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19th century 20th century African-American America American American Poetry E.W. Harper Ellen Watkins Harper Frances E. W. Harper General poet Poetry Uncategorized United States Victorian Era Victorian Period

Songs for the People


by Ellen Watkins Harper

Photograph of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper in 1893 as featured in the publication “Women of Distinction: Remarkable in Works and Invincible in Character by Lawson Andrew Scruggs (Raleigh) / State Library of North Carolina, Government & Heritage Library
Listen to “Songs for the People” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper / Read by Teyuna Darris (on YouTube)

Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.
Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.
Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.
Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o’er life’s highway.
I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.
Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.
Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.

Categories
18th Century African-American Literature Phillis Wheatley Phyllis Wheatley poet Poetry Uncategorized United States women women poets

“To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth”


by Phillis Wheatley

HAIL, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom’s charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear’d the Goddess long desir’d,
Sick at the view, she languish’d and expir’d;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress’d complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t’ enslave the land.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favours to renew,
Since in thy pow’r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did’st once deplore.
May heav’nly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot’s name,
But to conduct to heav’ns refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th’ ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.

This poem is in the public domain.

Categories
American American Poetry Black History General History Phillis Wheatley poet Poetry Religion and Spirituality Uncategorized United States women women poets

On Being Brought from Africa to America


by Phillis Wheatley

May 8, 1753 – December 5th, 1784
Listen to “On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phillis 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, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

This poem is in the public domain.

Reprinted in “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African”
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 American Poetry Black History Georgia Douglas Johnson Poetry United States women poets

“Welt” by Georgia Douglas Johnson


Would I might mend the fabric of my youth

That daily flaunts its tatters to my eyes,

Would I might compromise awhile with truth

Until our moon now waxing, wanes and dies.

For I would go a further while with you,

And drain this cup so tantalant and fair

Which meets my parched lips like cooling dew,

Ere time has brushed cold fingers thru my hair!

Categories
19th century 20th century American Poetry Frances E. W. Harper Uncategorized United States women poets

“The Slave Mother” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)


“The Slave Mother”

Heard you that shriek? It rose
   So wildly on the air,
It seem’d as if a burden’d heart
   Was breaking in despair.
Saw you those hands so sadly clasped—
   The bowed and feeble head—
The shuddering of that fragile form—
   That look of grief and dread?
Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
   Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
   Were sweeping through the brain.
She is a mother pale with fear,
   Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kyrtle vainly tries
   His trembling form to hide.
He is not hers, although she bore
   For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
   Is coursing through his veins!
He is not hers, for cruel hands
   May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
   That binds her breaking heart.
His love has been a joyous light
   That o’er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,
   Amid life’s desert wild.
His lightest word has been a tone
   Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one—
   Oh, Father! must they part?
They tear him from her circling arms,
   Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! never more may her sad eyes
   Gaze on his mournful face.
No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
   Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
   Is breaking in despair.
Categories
19th century 20th century African-American American Poetry Frances E. W. Harper Uncategorized United States women poets

“Eliza Harris” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)


“Eliza Harris”

Like a fawn from the arrow, startled and wild,
A woman swept by us, bearing a child;
In her eye was the night of a settled despair,
And her brow was o’ershaded with anguish and care.
She was nearing the river—in reaching the brink,
She heeded no danger, she paused not to think!
For she is a mother—her child is a slave—
And she’ll give him his freedom, or find him a grave!
’Twas a vision to haunt us, that innocent face—
So pale in its aspect, so fair in its grace;
As the tramp of the horse and the bay of the hound,
With the fetters that gall, were trailing the ground!
She was nerved by despair, and strengthen’d by woe,
As she leap’d o’er the chasms that yawn’d from below;
Death howl’d in the tempest, and rav’d in the blast,
But she heard not the sound till the danger was past.
Oh! how shall I speak of my proud country’s shame?
Of the stains on her glory, how give them their name?
How say that her banner in mockery waves—
Her “star-spangled banner”—o’er millions of slaves?
How say that the lawless may torture and chase
A woman whose crime is the hue of her face?
How the depths of forest may echo around
With the shrieks of despair, and the bay of the hound?
With her step on the ice, and her arm on her child,
The danger was fearful, the pathway was wild;
But, aided by Heaven, she gained a free shore,
Where the friends of humanity open’d their door.
So fragile and lovely, so fearfully pale,
Like a lily that bends to the breath of the gale,
Save the heave of her breast, and the sway of her hair,
You’d have thought her a statue of fear and despair.
In agony close to her bosom she press’d
The life of her heart, the child of her breast:—
Oh! love from its tenderness gathering might,
Had strengthen’d her soul for the dangers of flight.
But she’s free!—yes, free from the land where the slave
From the hand of oppression must rest in the grave;
Where bondage and torture, where scourges and chains
Have plac’d on our banner indelible stains.
The bloodhounds have miss’d the scent of her way;
The hunter is rifled and foil’d of his prey;
Fierce jargon and cursing, with clanking of chains,
Make sounds of strange discord on Liberty’s plains.
With the rapture of love and fullness of bliss,
She plac’d on his brow a mother’s fond kiss:—
Oh! poverty, danger and death she can brave,
For the child of her love is no longer a slave!
Categories
19th century 20th century African-American American Poetry Frances E. W. Harper Uncategorized United States women poets

“Lines” by Francis Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)


“Lines”

At the Portals of the Future,
    Full of madness, guilt and gloom,
Stood the hateful form of Slavery,
    Crying, Give, Oh! give me room–
Room to smite the earth with cursing,
    Room to scatter, rend and slay,
From the trembling mother’s bosom
    Room to tear her child away;
Room to trample on the manhood
    Of the country far and wide;
Room to spread o’er every Eden
    Slavery’s scorching lava-tide.
Pale and trembling stood the Future,
    Quailing ‘neath his frown of hate,
As he grasped with bloody clutches
    The great keys of Doom and Fate.
In his hand he held a banner
    All festooned with blood and tears:
‘Twas a fearful ensign, woven
    With the grief and wrong of years.
On his brow he wore a helmet
    Decked with strange and cruel art;
Every jewel was a life-drop
    Wrung from some poor broken heart.
Though her cheek was pale and anxious,
    Yet, with look and brow sublime,
By the pale and trembling Future
    Stood the Crisis of our time.
And from many a throbbing bosom
    Came the words in fear and gloom,
Tell us, Oh! thou coming Crisis,
    What shall be our country’s doom?
Shall the wings of dark destruction
    Brood and hover o’er our land,
Till we trace the steps of ruin
    By their blight, from strand to strand?
Categories
19th century 20th century African-American American Poetry Frances E. W. Harper Uncategorized women poets

“Let the Light Enter” by Francis Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)


“Let the Light Enter”

    The Dying Words of Goethe
“Light! more light! the shadows deepen,
        And my life is ebbing low,
Throw the windows widely open:
        Light! more light! before I go.
“Softly let the balmy sunshine
        Play around my dying bed,
E’er the dimly lighted valley
        I with lonely feet must tread.
“Light! more light! for Death is weaving
        Shadows ‘round my waning sight,
And I fain would gaze upon him
        Through a stream of earthly light.”
Not for greater gifts of genius;
        Not for thoughts more grandly bright,
All the dying poet whispers
        Is a prayer for light, more light.
Heeds he not the gathered laurels,
        Fading slowly from his sight;
All the poet’s aspirations
        Centre in that prayer for light.
Gracious Saviour, when life’s day-dreams
        Melt and vanish from the sight,
May our dim and longing vision
        Then be blessed with light, more light.
Categories
19th century African-American Georgia Douglas Johnson Uncategorized United States women poets

“Smothered Fires” by Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880 – 1966)


"Smothered Fires"
A woman with a burning flame
   Deep covered through the years
With ashes.  Ah! she hid it deep,
   And smothered it with tears.
Sometimes a baleful light would rise
   From out the dusky bed,
And then the woman hushed it quick
   To slumber on, as dead.
At last the weary war was done
   The tapers were alight,
And with a sigh of victory
   She breathed a soft—good-night!
Source: The Heart of a Woman and Other Poems (The Cornhill Company, 1918)