Categories
African-American American Black History Harlem Renaissance Melvin B. Tolson

“A Song for Myself” by Melvin B. Tolson (1898 – 1966)


                                               I judge
My soul
                                               Eagle
                                               Nor mole:
                                               A man
                                               Is what
                                               He saves
                                               From rot.
Categories
African-American American Black History

“A Mathematical Problem in Verse” by Benjamin Banneker


A COOPER and Vintner sat down for a talk,

Both being so groggy, that neither could walk,

Says Cooper to Vintner, “I’m the first of my trade,

There’s no kind of vessel, but what I have made,

And of any shpe, Sir, -just what you will,-

And of any size, Sir, -from a ton to a gill!”

“Then,” says the Vintner, “you’re the man for me,-

Make me a vessel, if we can agree.

The top and the bottom diameter define,

To bear that proportion as fifteen to nine,

Thirty-five inches are just what I crave,

No more and no less, in the depth, will I have;

Just thirty-nine gallons this vessel must hold,-

Then I will reward you with silver or gold,-

Give me your promise, my honest old friend?”

“I’ll make it tomorrow, that you may depend!”

So the next day the Cooper his work to discharge,

Soon made the new vessel, but made it too large;-

He took out some staves, which made it too small,

And then cursed the vessel, the Vintner and all.

He beat on his breast, “By the Powers!” – he swore,

He never would work at his trade any more.

Now my worthy friend, find out, if you can,

The vessel’s dimensions and comfort the man!*

* The greater diameter would be 24.7460 inches, the lesser 14.8476.

Categories
African-American American Black History Harlem Renaissance Jean Toomer

“Georgia Dusk” by Jean Toomer (1894 – 1967)


The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue

   The setting sun, too indolent to hold
   A lengthened tournament for flashing gold,
Passively darkens for night’s barbecue,
A feast of moon and men and barking hounds,
   An orgy for some genius of the South
   With blood-hot eyes and cane-lipped scented mouth,
Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.
The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop,
   And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill,
   Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill
Their early promise of a bumper crop.
Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile
   Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low
   Where only chips and stumps are left to show
The solid proof of former domicile.
Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,
   Race memories of king and caravan,
   High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man,
Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp.
Their voices rise . . the pine trees are guitars,
   Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain . .
   Their voices rise . . the chorus of the cane
Is caroling a vesper to the stars . .
O singers, resinous and soft your songs
   Above the sacred whisper of the pines,
   Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines,
Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs.
Categories
African-American American Black History

“A Golden Day” by Paul Laurence Dunbar


I Found you and I lost you,
All on a gleaming day.
The day was filled with sunshine,
And the land was full of May.

A golden bird was singing
Its melody divine,
I found you and I loved you,
And all the world was mine.

I found you and I lost you,
All on a golden day,
But when I dream of you, dear,
It is always brimming May.

Categories
African-American American Black History

“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!”