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James Weldon Johnson.

The book of American Negro poetry online

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Kaze it jes won't be denied ;

Its a mos' pursistin' stubbern sortah thin';

Anti Tox' doan neutrolize it;

Doctahs fail to analyze it;

So I yiel's (dough I despise it)

To dat res'less, wretchit fevah evah Sprin*.



114 Ray G. Dandridge



DE DRUM MAJAH

He's struttin' sho ernuff,
Wearin' a lady's muff
En* ways erpon his head,
Red coat ob reddest red,
Purtty white satin ves',
Gole braid ercross de ches';
Goo'ness! he cuts a stunt,
Prancin* out dar in frunt,
Leadin' his ban'.

Wen dat ah whistle blows,
Each man behine him knows
'Zacklee whut he mus' do;
You bet! he dues it, too.
Wen dat brass stick he twirls,
Ole maids an' lub-sick gurls
Looks on wid longin' eyes,
Dey simpley idolize
Dat han'sum man.

Sweet fife an' piccalo,
Bofe warblin' sof an' lo',
Slide ho'n an' saxophones,
Jazz syncopated tones,
Snare drum an' lead cornet,
Alto an* clarinet,
Las', but not least, dar cum
Cymbals an' big bass drum
O ! whut a ban' !



Ray G. Dandridge

Cose, we all undahstan'
Each piece he'ps maik de ban',
But dey all mus' be led,
Sum one mus' be de head :
No doubt, de centipede
Has all de laigs he need,
But take erway de head,
Po' centipede am dead;
So am de ban'.



Fenton Johnson

CHILDREN OF THE SUN

We are children of the sun,

Rising sun!

Weaving Southern destiny,
Waiting for the mighty hour
When our Shiloh shall appear
With the flaming sword of right,
With the steel of brotherhood,
And emboss in crimson die
Liberty ! Fraternity !

We are the star-dust folk,

Striving folk!

Sorrow songs have lulled to rest;
Seething passions wrought through wrongs,
Led us where the moon rays dip
In the night of dull despair,
Showed us where the star gleams shine,
And the mystic symbols glow
Liberty ! Fraternity !

We have come through cloud and mist,

Mighty men !

Dusk has kissed our sleep-born eyes,
117



n8 Fenton Johnson

Reared for us a mystic throne
In the splendor of the skies,
That shall always be for us,
Children of the Nazarene,
Children who shall ever sing
Liberty ! Fraternity !



Fenton Johnson 119

THE NEW DAY
From a vision red with war I awoke and saw the Prince

of Peace hovering over No Man's Land.
Loud the whistles blew and the thunder of cannon was

drowned by the happy shouting of the people.
From the Sinai that faces Armageddon I heard this chant

from the throats of white-robed angels:

Blow your trumpets, little children!

From the East and from the West,

From the cities in the valley,

From God's dwelling on the mountain,

Blow your blast that Peace might know

She is Queen of God's great army.

With the crying blood of millions

We have written deep her name

In the Book of all the Ages;

With the lilies in the valley,

With the roses by the Mersey,

With the golden flower of Jersey

We have crowned her smooth young temples.

Where her footsteps cease to falter

Golden grain will greet the morning,

Where her chariot descends

Shall be broken down the altars

Of the gods of dark disturbance.

Nevermore shall men know suffering,

Nevermore shall women wailing

Shake to grief the God of Heaven.

From the East and from the West,

From the cities in the valley,



I2O Fenton Johnson

From God's dwelling on the mountain,
Little children, blow your trumpets ! '

From Ethiopia, groaning 'neath her heavy burdens, I
heard the music of the old slave songs.

I heard the wail of warriors, dusk brown, who grimly
fought the fight of others in the trenches of Mars.

I heard the plea of blood-stained men of dusk and the
crimson in my veins leapt furiously.

Forget not, O my brothers, how we fought

In No Man's Land that peace might come again!

Forget not, O my brothers, how we gave

Red blood to save the freedom of the world!

We were not free, our tawny hands were tied ;

But Belgium's plight and Serbia's woes we shared

Each rise of sun or setting of the moon.

So when the bugle blast had called us forth

We went not like the surly brute of yore

But, as the Spartan, proud to give the world

The freedom that we never knew nor shared.

These chains, O brothers mine, have weighed us down

As Samson in the temple of the gods;

Unloosen them and let us breathe the air

That makes the goldenrod the flower of Christ.

For we have been with thee in No Man's Land,

Through lake of fire and down to Hell itself ;

And now we ask of thee our liberty,

Our freedom in the land of Stars and Stripes.

I am glad that the Prince of Peace is hovering over No
Man's Land.



Fenton Johnson 121



TIRED

I am tired of work; I am tired of building up somebody

else's civilization.
Let us take a rest, M'Lissy Jane.
I will go down to the Last Chance Saloon, drink a gallon

or two of gin, shoot a game or two of dice and

sleep the rest of the night on one of Mike's barrels.
You will let the old shanty go to rot, the white people's

clothes turn to dust, and the Calvary Baptist Church

sink to the bottomless pit.
You will spend your days forgetting you married me and

your nights hunting the warm gin Mike serves the

ladies in the rear of the Last Chance Saloon.
Throw the children into the river; civilization has given

us too many. It is better to die than it is to grow

up and find out that you are colored.
Pluck the stars out of the heavens. The stars mark our

destiny. The stars marked my destiny.
I am tired of civilization.



122 Fenton Johnson



THE BANJO PLAYER

There is music in me, the music of a peasant people.

I wander through the levee, picking my banjo and sing-
ing my songs of the cabin and the field. At the
Last Chance Saloon I am as welcome as the violets
in March; there is always food and drink for me
there, and the dimes of those who love honest music.
Behind the railroad tracks the little children clap
their hands and love me as they love Kris Kringle.

But I fear that I am a failure. Last night a woman
called me a troubadour. What is a troubadour?



Fenton Johnson 123



THE SCARLET WOMAN

Once I was good like the Virgin Mary and the Minis-
ter's wife.

My father worked for Mr. Pullman and white people's
tips; but he died two days after his insurance ex-
pired.

I had nothing, so I had to go to work.

All the stock I had was a white girl's education and a
face that enchanted the men of both races.

Starvation danced with me.

So when Big Lizzie, who kept a house for white men,
came to me with tales of fortune that I could reap
from the sale of my virtue I bowed my head to Vice.

Now I can drink more gin than any man for miles
around.

Gin is better than all the water in Lethe.



R. Nathaniel Dett

THE RUBINSTEIN STACCATO ETUDE

Staccato! Staccato!
Leggier agitato!

In and out does the melody twist
Unique proposition
Is this composition.

(Alas! for the player who hasn't the wrist!)
Now in the dominant
Theme ringing prominent,

Bass still repeating its one monotone,
Double notes crying,
Up keyboard go flying,

The change to the minor comes in like a groan.
Without a cessation
A chaste modulation

Hastens adown to subdominant key,
Where melody mellow-like
Singing so 'cello-like

Rises and falls in a wild ecstasy.
Scarce is this finished
When chords all diminished

Break loose in a patter that comes down like rain,
A pedal-point wonder
Rivaling thunder.

Now all is mad agitation again.
125



ia6 R. Nathaniel Dett

Like laughter jolly
Begins the finale;

Again does the 'cello its tones seem to lend
Diminuendo ad molto crescendo.

Ah ! Rubinstein only could make such an end !



Georgia Douglas Johnson

THE HEART OF A WOMAN

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o'er life's turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.

The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.



127



128 Georgia Douglas Johnson



YOUTH

The dew is on the grasses, dear,

The blush is on the rose,
And swift across our dial-youth,

A shifting shadow goes.

The primrose moments, lush with bliss,

Exhale and fade away,
Life may renew the Autumn time,

But nevermore the May !



Georgia Douglas Johnson 129



LOST ILLUSIONS

Oh, for the veils of my far away youth,
Shielding my heart from the blaze of the truth,
Why did I stray from their shelter and grow
Into the sadness that follows to know!

Impotent atom with desolate gaze
Threading the tumult of hazardous ways
Oh, for the veils, for the veils of my youth
Veils that hung low o'er the blaze of the truth!



130 Georgia Douglas Johnson



I WANT TO DIE WHILE YOU LOVE ME

I want to die while you love me,
While yet you hold me fair,

While laughter lies upon my lips
And lights are in my hair.

I want to die while you love me,

And bear to that still bed,
Your kisses turbulent, unspent

To warm me when I'm dead.

I want to die while you love me
Oh, who would care to live

Till love has nothing more to ask
And nothing more to give!

I want to die while you love me

And never, never see
The glory of this perfect day

Grow dim or cease to be.



Georgia Douglas Johnson 1131



WELT

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!



132 Georgia Douglas Johnson



MY LITTLE DREAMS

I'm folding up my little dreams
Within my heart to-night,
And praying I may soon forget
The torture of their sight.

For Time's deft fingers scroll my brow,
With fell relentless art
I'm folding up my little dreams
To-night, within my heart!



Claude McKay

THE LYNCHING

His spirit in smoke ascended to high heaven.

His father, by the crudest way of pain,

Had bidden him to his bosom once again;

The awful sin remained still unforgiven.

All night a bright and solitary star

(Perchance the one that ever guided him,

Yet gave him up at last to Fate's wild whim)

Hung pitifully o'er the swinging char.

Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came to view

The ghastly body swaying in the sun:

The women thronged to look, but never a one

Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue ;

And little lads, lynchers that were to be,

Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.



134 Claude McKay



IF WE MUST DIE

If we must die let it not be. like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain ; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us still be brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave ?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!



Claude McKay 135



TO THE WHITE FIENDS

Think you I am not fiend and savage too?

Think you I could not arm me with a gun

And shoot down ten of you for every one

Of my black brothers murdered, burnt by you?

Be not deceived, for every deed you do

I could match out-match : am I not Africa's son,

Black of that black land where black deeds are done?

But the Almighty from the darkness drew
My soul and said : Even thou shalt be a light
Awhile to burn on the benighted earth,
Thy dusky face I set among the white
For thee to prove thyself of highest worth;
Before the world is swallowed up in night,
To show thy little lamp : go forth, go forth !



136 Claude McKay



THE HARLEM DANCER

Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes
And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway;
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes
Blown by black players upon a picnic day.
She sang and danced on gracefully and calm,
The light gauze hanging loose about her form;
To me she seemed a proudly-swaying palm
Grown lovelier for passing through a storm.
Upon her swarthy neck black, shiny curls
Profusely fell; and, tossing coins in praise,
The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,
Devoured her with their eager, passionate gaze;
But, looking at her falsely-smiling face
I knew her .self was not in that strange place.



Claude McKay 137



HARLEM SHADOWS

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass

In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall

Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass
Eager to heed desire's insistent call:

Ah, little dark girls, who in slippered feet

Go prowling through the night from street to street.

Through the long night until the silver break

Of day the little gray feet know no rest,
Through the lone night until the last snow-flake

Has dropped from heaven upon the earth's white breast,
The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet

Are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.

Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way

Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,
Has pushed the timid little feet of clay.

The sacred brown feet of my fallen race!
Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet

In Harlem wandering from street to street.



138 Claude McKay



AFTER THE WINTER

Some day, when trees have shed their leaves,

And against the morning's white
The shivering birds beneath the eaves

Have sheltered for the night,
We'll turn our faces southward, love,

Toward the summer isle
Where bamboos spire the shafted grove

And wide-mouthed orchids smile.

And we will seek the quiet hill

Where towers the cotton tree,
And leaps the laughing crystal rill,

And works the droning bee.
And we will build a lonely nest

Beside an open glade,
And there forever will we rest,

O love O nut-brown maid!



Claude McKay 139



SPRING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

Too green the springing April grass,
Too blue the silver speckled sky,
For me to linger here, alas,
While happy winds go laughing by,
Wasting the golden hours indoors,
Washing windows and scrubbing floors.

Too wonderful the April night,

Too faintly sweet the first May flowers,

The stars too gloriously bright,

For me to spend the evening hours,

When fields are fresh and streams are leaping,

Wearied, exhausted, dully sleeping.



140 Claude McKay



THE TIRED WORKER

O whisper, O my soul! the afternoon

Is waning into evening whisper soft!

Peace, O my rebel heart! for soon the moon

From out its misty veil will swing aloft !

Be patient, weary body, soon the night

Will wrap thee gently in her sable sheet,

And with a leaden sigh thou wilt invite

To rest thy tired hands and aching feet.

The wretched day was theirs, the night is mine;

Come, tender sleep, and fold me to thy breast.

But what steals out the gray clouds red like wine?

O dawn! O dreaded dawn! O let me rest!

Weary my veins, my brain, my life, have pity!

No ! Once again the hard, the ugly city.



Claude McKay 141



THE BARRIER

I must not gaze at them although
Your eyes are dawning day ;

I must not watch you as you go
Your sun-illumined way;

I hear but I must never heed

The fascinating note,
Which, fluting like a river-reed,

Comes from your trembling throat ;

I must not see upon your face
Love's softly glowing spark;

For there's the barrier of race,
You're fair and I am dark.



142 Claude McKay



TO O. E. A.

Your voice is the color of a robin's breast,
And there's a sweet sob in it like rain still rain in the

night.

Among the leaves of the trumpet-tree, close to his nest,
The pea-dove sings, and each note thrills me with

strange delight
Like the words, wet with music, that well from your

trembling throat.

I'm afraid of your eyes, they're so bold,
Searching me through, reading my thoughts, shining

like gold.
But sometimes they are gentle and soft like the dew on

the lips of the eucharis
Before the sun comes warm with his lover's kiss,

You are sea-foam, pure with the star's loveliness,
Not mortal, a flower, a fairy, too fair for the beauty-
shorn earth,
All wonderful things, all beautiful things, gave of theii

wealth to your birth :
O I love you so much, not recking of passion, that I

feel it is wrong,
But men will love you, flower, fairy, non-mortal

spirit burdened with flesh,
Forever, life-long.



Claude McKay 143



FLAME-HEART

So much have I forgotten in ten years,

So much in ten brief years; I have forgot
What time the purple apples come to juice

And what month brings the shy forget-me-not;
Forgotten is the special, startling season

Of some beloved tree's flowering and fruiting,
What time of year the ground doves brown the fields

And fill the noonday with their curious fluting:
I have forgotten much, but still remember
The poinsettia's red, blood-red in warm December.

I still recall the honey-fever grass,

But I cannot bring back to mind just when
We rooted them out of the ping-wing path

To stop the mad bees in the rabbit pen.
I often try to think in what sweet month

The languid painted ladies used to dapple
The yellow bye road mazing from the main,

Sweet with the golden threads of the rose-apple:
I have forgotten, strange, but quite remember
The poinsettia's red, blood-red in warm December.

What weeks, what months, what time o' the mild year
We cheated school to have our fling at tops?

What days our wine-thrilled bodies pulsed with joy
Feasting upon blackberries in the copse?



144 Claude McKay

Oh, some I know! I have embalmed the days,
Even the sacred moments, when we played,

All innocent of passion uncorrupt,

At noon and evening in the flame-heart's shade;

We were so happy, happy, I remember

Beneath the poinsettia's red in warm December.



Claude McKay 145



TWO-AN'-SIX

Merry voices chatterin',
Nimble feet dem patterin',
Big an' little, faces gay,
Happy day dis market day.

Sateday, de marnin' break,
Soon, soon market-people wake;
An' de light shine from de moon
While dem boy, wid pantaloon
Roll up ober dem knee-pan,
'Tep across de buccra Ian*
To de pastur whe' de harse
Feed along wid de jackass,
An' de mule cant' in de track
Wid him tail up in him back,
All de ketchin' to defy,
No ca' how dem boy might try.

In de early marnin'-tide,
When de cocks crow on de hill
An' de stars are shinin' still,
Mirrie by de fireside
Hots de coffee for de lads
Comin' ridin' on de pads
T'rown across dem animul
Donkey, harse too, an' de mule,
Which at last had come do'n cool,
On de bit dem hoi' dem full :



146 Claude McKay

Racm' ober pastur' Ian',
See dem comin' ebery man,
Comin' fe de steamin' tea
Ober hilly track an' lea.

Hard-wuk'd donkey on de road
Trottin' wid him ushal load,
Hamper pack' wi' yam an' grain,
Sour-sop, and Gub'nor cane.

Cous' Sun sits in hired dray,
Drivin' 'long de market way ;
Whole week grindin' sugar cane
T'rough de boilin' sun an' rain,
Now, a'ter de toilin' hard,
He goes seekin' his reward,
While he's thinkin' in him min'
Of de dear ones lef ' behin',
Of de loved though ailin' wife,
Darlin' treasure of his life,
An' de picknies, six in all,
Whose 'nuff burdens 'pon him fall
Seben lovin' ones in need,
Seben hungry mouths f e feed ;
On deir wants he thinks alone,
Neber dreamin' of his own,
But gwin' on wid joyful face
Till him re'ch de market-place.

Sugar bears no price to-day,
Though it is de mont' o' May,



Claude McKay 147

When de time is hellish hot,
An' de water cocoanut
An' de cane bebridge is nice,
Mix' up wid a lilly ice.
Big an' little, great an' small,
Af ou yam is all de call ;
Sugar tup an* gill a quart,
Yet de people hab de heart
Wantin' brater top o' i',
Want de sweatin' higgler fe
Ram de pan an' pile i' up,
Yet sell i' fe so-so tup.

Cousin Sun is lookin' sad,

As de market is so bad;

Ton him han' him res' him chin,

Quietly sit do'n thinkin'

Of de loved wife sick in bed,

An' de children to be fed

What de laborers would say

When dem know him couldn' pay;

Also what about de mill

Whe' him hire from ole Bill;

So him think, an' think on so,

Till him t'oughts no more could go.

Then he got up an' began
Pickin' up him sugar-pan :
In his ears rang t'rough de din
"Only two-an'-six a tin'."
What a tale he'd got to tell,
How bad, bad de sugar sell !



148 Claude McKay

Tekin' out de lee amount,
Him set do'n an' begin count
All de time him min' deh doubt
How expenses would pay out;
Ah, it gnawed him like de ticks,
Sugar sell fe two-an'-six!



So he journeys on de way,
Feelin' sad dis market day;
No e'en buy a little cake
To gi'e baby when she wake,
Passin' 'long de candy-shop
'Douten eben mek a stop
To buy drops fe las'y son,
For de lilly cash nea' done.
So him re'ch him own a groun',
An' de children scamper roun',
Each one stretchin' out him han',
Lookin' to de poor sad man.

Oh, how much he felt de blow,
As he watched dem face fall low,
When dem wait an' nuttin' came
An' drew back deir han's wid shame!
But de sick wife kissed his brow:
"Sun, don't get down-hearted now;
Ef we only pay expense
We mus' wuk we common-sense,
Cut an' carve, an' carve an' cut,
Mek gill sarbe fe quattiewut;



Claude McKay 149

We mus' try mek two ends meet
Neber mind how hard be it.
We won't mind de haul an' pull,
While dem pickny belly full."

An' de shadow lef him face,
An' him felt an inward peace,
As he blessed his better part
For her sweet an' gentle heart :
"Dear one o' my heart, my breat',
Won't I lub you to de dear,'?
When my heart is weak an' sad,
Who but you can mek it glad?"

So dey kissed an' kissed again,
An' deir t'oughts were not on pain,
But was 'way down in de sout'
Where dey'd wedded in deir yout',
In de marnin' of deir life
Free from all de grief an' strife,
Happy in de marnin' light,
Never thinkin' of de night.

So dey k'lated eberyt'ing;
An' de profit it could bring,
A'ter all de business fix',
Was a princely two-an'-six.



Joseph S. Cotter, Jr.

A PRAYER

As I lie in bed,

Flat on my back ;

There passes across my ceiling

An endless panorama of things

Quick steps of gay-voiced children,

Adolescence in its wondering silences,

Maid and man on moonlit summer's eve,

Women in the holy glow of Motherhood,

Old men gazing silently thru the twilight

Into the beyond.

O God, give me words to make my dream-children live.



152 Joseph S. Cotter, Jr.



AND WHAT SHALL YOU SAY?

Brother, come!

And let us go unto our God.

And when we stand before Him

I shall say

"Lord, I do not hate,

I am hated.

I scourge no one,

I am scourged.

I covet no lands,

My lands are coveted.

I mock no peoples,

My people are mocked."

And, brother, what shall you say?



Joseph S. Cotter, Jr. 153



IS IT BECAUSE I AM BLACK?

Why do men smile when I speak,

And call my speech

The whimperings of a babe

That cries but knows not what it wants ?

Is it because I am black?

Why do men sneer when I arise
And stand in their councils,
And look them eye to eye,
And speak their tongue?
Is it because I am black ?



154 Joseph S. Cotter, Jr.



THE BAND OF GIDEON

The band of Gideon roam the sky,
The howling wind is their war-cry,
The thunder's roll is their trump's peal,
And the lightning's flash their vengeful steel.

Each black cloud

Is a fiery steed.

And they cry aloud

With each strong deed,
"The sword of the Lord and Gideon."

And men below rear temples high

And mock their God with reasons why,

And live in arrogance, sin and shame,

And rape their souls for the world's good name.

Each black cloud

Is a fiery steed.

And they cry aloud

With each strong deed,
"The sword of the Lord and Gideon.'*

The band of Gideon roam the sky

And view the earth with baleful eye;

In holy wrath they scourge the land

With earth-quake, storm and burning brand.

Each black cloud

Is a fiery steed.

And they cry aloud

With each strong deed,
"The sword of the Lord and Gideon."



Joseph S. Cotter, Jr. 155

The lightnings flash and the thunders roll,
And "Lord have mercy on my soul,"
Cry men as they fall on the stricken sod,
In agony searching for their God.

Each black cloud

Is a fiery steed.

And they cry aloud

With each strong deed,
"The sword of the Lord and Gideon."

And men repent and then forget

That heavenly wrath they ever met,

The band of Gideon yet will come

And strike their tongues of blasphemy dumb.

Each black cloud

Is a fiery steed.

And they cry aloud

With each strong deed,
"The sword of the Lord and Gideon."



156 Joseph S. Cotter, Jr.


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