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American American Poetry Martin Luther King, Jr. poet Poetry United States

The Streetsweeper


by Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Original Caption) 4/3/1968-Memphis, TN: One of the last pictures to be taken of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — speaking to a mass rally April 3 in Memphis — when he said he would not halt his plans for a massive demonstration scheduled for April 8 in spite of a federal injunction. The Nobel Peace Prize Winner was felled by a sniper’s bullet, April 4.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper,
sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures,
sweep streets like Beethoven composed music,
sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera.

Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.
Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say:
Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill,
be a shrub in the valley.
Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail.
If you can’t be a sun, be a star.
For it isn’t by size that you win or fail.
Be the best of whatever you are.

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 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 African-American American American Poetry Black History Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes Uncategorized United States

“Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes


"Mother to Son"
by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.

But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Categories
18th Century American Poetry Uncategorized women poets

“The Watcher” by SARAH JOSEPHA HALE (1787 – 1900)


“The Watcher”

by Sarah Josepha Hale

The night was dark and fearful,
The blast swept wailing by;
A Watcher, pale and tearful,
Look’d forth with anxious eye;
How wistfully she gazes—
No gleam of morn is there!
And then her heart upraises
Its agony of prayer!

Within that dwelling lonely,
Where want and darkness reign,
Her precious child, her only,
Lay moaning in his pain;
And death alone can free him—
She feels that this must be:
“But oh! for morn to see him
Smile once again for me!”

A hundred lights are glancing
In yonder mansion fair,
And merry feet are dancing—
They heed not morning there.
Oh! young and lovely creatures,
One lamp, from out your store,
Would give that poor boy’s features
To her fond gaze once more.

The morning sun is shining—
She heedeth not its ray;
Beside her dead, reclining,
That pale, dead mother lay!
A smile her lip was wreathing,
A smile of hope and love,
As though she still were breathing—
“There’s light for us above!”

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Uncategorized

“Sleep Peacefully” by ALFONSIA STORNI (1892 – 1938)


Sleep Peacefully

BY ALFONSIA STORNI

You said the word that enamors
My hearing. You already forgot. Good.
Sleep peacefully. Your face should
Be serene and beautiful at all hours.

When the seductive mouth enchants
It should be fresh, your speech pleasant;
For your office as lover it’s not good
That many tears come from your face.

More glorious destinies reclaim you
That were brought, between the black wells
Of the dark circles beneath your eyes,
the seer in pain.

The bottom, summit of the beautiful victims!
The foolish spade of some barbarous king
Did more harm to the world and your statue.

 

Categories
19th century Alfonsia Storni Hispanic Latin America Poetry Uncategorized women women poets

“I Am Going To Sleep” by ALFONSIA STORNI (1892 – 1938)


I Am Going To Sleep

BY ALFONSIA STORNI

Teeth of flowers, hairnet of dew,
hands of herbs, you, perfect wet nurse,
prepare the earthly sheets for me
and the down quilt of weeded moss.

I am going to sleep, my nurse, put me to bed.
Set a lamp at my headboard;
a constellation; whatever you like;
all are good: lower it a bit.

Leave me alone: you hear the buds breaking through . . .
a celestial foot rocks you from above
and a bird traces a pattern for you

so you’ll forget . . . Thank you. Oh, one request:
if he telephones again
tell him not to keep trying for I have left . . .

Categories
20th century Alfonsia Storni Poetry Uncategorized women women poets

A Eros (To Eros) by ALFONSIA STORNI (1892 – 1938)


A Eros (To Eros)

BY ALFONSIA STORNI

HE AQUI que te cacé por el pescuezo
a la orilla del mar, mientras movías
las flechas de tu aljaba para herirme
y vi en el suelo tu floreal corona.

Como a un muñeco destripé tu vientre
y examiné sus ruedas engañosas
y muy envuelta en sus poleas de oro
hallé una trampa que decía: sexo.

Sobre la playa, ya un guiñapo triste,
te mostré al sol, buscón de tus hazañas,
ante un corro asustado de sirenas.

Iba subiendo por la cuesta albina
tu madrina de engaños, Doña Luna,
y te arrojé a la boca de las olas.


Translation

I caught you by the neck
on the shore of the sea, while you shot
arrows from your quiver to wound me
and on the ground I saw your flowered crown.

I disemboweled your stomach like a doll’s
and examined your deceitful wheels,
and deeply hidden in your golden pulleys
I found a trapdoor that said: sex.

On the beach I held you, now a sad heap,
up to the sun, accomplice of your deeds,
before a chorus of frightened sirens.
Your deceitful godmother, the moon
was climbing through the crest of the dawn,
and I threw you into the mouth of the waves.

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Uncategorized

“Sweet Torture” by ALFONSIA STORNI (1892 – 1938)


Sweet Torture

BY ALFONSIA STORNI

My melancholy was gold dust in your hands;
On your long hands I scattered my life;
My sweetnesses remained clutched in your hands;
Now I am a vial of perfume, emptied

How much sweet torture quietly suffered,
When, my soul wrested with shadowy sadness,
She who knows the tricks, I passed the days
kissing the two hands that stifled my life