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.
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.
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.
And when my Joy was born, I held it in my arms and stood on the house-top shouting, “Come ye, my neighbours, come and see, for Joy this day is born unto me. Come and behold this gladsome thing that laugheth in the sun.”
But none of my neighbours came to look upon my Joy, and great was my astonishment.
And every day for seven moons I proclaimed my Joy from the house-top—and yet no one heeded me. And my Joy and I were alone, unsought and unvisited.
Then my Joy grew pale and weary because no other heart but mine held its loveliness and no other lips kissed its lips.
Then my Joy died of isolation.
And now I only remember my dead Joy in remembering my dead Sorrow. But memory is an autumn leaf that murmurs a while in the wind and then is heard no more.
Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you— Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple? I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem. I went to school there, then Durham, then here to this college on the hill above Harlem. I am the only colored student in my class. The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem, through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas, Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you: hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page. (I hear New York, too.) Me—who? Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. I like to work, read, learn, and understand life. I like a pipe for a Christmas present, or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach. I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like the same things other folks like who are other races. So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white. But it will be a part of you, instructor. You are white— yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. That’s American. Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. Nor do I often want to be a part of you. But we are, that’s true! As I learn from you, I guess you learn from me— although you’re older—and white— and somewhat more free.
Wherefore this busy labor without rest? Is it an idle dream to which we cling, Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing Unto the world their hope? “Build we our best. By hand and thought,” they cry, “although unblessed.” So the great engines throb, and anvils ring, And so the thought is wedded to the thing; But what shall be the end, and what the test? Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see Not many steps ahead, but this we know— If all our toilsome building is in vain, Availing not to set our manhood free, If envious hate roots out the seed we sow, The South will wear eternally a stain.