“The Glory of the Day Was In Her Face” by James Weldon Johnson


The glory of the day was in her face,
The beauty of the night was in her eyes.
And over all her loveliness, the grace
Of Morning blushing in the early skies.

And in her voice, the calling of the dove;
Like music of a sweet, melodious part.
And in her smile, the breaking light of love;
And all the gentle virtues in her heart.

And now the glorious day, the beauteous night,
The birds that signal to their mates at dawn,
To my dull ears, to my tear-blinded sight
Are one with all the dead, since she is gone.

“A Negro Love Song” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)


Seen my lady home las’ night,

   Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hel’ huh han’ an’ sque’z it tight,
   Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,
Seen a light gleam f’om huh eye,
An’ a smile go flittin’ by —
   Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hyeahd de win’ blow thoo de pine,
   Jump back, honey, jump back.
Mockin’-bird was singin’ fine,
   Jump back, honey, jump back.
An’ my hea’t was beatin’ so,
When I reached my lady’s do’,
Dat I could n’t ba’ to go —
   Jump back, honey, jump back.
Put my ahm aroun’ huh wais’,
   Jump back, honey, jump back.
Raised huh lips an’ took a tase,
   Jump back, honey, jump back.
Love me, honey, love me true?
Love me well ez I love you?
An’ she answe’d, “‘Cose I do”—
   Jump back, honey, jump back.

“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.

“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.

“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!”

“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.