the Oreb shepherdess,

Nor Moab’s gleaner, ever had the ease

      Of carriage, grace of speech, the stateliness

Of step and pose, nor had the art to please

      And charm with symphonies of form and dress,

Nor had such wond’rous eyes, such lovely mouth,

As had this blue-eyed daughter [Lena] of the South!

                                    56

Had priest or prophet ever heard her singing,

      Or seen her, where the clover was in bloom,

Wading knee-deep, while larks were upward springing,

      And winds could scarcely breathe for want of room—

Thus seen her from the dappled hillsides bringing

      The cows home, in the sunset’s golden gloom,

Our good old Bible would have had much more

Of love and romance mixed with sacred lore.

                                    57

What man is there who would not dare defend

      A life like this? Is doing so a sin?

Or who should blush to be known as her friend?

      White wonder of creation, fashioned in

The moulds of loveliness; kings might contend

      On martial fields a prize like her to win,

And yet, the cabin’s hate and mansion’s scorn,—

She suffered both, betwixt them being born.

                                    59

When genial Spring first hears the mating thrush,

      Where waters gossip and the wild flowers throng,

Love rears her altar in the leafy bush,

      And Nature chants the sweetest bridal-song.

When love is free, with madness in its rush,

      Its very strength defends the heart from wrong.

Love, when untutored, walks a harmless way,

With feet, though bare, that never go astray.

                                    153

Mind knows no death. Life is the “first and last.”

      The falling leaf leaves its source living still;

The flower which withers in the autumn blast

      Dies not, but thus escapes the winter’s chill,

And will return, through changes strange and vast,

      When summoned forth to range o’er vale and hill.

Shall mind which thus perceives Life’s changes die?

Hath only matter immortality?

                                    156

But, “if a man die, shall he live again?”

      This baffling question comes from long ago.

Shall ashes only of Life’s torch remain?

      The mind cries out, and Nature answers, “No!”

Ye who have heard the prophesying rain,

      And seen the flowery Resurrection glow:

Ye know of better things than eye hath seen;

Ye know sere Earth is Mother of the green.

                                    157

The wild moose shivers in the north land’s breath,

      Where Huron’s wave upbraids the fretful shore;

The marsh fowl far to southward wandereth

      And calls her tribes to milder climes explore;

All Nature seems to sigh: “Remember death,

      For all the living soon shall be no more.”

But mark how Faith sweeps on with tireless wing,

To find for e’en the fowl an endless spring.

                                    159

Let scoffers mock, let unbelief deny—

      Agnosticism stolidly ignore;

Let worldly wisdom proudly ask us, “Why?”

      And still the soul cries out for something more—

For something better than philosophy—

      Still longs for higher joys and looks before;

And cannot rest—will ne’er contented be,

Till triumph over matter leaves mind free.

                                    160

Then hail we all the spirits of the just,

      With Lena we shall join them all. The mind

Now risen looks down on Life’s unmeaning dust,

      And soars to higher spheres—all unconfined;

To spheres of love and duty, hope and trust;

      And leaves the sordid and corrupt behind.

The Virgin is the sign of vanquished night,

Her child is born—born of the soul—the Light.

                                    161

Farewell! In grandeur sinks the closing day,

      And on our vision slowly fades the light;

And bygone scenes, like shadows fall away,

      To settle in the blank of coming night.

The Octoroon has passed, but not for aye;

      To those who have the gift of inner sight,

The spirit of all nature prophesies

A home for love and beauty in the skies.

Categories
15th Century Poetry Uncategorized women women poets

“The Author to Her Book” by Anne Bradstreet (1612 – 1672


The Author to Her Book

By ANNE BRADSTREET

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.
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
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
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
American American Poetry Edgar Alrbert Guest Uncategorized United States

On Quitting


by Edgar Albert Guest

Edgar Albert Guest (August 20th, 1881 – August 5th, 1959) on his NBC radio program in 1935 // Public Domain
Listen to “On Quitting” by Edgar Albert Guest

How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you quit a thing that you like a lot?
You may talk of pluck; it’s an easy word,
And where’er you go it is often heard;
But can you tell to a jot or guess
Just how much courage you now possess?

You may stand to trouble and keep your grin,
But have you tackled self-discipline?
Have you ever issued commands to you
To quit the things that you like to do,
And then, when tempted and sorely swayed,
Those rigid orders have you obeyed?

Don’t boast of your grit till you’ve tried it out,
Nor prate to men of your courage stout,
For it’s easy enough to retain a grin
In the face of a fight there’s a chance to win,
But the sort of grit that is good to own
Is the stuff you need when you’re all alone.

How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you turn from joys that you like a lot?
Have you ever tested yourself to know
How far with yourself your will can go?
If you want to know if you have grit,
Just pick out a joy that you like, and quit.

It’s bully sport and it’s open fight;
It will keep you busy both day and night;
For the toughest kind of a game you’ll find
Is to make your body obey your mind.
And you never will know what is meant by grit
Unless there’s something you’ve tried to quit.

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
Uncategorized

Happy New Year


We’re taking this time to wish you, and everyone you know, a Happy New Year in 2022!