“The Birth of John Henry” by Melvin B. Tolson (1898 – 1966)


The night John Henry is born an ax
            of lightning splits the sky,
and a hammer of thunder pounds the earth,
      and the eagles and panthers cry!
      John Henry—he says to his Ma and Pa:
            “Get a gallon of barleycorn.
      I want to start right, like a he-man child,
            the night that I am born!”
Says:   “I want some ham hocks, ribs, and jowls,
            a pot of cabbage and greens;
      some hoecackes, jam, and buttermilk,
            a platter of pork and beans!”
      John Henry’s Ma—she wrings her hands,
            and his Pa—he scratches his head.
      John Henry—he curses in giraffe-tall words,
            flops over, and kicks down the bed.
      He’s burning mad, like a bear on fire—
            so he tears to the riverside.
As he stoops to drink, Old Man River gets scared
            and runs upstream to hide!
    Some say he was born in Georgia—O Lord!
            Some say in Alabam.
But it’s writ on the rock at the Big Bend Tunnel:
            “Lousyana was my home.   So scram!”

“An Answer to the Rebus, By The Author of These Poems” by Phillis Wheatley


Phyillis WheatleyThe poet asks, and Phillis can’t refuse
To show th’ obedience of the Infant muse.
She knows the Quail of most inviting taste
Fed Israel’s army in the dreary waste;
And what’s on Britain’s royal standard borne,
But the tall, graceful, rampant Unicorn?
The Emerald with a vivid verdure glows
Among the gems which regal crowns compose;
Boston’s a town, polite and debonair,
To which the beaux and beauteous nymphs repair,
Each Helen strikes the mind with sweet surprise,
While living lightning flashes from her eyes,
See young Euphorbus of the Dardan line
By Manelaus’ hand to death resign:
The well known peer of popular applause
Is C—-m zealous to support our laws.
Quebec now vanquish’d must obey,
She too much annual tribute pay
To Britain of immortal fame.
And add new glory to her name.

“On Imagination” by Phillis Wheatley


Phyllis Wheatley

THY various works, imperial queen, we see,
How bright their forms! how deck’d with pomp
by thee!
Thy wond’rous acts in beauteous order stand,
And all attest how potent is thine hand.
From Helicon’s refulgent heights attend,
Ye sacred choir, and my attempts befriend:
To tell her glories with a faithful tongue,
Ye blooming graces, triumph in my song.
Now here, now there, the roving Fancy flies,
Till some lov’d object strikes her wand’ring eyes,
Whose silken fetters all the senses bind,
And soft captivity involves the mind.
Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.
Though Winter frowns to Fancy’s raptur’d eyes
The fields may flourish, and gay scenes arise;
The frozen deeps may break their iron bands,
And bid their waters murmur o’er the sands.
Fair Flora may resume her fragrant reign,
And with her flow’ry riches deck the plain;
Sylvanus may diffuse his honours round,
And all the forest may with leaves be crown’d:
Show’rs may descend, and dews their gems disclose,
And nectar sparkle on the blooming rose.
Such is thy pow’r, nor are thine orders vain,
O thou the leader of the mental train:
In full perfection all thy works are wrought,
And thine the sceptre o’er the realms of thought.
Before thy throne the subject-passions bow,
Of subject-passions sov’reign ruler thou;
At thy command joy rushes on the heart,
And through the glowing veins the spirits dart.
Fancy might now her silken pinions try
To rise from earth, and sweep th’ expanse on high:
From Tithon’s bed now might Aurora rise,
Her cheeks all glowing with celestial dies,
While a pure stream of light o’erflows the skies.
The monarch of the day I might behold,
And all the mountains tipt with radiant gold,
But I reluctant leave the pleasing views,
Which Fancy dresses to delight the Muse;
Winter austere forbids me to aspire,
And northern tempests damp the rising fire;
They chill the tides of Fancy’s flowing sea,
Cease then, my song, cease the unequal lay.

“He Had His Dream” by Paul Laurance Dunbar


Paul Laurence DunbarHe had his dream, and all through life,
Worked up to it through toil and strife.

Afloat fore’er before his eyes,
It colored for him all his skies:

The storm-cloud dark
Above his bark,

The calm and listless vault of blue
Took on its hopeful hue,

Continue reading “He Had His Dream” by Paul Laurance Dunbar

“On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheately


Phyillis 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, ChristiansNegros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

“An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penetential Cries” by Jupiter Hammon


Jupiter Hammon

Salvation comes by Jesus Christ alone,

    The only Son of God;
Redemption now to every one,
    That love his holy Word.
Dear Jesus we would fly to Thee,
    And leave off every Sin,
Thy Tender Mercy well agree;
    Salvation from our King.

“An Hymn to Morning” by Phillis Wheatley


Phyillis WheatleyATTEND my lays, ye ever honour’d nine,
Assist my labours, and my strains refine;
In smoothest numbers pour the notes along,
For bright Aurora now demands my song.
Aurora hail, and all the thousand dies,
Which deck thy progress through the vaulted skies:
The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays,
On ev’ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays;
Harmonious lays the feather’d race resume,

Continue reading “An Hymn to Morning” by Phillis Wheatley