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Title: Negro Poets and Their Poems
Author: Kerlin, Robert T.
Language: English
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                              NEGRO POETS
                            AND THEIR POEMS

[Illustration:

EMANCIPATION
By
META WARRICK FULLER]



                              NEGRO POETS
                            AND THEIR POEMS

                                  BY
                           ROBERT T. KERLIN
                  AUTHOR OF “THE VOICE OF THE NEGRO”

                 Still comes the Perfect Thing to man
                 As came the olden gods, in dreams.
                                         J. MORD ALLEN.

                             _ILLUSTRATED_


                     ASSOCIATED PUBLISHERS, INC.,
                           WASHINGTON, D. C.


                           Copyright, 1923,
                                  By
                    THE ASSOCIATED PUBLISHERS, INC.



To the Black and Unknown Bards who gave to the world the priceless
treasure of those “canticles of love and woe,” the camp-meeting
Spirituals; more particularly, to those untaught singers of the old
plantations of the South, whose melodious lullabies to the babes of both
races entered with genius-quickening power into the souls of Poe and
Lanier, Dunbar and Cotter: to them, for whom any monument in stone or
bronze were but mockery, I dedicate this monument of verse, budded by
the children of their vision.



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

PREFACE                                                             xiii


CHAPTER I

THE PRESENT-DAY NEGRO HERITAGE OF SONG                                 1

I. Untaught Melodies:   Folk Song                                      4

 1. The Spirituals                                                     6

 2. The Seculars                                                      12

II. The Earlier Poetry of Art                                         20

 1. Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley                               20

 2. Charles L. Reason                                                 24

 3. George Moses Horton                                               25

 4. Mrs. Frances E. W. Harper                                         26

 5. James Madison Bell and Albery A. Whitman                          32

 6. Paul Laurence Dunbar                                              37

 7. J. Mord Allen                                                     48


CHAPTER II

THE PRESENT RENAISSANCE OF THE NEGRO                                  51

 I. A Glance at the Field                                             51

II. Some Representatives of the Present Era                           70

 1. The Cotters, Father and Son                                       70

 2. James David Corrothers                                            85

 3. A Group of Singing Johnsons:

 James Weldon Johnson                                                 90

 Charles Bertram Johnson                                              95

 Fenton Johnson                                                       99

 Adolphus Johnson                                                    104

 4. William Stanley Braithwaite                                      105

 5. George Reginald Margetson                                        109

 6. William Moore                                                    111

 7. Joshua Henry Jones, Jr.                                          113

 8. Walter Everette Hawkins                                          119

 9. Claude McKay                                                     126

 10. Leslie Pinckney Hill                                            131


CHAPTER III

THE HEART OF NEGRO WOMANHOOD                                         139

 1. Miss Eva A. Jessye                                               139

 2. Mrs. J. W. Hammond                                               142

 3. Mrs. Alice Dunbar-Nelson                                         144

 4. Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson                                     148

 5. Miss Angelina W. Grimké                                          152

 6. Mrs. Anne Spencer                                                156

 7. Miss Jessie Fauset                                               160


CHAPTER IV

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA                                                  163

I. Per Aspera                                                        163

 1. Edward Smythe Jones                                              163

 2. Raymond Garfield Dandridge                                       169

 3. George Marion McClellan                                          173

 4. Charles P. Wilson                                                179

 5. Leon R. Harris                                                   180

 6. Irvin W. Underhill                                               185

II. Ad Astra                                                         187

 1. James C. Hughes                                                  187

 2. Leland Milton Fisher                                             189

 3. W. Clarence Jordan                                               190

 4. Roscoe C. Jamison                                                191


CHAPTER V

THE NEW FORMS OF POETRY                                              197

I. Free Verse                                                        197

 1. Will Sexton                                                      197

 2. Andrea Razafkeriefo                                              197

 3. Langston Hughes                                                  200

II. Prose Poems                                                      201

 1. W. E. Burghardt DuBois                                           201

 2. Kelly Miller                                                     206

 3. Charles H. Conner                                                209

 4. William Edgar Bailey                                             213

 5. R. Nathaniel Dett                                                214


CHAPTER VI

DIALECT VERSE                                                        218

 1. Waverly Turner Carmichael                                        219

 2. Joseph S. Cotter, Sr.                                            220

 3. Raymond Garfield Dandridge                                       221

 4. Sterling M. Means                                                222

 5. J. Mord Allen                                                    223

 6. James Weldon Johnson                                             226

 7. Theodore Henry Shackleford                                       228


CHAPTER VII

THE POETRY OF PROTEST                                                229

 Lucian B. Watkins                                                   237


CHAPTER VIII

MISCELLANEOUS                                                        243

 I. Eulogistic Poems                                                 243

II. Commemorative and Occasional Poems                               254


INDEX OF AUTHORS, WITH BIOGRAPHICAL AND BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTES        269


INDEX OF TITLES                                                      281



ILLUSTRATIONS


EMANCIPATION, BY META V. W. FULLER                         _Frontispiece_

                                                                    PAGE

INSPIRATION, BY META V. W. FULLER                                     11

DANCERS                                                               16

PHILLIS WHEATLEY                                                      23

CHARLES L. REASON                                                     24

FRANCES E. W. HARPER                                                  27

JAMES MADISON BELL                                                    33

PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR                                                  38

ETHIOPIA--AWAKENING, BY META V. W. FULLER                             45

JOSEPH S. COTTER, SR.                                                 70

JOSEPH S. COTTER, JR.                                                 81

J. D. CORROTHERS                                                      86

JAMES WELDON JOHNSON                                                  91

CHARLES BERTRAM JOHNSON                                               95

GEORGE REGINALD MARGETSON                                            110

JOSHUA HENRY JONES, JR.                                              113

WALTER EVERETTE HAWKINS                                              121

CLAUDE MCKAY                                                         126

LESLIE PINCKNEY HILL                                                 131

EVA A. JESSYE                                                        139

MRS. J. W. HAMMOND                                                   142

ALICE DUNBAR NELSON                                                  145

MRS. G. D. JOHNSON                                                   148

ANGELINA GRIMKÉ                                                      152

MRS. ANNE SPENCER                                                    157

JESSIE REDMON FAUSET                                                 160

EDWARD SMYTHE JONES                                                  163

RAYMOND G. DANDRIDGE                                                 169

GEORGE M. MCCLELLAN                                                  173

LEON R. HARRIS                                                       181

IRVIN W. UNDERHILL                                                   185

ROSCOE C. JAMISON                                                    192

LANGSTON HUGHES                                                      199

W. E. B. DU BOIS                                                     201

KELLY MILLER                                                         206

CHARLES H. CONNER                                                    210

R. NATHANIEL DETT                                                    215

THEODORE H. SHACKLEFORD                                              228

EQUALITY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, FROM THE SCHURZ MONUMENT               229

LUCIAN B. WATKINS                                                    237

MAE SMITH JOHNSON                                                    243



PREFACE


_Ad astra per aspera_--that is the old Roman adage. Magnificent is it,
and magnificently is it being in these days exemplified by the American
Negroes, particularly by the increasing number of educated and talented
American Negroes, and most particularly by those who feel the urge to
express in song the emotions and aspirations of their people. A
surprisingly large number is this class. Without exhausting the
possibilities of selection I have quoted in this anthology of
contemporary Negro poetry sixty odd writers of tolerable verse that
exhibits, besides form, at least one fundamental quality of poetry,
namely, passion.

The mere number, large as it is, would of course not signify by itself.
Nor does the phrase “tolerable verse,” cautiously chosen, seem to
promise much. What this multitude means, and whether the verse be worthy
of a more complimentary description, I leave to the reader’s judgment.
Quality of expression and character of content are of course the
prepotent considerations.

While, in a preliminary section, I have passed in review the poetry of
the Negro up to and including Dunbar, not neglecting the old religious
songs of the plantation, or “Spirituals,” and the dance, play, and
nursery rhymes, or “Seculars,” yet strictly speaking this is a
representation of new Negro voices, an anthology of present-day Negro
verse, with biographical items and critical, or at least appreciative
comment.

I wish most heartily to express my obligations to the publishers and
authors of the volumes I have drawn upon for selections. They are named
in the Index and Biographical and Bibliographical Notes at the end of
the text. But for the reader’s convenience I collect their names here:

Richard E. Badger, publisher of Walter Everette Hawkins’s _Chords and
Discords_; A. B. Caldwell, Atlanta, Ga., publisher of Sterling M. Means’
_The Deserted Cabin and Other Poems_; the Cornhill Company, publishers
of Waverley Turner Carmichael’s _From the Heart of a Folk_; Joseph S.
Cotter’s _The Band of Gideon_; Georgia Douglas Johnson’s _The Heart of a
Woman_; Charles Bertram Johnson’s _Songs of My People_; James Weldon
Johnson’s _Fifty Years and Other Poems_; Joshua Henry Jones’s _Poems of
the Four Seas_; Dodd, Mead and Company, publishers of Dunbar’s _Poems_;
the Grafton Press, publishers of H. Cordelia Ray’s _Poems_; Harcourt,
Brace & Company, publishers of W. E. Burghardt DuBois’s _Darkwater_;
Pritchard and Ovington’s _The Upward Path_; the Macmillan Company,
publishers of Thomas W. Talley’s _Negro Folk Rhymes_; the Neale
Publishing Company, publishers of Kelley Miller’s _Out of the House of
Bondage_; J. L. Nichols & Company, Naperville, Ill., publishers of Mrs.
Dunbar-Nelson’s _The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer_, and _The Life and
Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar_; the Stratford Company, publishers of
Joshua Henry Jones’s _The Heart of the World and Other Poems_; and
Leslie Pinckney Hill’s _The Wings of Oppression_. It is with their kind
permission I am privileged to use selections from the books named. To
_The Crisis_, _The Favorite Magazine_, and _The Messenger_, I am
indebted for several selections, which I gratefully acknowledge.

To readers who are disposed to study the poetry of the Negro I would
commend Dr. James Weldon Johnson’s _The Book of American Negro Poetry_
(Harcourt, Brace & Co.) and Mr. Arthur A. Schomburg’s _A Bibliographical
Checklist of American Negro Poetry_ (Charles F. Hartman, New York). I am
indebted to both these books and authors. To Mr. Schomburg I am also
indebted for the loan of many of the pictures of the earlier poets.

                                                               R. T. K.

West Chester, Pa.
March 22, 1923.



NEGRO POETS AND THEIR POEMS



CHAPTER I

THE NEGROES HERITAGE OF SONG


As an empire may grow up within an empire without observation so a
republic of letters within a republic of letters. That thing is
happening today in this land of ours. A literature of significance on
many accounts, and not without various and considerable merits. Its
producers are Negroes. Culture, talent, genius--or something very like
it--are theirs. Nor is it “the mantle of Dunbar” they wrap themselves
in, but an unborrowed singing robe, that better fits “the New Negro.”
The list of names in poetry alone would stretch out, were I to start
telling them over, until I should bring suspicion upon myself as no
trustworthy reporter. Besides, the mere names would mean nothing, since,
as intimated, this little republic has grown up unobserved in our big
one.

It may be more for the promise held forth by their thin little volumes
than for the intrinsic merit of their performance that we should esteem
the verse-makers represented in this survey of contemporary Negro
poetry. Yet on many grounds they should receive candid attention, both
from the students of literature and the students of sociology.
Recognition of real literary merit will be accorded by the one class of
students, and recognition of new aspects of the most serious race
problem of the ages will be forced upon the second class. Justification
enough for the present survey and exhibition will be acknowledged by all
who are earnestly concerned either with literature or with life.

Perhaps, unconsciously, in my comments and estimates I have not
steadfastly kept before me absolute standards of poetry. But where and
when was this ever done? Doubtless in critiques of master poets by
master critics, and only there. In writing of contemporary verse, by
courtesy called poetry, we compromise, our estimates are relative, we
make allowances, our approvals and disapprovals are toned according to
the known circumstances of production. And this is right.

If the prospective reader opens this volume with the demand in his mind
for novelty of language, form, imagery, idea--novelty and quaintness,
perhaps amusing “originality”, or grotesqueness--let him reflect how
unreasonable a similar demand on the part of English critics was a
century ago relative to the beginnings of American poetry. Were not
American poets products of the same culture as their contemporaries in
England? What other language had they than the language of Shakespeare
and Wordsworth, Keats and Tennyson? The same is essentially true of the
American Negro--or the Negro American, if you choose. He is the heir of
Anglo-Saxon culture, he has been nurtured in the same spiritual soil as
his contemporary of the white race, the same traditions of language,
form, imagery, and idea are his. Everything possible has been done to
stamp out his own African traditions and native propensities. Therefore,
let no unreasonable demand be laid upon these Negro rhymers.

Notwithstanding, something distinctive, and something uniquely
significant, may be discerned in these verse productions to reward the
perusal. But this may not be the reader’s chief reward. That may be his
discovery, that, after all, a wonderful likeness rather than unlikeness
to the poetry of other races looks forth from this poetry of the
children of Ham. A valuable result would this be, should it follow.

Before attempting a survey of the field of contemporary verse it will
advantage us to cast a backward glance upon the poetic traditions of the
Negro, to see what is the present-day Negro poet’s heritage of song.
These traditions will be reviewed in two sections: 1. Untaught Melodies;
2. The Poetry of Art. This backward glance will comprehend all that was
sung or written by colored people from Jupiter Hammon to Paul Laurence
Dunbar.


I. UNTAUGHT MELODIES

The Negro might well be expected to exhibit a gift for poetry. His gift
for oratory has long been acknowledged. The fact has been accepted
without reflection upon its significance. It should have been foreseen
that because of the close kinship between oratory and poetry the Negro
would some day, with more culture, achieve distinction in the latter
art, as he had already achieved distinction in the former art. The
endowments which make for distinction in these two great kindred arts,
it must also be remarked, have not been properly esteemed in the Negro.
In other races oratory and poetry have been accepted as the tokens of
noble qualities of character, lofty spiritual gifts. Such they are, in
all races. They spring from mankind’s supreme spiritual impulses, from
mankind’s loftiest aspirations--the aspirations for freedom, for
justice, for virtue, for honor and distinction.

That these impulses, these aspirations, and these endowments are in the
American Negro and are now exhibiting themselves in verse--it is this I
wish to show to the skeptically minded. It will readily be admitted that
the Negro nature is endowed above most others, if not all others, in
fervor of feeling, in the completeness of self-surrender to emotion.
Hence we see that marvelous display of rhythm in the individual and in
the group. This capacity of submission to a higher harmony, a grander
power, than self, affords the explanation of mankind’s highest reaches
of thought, supreme insights, and noblest expressions. Rhythm is its
manifestation. It is the most central and compulsive law of the
universe. The rhythmic soul falls into harmony and co-operation with the
universal creative energy. It therefore becomes a creative soul. Rhythm
visibly takes hold of the Negro and sways his entire being. It makes him
one with the universal Power that Goethe describes, in famous lines, as
“at the roaring loom of time, weaving for God the garment thou seest him
by.”

But fervor of feeling must have some originating cause. That cause is a
conception--the vivid, concrete presentation of an object or idea to the
mind. The Negro has this endowment also. Ideas enter his mind with a
vividness and power which betoken an extraordinary faculty of
imagination. The graphic originality of language commonly exhibited by
the Negro would be sufficient proof of this were other proof wanting. No
one will deny to the Negro this gift. Whoever has listened to a colored
preacher’s sermon, either of the old or the new school, will recall
perhaps more than one example of poetic phrasing, more than one
word-picture, that rendered some idea vivid beyond vanishing. It no
doubt has been made, in the ignorant or illiterate, an object of jest,
just as the other two endowments have been; but these three gifts are
the three supreme gifts of the poet, and the poet is the supreme
outcome of the race: power of feeling, power of imagination, power of
expression--and these make the poet.


_1. The Spirituals_

As a witness of the Negro’s untutored gift for song there are the
Spirituals, his “canticles of love and woe,” chanted wildly, in that
darkness which only a few rays from heaven brightened. Since they
afford, as it were, a background for the song of cultured art which now
begins to appear, I must here give a word to these crude old plantation
songs. They are one of the most notable contributions of any people,
similarly circumstanced, to the world’s treasury of song, altogether the
most appealing. Their significance for history and for art--more
especially for art--awaits interpretation. There are signs that this
interpretation is not far in the future. Dvorak, the Bohemian, aided by
the Negro composer, Harry T. Burleigh, may have heralded, in his “New
World Symphony,” the consummate achievement of the future which shall be
entirely the Negro’s. Had Samuel Coleridge-Taylor been an American
instead of an English Negro, this theme rather than the Indian theme
might have occupied his genius--the evidence whereof is that, removed as
he was from the scenes of plantation life and the tribulations of the
slaves, yet that life and those tribulations touched his heart and
found a place, though a minor one, in his compositions.

But the sister art of poetry may anticipate music in the great feat of
embodying artistically the yearning, suffering, prayerful soul of the
African in those centuries when he could only with patience endure and
trust in God--and wail these mournfullest of melodies. Some lyrical
drama like “Prometheus Bound,” but more touching as being more human;
some epic like “Paradise Lost,” but nearer to the common heart of man,
and more lyrical; some “Divina Commedia,” that shall be the voice of
those silent centuries of slavery, as Dante’s poem was the voice of the
long-silent epoch preceding it, or some lyrical “passion play” like that
of Oberammergau, is the not improbable achievement of some descendant of
the slaves.

In a poem of tender appeal, James Weldon Johnson has celebrated the
“black and unknown bards,” who, without art, and even without letters,
produced from their hearts, weighed down with sorrows, the immortal
Spirituals:

    O black and unknown bards of long ago,
    How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
    How, in your darkness, did you come to know
    The power and beauty of the minstrel’s lyre?
    Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
    Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
    Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
    Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

So begins this noble tribute to the nameless natural poets whose hearts,
touched as a harp by the Divine Spirit, gave forth “Swing Low, Sweet
Chariot,” and “Nobody Knows de Trouble I See,” “Steal Away to Jesus,”
and “Roll, Jordan, Roll.”

Great praise does indeed rightly belong to that black slave-folk who
gave to the world this treasure of religious song. To the world, I say,
for they belong as truly to the whole world as do the quaint and
incomparable animal stories of Uncle Remus. Their appeal is to every
human heart, but especially to the heart that has known great sorrow and
which looks to God for help.

It is only of late their meaning has begun to dawn upon us--their
tragic, heart-searching meaning. Who in hearing these Spirituals sung
to-day by the heirs of their creators can doubt what they meant when
they were wailed in the quarters or shouted in wild frenzy in the
camp-meetings of the slaves? Even the broken, poverty-stricken English
adds infinitely to the pathos:

    I’m walking on borrowed land,
    This world ain’t none of my home.

    We’ll stand the storm, it won’t be long.

    Oh, walk together children,
    Don’t get weary.

    My heavenly home is bright and fair,
    Nor pain nor death can enter there.

    Oh, steal away and pray,
    I’m looking for my Jesus.

    Oh, freedom! oh, freedom! oh, freedom over me!
    An’ before I’d be a slave,
    I’ll be buried in my grave,
    And go home to my Lord an’ be free.

Not a word here but had two meanings for the slave, a worldly one and a
spiritual one, and only one meaning, the spiritual one, for the
master--who gladly saw this religious frenzy as an emotional
safety-valve.

In certain aspects these Spirituals suggest the songs of Zion, the
Psalms. Trouble is the mother of song, particularly of religious song.
In trouble the soul cries out to God--“a very present help in time of
trouble.” The Psalms and the Spirituals alike rise _de profundis_. But
in one respect the songs of the African slaves differ from the songs of
Israel in captivity: there is no prayer for vengeance in the Spirituals,
no vindictive spirit ever even suggested. We can but wonder now at this.
For slavery at its best was degrading, cruel, and oppressive. Yet no
imprecation, such as mars so many a beautiful Psalm, ever found its way
into a plantation Spiritual. A convincing testimony this to that spirit
in the African slave which Christ, by precept and example, sought to
establish in His disciples. If the Negro in our present day is growing
bitter toward the white race, it behooves us to inquire why it is so, in
view of his indisputable patience, meekness, and good-nature. We might
find in our present régime a more intolerable cruelty than belonged even
to slavery, if we investigated honestly. There is certainly a bitter and
vindictive tone in much of the Afro-American verse now appearing in the
colored press. For both races it augurs ill.

But I have not yet indicated the precise place of these Spirituals in
the world’s treasury of song. They have a close kinship with the Psalms
but a yet closer one with the chanted prayers of the primitive
Christians, the Christians when they were the outcasts of the Roman
Empire when to be a Christian was to be a martyr. In secret places, in
catacombs, they sent up their triumphant though sorrowful songs, they
chanted their litanies

          “--that came
    Like the volcano’s tongue of flame
    Up from the burning core below--
    The canticles of love and woe.”

So indeed came the Spirituals of the African slave. These songs might in
truth, to use a figure of the old poets, be called the melodious tears
of those who wailed them. An African proverb says, “We weep in our
hearts like the tortoise.” In their hearts--so wept the slaves, silently
save for these mournful cries in melody. Without means of defense, save
a nature armored with faith, when assailed, insulted, oppressed, they
could but imitate the tortoise when he shuts himself up in his

[Illustration: INSPIRATION

_By Meta Warrick Fuller_]

shell and patiently takes the blows that fall. The world knew not then,
nor fully knows now--partly because of African buoyancy, pliability, and
optimism--what tears they wept. These Spirituals are the golden vials
spoken of in Holy Writ, “full of odors, which are the prayers of
saints”--an everlasting memorial before the throne of God. Other vials
there are, different from these, and they, too, are at God’s right hand.

A Negro sculptor, Mrs. Meta Warrick Fuller, not knowing of this proverb
about the tortoise which has only recently been brought from Africa, but
simply interpreting Negro life in America, has embodied the very idea of
the African saying in bronze. Under the title “Secret Sorrow” a man is
represented as eating his own heart.

The interpretation in art of the Spirituals, or a poetry of art
developed along the lines and in the spirit of those songs, is something
we may expect the black singers of no distant day to produce. Already we
have many a poem that offers striking reminiscences of them.


_2. The Seculars_

But other songs the Negro has which are more noteworthy from the point
of view of art than the Spirituals: songs that are richer in artistic
effects, more elaborate in form, more varied and copious in expression.
These are the Negro’s secular songs and rhymes, his dance, play, and
love-making songs, his gnomic and nursery rhymes.[1] It is not
exaggeration to say that in rhythmic and melodic effects they surpass
any other body of folk-verse whatsoever. In wit, wisdom, and quaint
turns of humor no other folk-rhymes equal them. Prolific, too, in such
productions the race seems to have been, since so many at this late day
were to be found.

It comes not within the scope of this anthology to include any of these
folk-rhymes of the elder day, but a few specimens seem necessary to
indicate to the young Negro who would be a poet his rich heritage of
song and to the white reader what essentially poetic traits the Negro
has by nature. It was “black and unknown bards,” slaves, too, who sang
or said these rhymes:

    Oh laugh an’ sing an’ don’t git tired.
    We’s all gwine home, some Mond’y,
    To de honey pond an’ fritter trees;
    An’ ev’ry day’ll be Sund’y.

Pride, too, and a sense of values had the Negro, bond or free:

    My name’s Ran, I wuks in de san’;
    But I’d druther be a Nigger dan a po’ white man.

    Gwinter hitch my oxes side by side,
    An’ take my gal fer a big fine ride.

After a description of anticipated pleasures and a comic interlude in
dialogue, the ballad from which these two couplets are taken concludes
with that varied repetition of the first stanza which we find so
effective in the poems of art:

    I’d druther be a Nigger, an’ plow ole Beck,
    Dan a white Hill Billy wid his long red neck.

Song or rhyme was, as ever, heart’s ease to the Negro in every trouble.
Here are two rhymes that “pack up” and put away two common troubles:

    She writ me a letter
    As long as my eye.
    An’ she say in dat letter:
    “My Honey!--Good-by!”

    Dem whitefolks say dat money talk.
    If it talk lak dey tell,
    Den ev’ry time it come to Sam,
    It up an’ say: “Farewell!”

Going to the nursery--it was the one room of the log cabin, or the great
out-of-doors--we find the old-time Negro’s head filled with a _Mother
Goose_ more enchanting than any printed and pictured one in the “great
house” of the white child:

    W’en de big owl whoops,
    An’ de screech owl screeks,
    An’ de win’ makes a howlin’ sound;
    You liddle woolly heads
    Had better kiver up,
    Caze de “hants” is comin’ ’round.

    A, B, C,
    Doubled down D;
    I’se so lazy you cain’t see me.

    A, B, C,
    Doubled down D;
    Lazy Chilluns gits hick’ry tea.

     *       *       *       *       *

    Buck an’ Berry run a race,
    Buck fall down an’ skin his face.

    Buck an’ Berry in a stall;
    Buck, he try to eat it all.

    Buck, he e’t too much, you see.
    So he died wid choleree.

But it is in the dance songs that rhythm in its perfection makes itself
felt and that repetends are employed with effects which another Poe or
Lanier might appropriate for supreme art. A lively scene and gay
frolicsome movements are conjured up by the following dance songs:

CHICKEN IN THE BREAD TRAY

    “Auntie, will yo’ dog bite?”--
      “No, Chile! No!”
    Chicken in de bread tray
      A makin’ up dough.

    “Auntie, will yo’ broom hit?”--
      “Yes, Chile!” Pop!
    Chicken in de bread tray;
      “Flop! Flop! Flop!”

    “Auntie, will yo’ oven bake?”--
      “Yes. Jes fry!”--
    “What’s dat chicken good fer?”--
      “Pie! Pie! Pie!”

    “Auntie, is yo’ pie good?”--
      “Good as you could ’spec’.”
    Chicken in de bread tray;
      “Peck! Peck! Peck!”

[Illustration: DANCERS]

JUBA

    Juba dis, an’ Juba dat,
    Juba skin dat Yaller Cat. Juba! Juba!

    Juba jump an’ Juba sing.
    Juba cut dat Pigeon’s Wing. Juba! Juba!

    Juba, kick off Juba’s shoe.
    Juba, dance dat Jubal Jew. Juba! Juba!

    Juba, whirl dat foot about.
    Juba, blow dat candle out. Juba! Juba!

    Juba circle, Raise de Latch.
    Juba do dat Long Dog Scratch. Juba! Juba!

Out of the pastime group I take a rhyme that is typically full of
character, delicious in its wit and proverbial lore:

FATTENING FROGS FOR SNAKES

    You needn’ sen’ my gal hoss apples,
    You needn’ sen’ her ’lasses candy;
    She would keer fer de lak o’ you,
    Ef you’d sen’ her apple brandy.

    W’y don’t you git some common sense?
    Jes git a liddle! Oh fer land sakes!
    Quit yo’ foolin’, she hain’t studyin’ you!
    Youse jes fattenin’ frogs fer snakes!

In the love songs one finds that mingling of pathos and humor so
characteristic of the Negro. The one example I shall give lacks nothing
of art--some unknown Dunbar, some black Bobbie Burns, must have composed
it:

SHE HUGGED ME AND KISSED ME

    I see’d her in de Springtime,
    I see’d her in de Fall,
    I see’d her in de Cotton patch,
    A cameing from de Ball.

    She hug me, an’ she kiss me,
    She wrung my han’ an’ cried.
    She said I wus de sweetes’ thing
    Dat ever lived or died.

    She hug me an’ she kiss me.
    Oh Heaben! De touch o’ her han’!
    She said I wus de puttiest thing
    In de shape o’ mortal man.

    I told her dat I love her,
    Dat my love wus bed-cord strong;
    Den I axed her w’en she’d have me,
    An’ she jes say, “Go long!”

In a very striking way these folk-songs of the plantation suggest the
old English folk-songs of unknown authorship and origin--the ancient
traditional ballads, long despised and neglected, but ever living on and
loved in the hearts of the people. This unstudied poetry of the people,
the unlettered common folk, had supreme virtues, the elemental and
universal virtues of simplicity, sincerity, veracity. It had the power,
in an artificial age, to bring poetry back to reality, to genuine
emotion, to effectiveness, to the common interests of mankind. Simple
and crude as it was it had a merit unknown to the polished verse of the
schools. Potential Negro poets might do well to ponder this fact of
literary history. There is nothing more precious in English literature
than this crude old poetry of the people.

There is a book of rhymes which, every Christmas season, is the favorite
gift, the most gladly received, of all that Santa Claus brings. Nor so
at Christmas only; it is a perennial pleasure, a boon to all children,
young and old in years. This book is _Mother Goose’s Melodies_. How many
“immortal” epics of learned poets it has outlived! How many dainty
volumes of polished lyrics has this humble book of “rhymes” seen vanish
to the dusty realms of dark oblivion! In every home it has a place and
is cherished. Its contents are better known and more loved than the
contents of any other book. Untutored, nameless poets, nature-inspired,
gave this priceless boon to all generations of children, and to all
sorts and conditions--an immortal book. As a life-long teacher and
student of poetry, I venture, with no fear, the assertion that from no
book of verse in our language can the whole art of poetry be so
effectively learned as from _Mother Goose’s Melodies_. Every device of
rhyme, and melody, and rhythm, and tonal color is exemplified here in a
manner to produce the effects which all the great artists in verse aim
at. This book that we all love--and patronize--is the greatest melodic
triumph in the white man’s literature.

Of like merit and certainly no less are the folk rhymes and songs, both
the Spirituals and the Seculars, of the Negro. Their art potentialities
are immense. Well may the aspirant to fame in poetry put these songs in
his memory and peruse them as Burns did the old popular songs of
Scotland, to make them yield suggestions of songs at the highest reach
of art.


II. THE POETRY OF ART

But another heritage of song, not so crude nor yet so precious as the
Spirituals and the Folk Rhymes has the Negro of to-day. That heritage
comes from enslaved and emancipated men and women who by some means or
another learned to write and publish their compositions. Although the
intrinsic value of this heritage of song cannot be rated high, yet,
considering the circumstances of its production, the colored people of
America may well take pride in it. Its incidental value can hardly be
overestimated. In it is the most infallible record we have of the
Negro’s inner life in bondage and in the years following emancipation.
Never broken was the tradition from Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley,
in the last half of the eighteenth century, to Paul Laurence Dunbar and
Joseph Seamon Cotter, in the end of the nineteenth, but constantly
enriched by an increasing number of men and women who sought in the form
of verse a record of their sufferings and yearnings, consolations and
hopes.


_1. Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley_

Jupiter Hammon was the first American Negro poet of whom any record
exists. His first extant poem, “An Evening Thought,” bears the date of
1760, preceding therefore any poem by Phillis Wheatley, his
contemporary, by nine years. Following the title of the poem this
information is given: “Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to
Mr. Lloyd, of Queen’s Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December,
1760.” With this poem of eighty-eight rhyming lines, printed on a
double-column broadside, entered the American Negro into American
literature. For that reason alone, were his stanzas inferior to what
they are, I should include some of them in this anthology. But the truth
is that, as “religious” poetry goes, or went in the eighteenth
century--and Hammon’s poetry is all religious--this Negro slave may hold
up his head in almost any company.

Nevertheless, the reader must not expect poetry in the typical stanzas I
shall quote, but just some remarkable rhyming for an African slave,
untaught and without precedent. “An Evening Thought” runs in such
stanzas as the following:

    Dear Jesus give thy Spirit now,
      Thy Grace to every Nation,
    That han’t the Lord to whom we bow,
      The Author of Salvation.

From “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley, Ethiopian Poetess,” I take
the following as a representative stanza:

    While thousands muse with earthly toys,
      And range about the street,
    Dear Phillis, seek for heaven’s joys,
      Where we do hope to meet.

“A Poem for Children, with Thoughts on Death,” contains such stanzas as
this:

    ’Tis God alone can make you wise,
      His wisdom’s from above,
    He fills the soul with sweet supplies
      By his redeeming love.

Two stanzas from “A Dialogue, Entitled, The Kind Master and the Dutiful
Servant,” will show how that poem runs:

MASTER

    Then will the happy day appear,
      That virtue shall increase;
    Lay up the sword and drop the spear,
      And Nations seek for peace.

SERVANT

    Then shall we see the happy end,
      Tho’ still in some distress;
    That distant foes shall act like friends,
      And leave their wickedness.

Jupiter Hammon’s birth and death dates are uncommemorated because
unknown. Unknown, too, is his grave. But to his memory, no less than to
that of Crispus Attucks, there should somewhere be erected a monument.

[Illustration: PHILLIS WHEATLEY]

Since Stedman included in his _Library of American Literature_ a picture
of Phillis Wheatley and specimens of her verse, a few white persons,
less than scholars and more than general readers, knew, when Dunbar
appeared, that there had been at least one poetic predecessor in his
race. But the long stretch between the slave-girl rhymer of Boston and
the elevator-boy singer of Dayton was desert. They knew not of George
Moses Horton of North Carolina, who found publication for _Poems by a
Slave_ in 1829, and _Poetical Works_ in 1845. Horton, who learned to
write by his own efforts, is said to have been so fond of poetry that he
would pick up any chance scraps of paper he saw, hoping to find verses.
They knew not of Ann Plato, of Hartford, Connecticut, a slave girl who
published a book of twenty poems in 1841; nor of Frances Ellen Watkins
(afterwards Harper) whose _Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects_ appeared in
1857, reaching a circulation of ten thousand copies; nor of Charles L.
Reason, whose poem entitled _Freedom_, published in 1847, voiced the cry
of millions of fellow blacks in bonds.


_2. Charles L. Reason_

[Illustration: CHARLES L. REASON]

Thus bursts forth Reason’s poetic cry, not unlike that of the crude
Spirituals:

    O Freedom! Freedom! Oh, how oft
    Thy loving children call on Thee!
    In wailings loud and breathings soft,
    Beseeching God, Thy face to see.

    With agonizing hearts we kneel,
    While ’round us howls the oppressor’s cry,--
    And suppliant pray that we may feel
    The ennobling glances of Thine eye.

The apostrophe continues through forty-two stanzas, commemorating, with
appreciative knowledge of history, the countries, battle fields, and
heroes associated with the advance of freedom. After an arraignment of
civil rulers and a recreant priesthood, the learned and noble apostrophe
thus concludes:

    Oh, purify each holy court!
    The ministry of law and light!
    That man no longer may be bought
    To trample down his brother’s right.

    We lift imploring hands to Thee!
    We cry for those in prison bound!
    Oh, in Thy strength come! Liberty!
    And ’stablish right the wide world round.

    We pray to see Thee, face to face:
    To feel our souls grow strong and wide:
    So ever shall our injured race
    By Thy firm principles abide.


_3. George Moses Horton_

By some means or other, self-guided, the North Carolina slave, George
Moses Horton, learned to read and write. His first book, _Poems by a
Slave_, appeared in 1829, and other books followed until 1865. Like
Hammon, and true to his race, Horton is religious, and, like Reason, and
again true to his race, he loves freedom. I choose but a few stanzas to
illustrate his quality as a poet:

    Alas! and am I born for this,
      To wear this slavish chain?
    Deprived of all created bliss,
      Through hardship, toil, and pain?

    How long have I in bondage lain,
      And languished to be free!
    Alas! and must I still complain,
      Deprived of liberty?

         *       *       *       *       *

    Come, Liberty! thou cheerful sound,
      Roll through my ravished ears;
    Come, let my grief in joys be drowned,
      And drive away my fears.


_4. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper_

A female poet of the same period as Horton wrote in the same strain
about freedom:

    Make me a grave wher’er you will,
    In a lowly plain or a lofty hill;
    Make it among earth’s humblest graves,
    But not in a land where men are slaves.

Like Horton, she lived to see her prayer for freedom answered. Of the
Emancipation Proclamation she burst forth in joy:

    It shall flash through coming ages,
      It shall light the distant years;
    And eyes now dim with sorrow
      Shall be brighter through their tears.

This slave woman was Frances Ellen Watkins, by marriage Harper. Mrs.
Harper attained to a greater popularity than any poet of her race prior
to Dunbar. As many as ten thousand copies of some of her poems were in
circulation in the middle of the last century. Her success was not
unmerited. Many singers of no greater merit have enjoyed greater
celebrity. She was thoroughly in the fashion of her times, as Phillis
Wheatley was in the yet prevalent fashion of Pope, or, perhaps more
accurately, Cowper. The models in the middle of the nineteenth century
were Mrs. Hemans, Whittier, and Longfellow. It is in their manner she
writes. A serene and beautiful Christian spirit tells a moral tale in
fluent ballad stanzas, not without poetic phrasing. In all she beholds,
in all she experiences, there is a lesson. There is no grief without its
consolation. Serene resignation breathes through all her poems--at least
through those written after her freedom was achieved. Illustrations of
these traits abound. A few stanzas from _Go Work in My Vineyard_ will
suffice. After bitter disappointments in attempting to fulfil the
command the “lesson” comes thus sweetly expressed:

[Illustration: F. E. W. HARPER]

    My hands were weak, but I reached them out
      To feebler ones than mine,
    And over the shadows of my life
      Stole the light of a peace divine.

    Oh, then my task was a sacred thing,
      How precious it grew in my eyes!
    ’Twas mine to gather the bruised grain
      For the Lord of Paradise.

    And when the reapers shall lay their grain
      On the floors of golden light,
    I feel that mine with its broken sheaves
      Shall be precious in His sight.

    Though thorns may often pierce my feet,
      And the shadows still abide,
    The mists will vanish before His smile,
      There will be light at eventide.

How successfully Mrs. Harper could draw a lesson from the common objects
or occurrences of the world about us may be illustrated by the following
poem:

TRUTH

    A rock, for ages, stern and high,
    Stood frowning ’gainst the earth and sky,
    And never bowed his haughty crest
    When angry storms around him prest.
    Morn, springing from the arms of night,
    Had often bathed his brow with light,
    And kissed the shadows from his face
    With tender love and gentle grace.

    Day, pausing at the gates of rest,
    Smiled on him from the distant West,
    And from her throne the dark-browed Night
    Threw round his path her softest light.
    And yet he stood unmoved and proud,
    Nor love, nor wrath, his spirit bowed;
    He bared his brow to every blast
    And scorned the tempest as it passed.

    One day a tiny, humble seed--
    The keenest eye would hardly heed--
    Fell trembling at that stern rock’s base,
    And found a lowly hiding-place.
    A ray of light, and drop of dew,
    Came with a message, kind and true;
    They told her of the world so bright,
    Its love, its joy, and rosy light,
    And lured her from her hiding-place,
    To gaze upon earth’s glorious face.

    So, peeping timid from the ground,
    She clasped the ancient rock around,
    And climbing up with childish grace,
    She held him with a close embrace;
    Her clinging was a thing of dread;
    Where’er she touched a fissure spread,
    And he who’d breasted many a storm
    Stood frowning there, a mangled form.

    A Truth, dropped in the silent earth,
    May seem a thing of little worth,
    Till, spreading round some mighty wrong,
    It saps its pillars proud and strong,
    And o’er the fallen ruin weaves
    The brightest blooms and fairest leaves.

The story of Vashti, who dared heroically to disobey her
monarch-husband, is as well told in simple ballad measure as one may
find it. I give it entire:

VASHTI

    She leaned her head upon her hand
      And heard the King’s decree--
    “My lords are feasting in my halls;
      Bid Vashti come to me.

    “I’ve shown the treasures of my house,
      My costly jewels rare,
    But with the glory of her eyes
      No rubies can compare.

    “Adorn’d and crown’d I’d have her come,
      With all her queenly grace,
    And, ’mid my lords and mighty men,
      Unveil her lovely face.

    “Each gem that sparkles in my crown,
      Or glitters on my throne,
    Grows poor and pale when she appears,
      My beautiful, my own!”

    All waiting stood the chamberlains
      To hear the Queen’s reply.
    They saw her cheek grow deathly pale,
      But light flash’d to her eye:

    “Go, tell the King,” she proudly said,
      “That I am Persia’s Queen,
    And by his crowds of merry men
      I never will be seen.

    “I’ll take the crown from off my head
      And tread it ’neath my feet,
    Before their rude and careless gaze
      My shrinking eyes shall meet.

    “A queen unveil’d before the crowd!--
      Upon each lip my name!--
    Why, Persia’s women all would blush
      And weep for Vashti’s shame!

    “Go back!” she cried, and waved her hand,
      And grief was in her eye:
    “Go, tell the King,” she sadly said,
      “That I would rather die.”

    They brought her message to the King;
      Dark flash’d his angry eye;
    ’Twas as the lightning ere the storm
      Hath swept in fury by.

    Then bitterly outspoke the King,
      Through purple lips of wrath--
    “What shall be done to her who dares
      To cross your monarch’s path?”

    Then spake his wily counsellors--
      “O King of this fair land!
    From distant Ind to Ethiop,
      All bow to thy command.

    “But if, before thy servants’ eyes,
      This thing they plainly see,
    That Vashti doth not heed thy will
      Nor yield herself to thee,

    “The women, restive ’neath our rule,
      Would learn to scorn our name,
    And from her deed to us would come
      Reproach and burning shame.

    “Then, gracious King, sign with thy hand
      This stern but just decree,
    That Vashti lay aside her crown,
      Thy Queen no more to be.”

    She heard again the King’s command,
      And left her high estate;
    Strong in her earnest womanhood,
      She calmly met her fate,

    And left the palace of the King,
      Proud of her spotless name--
    A woman who could bend to grief
      But would not bow to shame.

Those last stanzas are quite as noble as any that one may find in the
poets whom I named as setting the American fashion in the era of Mrs.
Harper. The poems of this gentle, sweet-spirited Negro woman deserve a
better fate than has overtaken them.


_5. James Madison Bell and Albery A. Whitman_

Although this is not a history of American Negro poetry, yet a brief
notice must be given at this point to two other writers too important to
be omitted even from a swift survey like the present one. They are J.
Madison Bell and Albery A. Whitman.

[Illustration: JAMES MADISON BELL]

Bell, anti-slavery orator and friend of John Brown’s, was a prolific
writer of eloquent verse. His original endowments were considerable.
Denied an education in boyhood, he learned a trade and in manhood at
night-schools gained access to the wisdom of books. He became a master
of expression both with tongue and pen. His long period of productivity
covers the history of his people from the decade before Emancipation
till the death of Dunbar. Bell’s themes are lofty and he writes with
fervid eloquence. There is something of Byronic power in the roll of his
verse. An extract from _The Progress of Liberty_ will be representative,
though an extract cannot show either the maintenance of power or the
abundance of resources:

    O Liberty, what charm so great!
      One radiant smile, one look of thine
    Can change the drooping bondsman’s fate,
      And light his brow with hope divine.

    His manhood, wrapped in rayless gloom,
      At thy approach throws off its pall,
    And rising up, as from the tomb,
      Stands forth defiant of the thrall.
    No tyrant’s power can crush the soul
      Illumed by thine inspiring ray;
    The fiendishness of base control
      Flies thy approach as night from day.

    Ride onward, in thy chariot ride,
      Thou peerless queen; ride on, ride on--
    With Truth and Justice by thy side--
      From pole to pole, from sun to sun!
    Nor linger in our bleeding South,
      Nor domicile with race or clan;
    But in thy glorious goings forth,
      Be thy benignant object Man--

    Of every clime, of every hue,
      Of every tongue, of every race,
    ’Neath heaven’s broad, ethereal blue;
      Oh! let thy radiant smiles embrace,
    Till neither slave nor one oppressed
      Remain throughout creation’s span,
    By thee unpitied and unblest
      Of all the progeny of man.

    We fain would have the world aspire
    To that proud height of free desire,
    That flamed the heart of Switzer’s Tell
    (Whose archery skill none could excell),
    When once upon his Alpine brow,
    He stood reclining on his bow,
    And saw, careering in his might--
    In all his majesty of flight--
    A lordly eagle float and swing
    Upon his broad, untrammeled wing.

    He bent his bow, he poised his dart,
    With full intent to pierce the heart;
    But as the proud bird nearer drew,
    His stalwart arm unsteady grew,
    His arrow lingered in the groove--
    The cord unwilling seemed to move,
    For there he saw personified
    That freedom which had been his pride;
    And as the eagle onward sped,
    O’er lofty hill and towering tree,
    He dropped his bow, he bowed his head;
    He could not shoot--’twas Liberty!

Whitman, a younger contemporary of Bell’s, is the author of several long
tales in verse. Like Bell, he wrote only in standard English, and like
him also, shows a mastery of expression, with fluency of style, wealth
of imagery, and a command of the forms of verse given vogue by Scott and
Byron. Both likewise write fervently of the wrongs suffered by the black
man at the hands of the white. Thus far they resemble; but if we extend
the comparison we note important differences. Bell has more of the
fervor of the orator and the sense of fact of the historian. He adheres
closely to events and celebrates occasions. Whitman invents tragic tales
of love and romance, clothing them with the charm of the South and
infusing into them the pathos which results from the strife of thwarted
passions, the defeat of true love.

A stanza or two from Whitman’s _An Idyl of the South_ will exemplify his
qualities. The hero of this pathetic tale is a white youth of
aristocratic parentage, the heroine is an octoroon. He is thus
described:

    He was of manly beauty--brave and fair;
    There was the Norman iron in his blood,
    There was the Saxon in his sunny hair
    That waved and tossed in an abandoned flood;
    But Norman strength rose in his shoulders square,
    And so, as manfully erect he stood,
    Norse gods might read the likeness of their race
    In his proud bearing and patrician face.

The heroine is thus portrayed:

    A lithe and shapely beauty; like a deer,
    She looked in wistfulness, and from you went;
    With silken shyness shrank as if in fear,
    And kept the distance of the innocent.
    But, when alone, she bolder would appear;
    Then all her being into song was sent
    To bound in cascades--ripple, whirl, and gleam,
    A headlong torrent in a crystal stream.

Only tragedy, under the conditions, could result from their mutual
fervent love. The poet does not moralize but in a figure intimates the
sadness induced by the tale:

    The hedges may obscure the sweetest bloom--
    The orphan of the waste--the lowly flower;
    While in the garden, faint for want of room,
    The splendid failure pines within her bower.
    There is a wide republic of perfume,
    In which the nameless waifs of sun and shower,
    That scatter wildly through the fields and woods,
    Make the divineness of the solitudes.

After such a manner wrote those whom we may call bards of an elder day.


_6. Paul Laurence Dunbar_

    He came, a dark youth, singing in the dawn
    Of a new freedom, glowing o’er his lyre,
    Refining, as with great Apollo’s fire,
    His people’s gift of song. And, thereupon,
    This Negro singer, come to Helicon,
    Constrained the masters, listening, to admire,
    And roused a race to wonder and aspire,
    Gazing which way their honest voice was gone,
    With ebon face uplit of glory’s crest.
    Men marveled at the singer, strong and sweet,
    Who brought the cabin’s mirth, the tuneful night,
    But faced the morning, beautiful with light,
    To die while shadows yet fell toward the west,
    And leave his laurels at his people’s feet.
            --_James David Corrothers._

Less than a generation ago William Dean Howells hailed Paul Laurence
Dunbar as “the first instance of an American Negro who had evinced
innate distinction in literature,” “the only man of pure African blood
and of American civilization to feel Negro life æsthetically and express
it lyrically.” It is not my purpose to give Dunbar space and
consideration in this book commensurate with his importance. Its scope
does not, strictly speaking, include him and his predecessors. They are
introduced here, but to provide an historical background. The object of
this book is to exhibit the achievement of the Negro in verse since
Dunbar. Even though it were true, which I think it is not, that no
American Negro previous to Dunbar had evinced innate distinction in
literature, this anthology, I believe, will reveal that many American
Negroes in this new day are evincing, if not innate distinction, yet
cultured talent, in literature.

[Illustration: PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR]

The sonnet to Dunbar which stands at the head of this section was
composed by a Negro who was by three years Dunbar’s senior. His
opportunities in early life were far inferior to Dunbar’s. At nineteen
years of age, with almost inconsiderable schooling, he was a boot-black
in a Chicago barber shop. I give his sonnet here--other poems of his I
give in another chapter--in evidence of that distinction in literature,
innate or otherwise, which is rather widespread among American Negroes
of the present time. Dunbar himself might have been proud to put his
name to this sonnet.

When this marvel, a Negro poet, so vouched for, appeared in the West,
like a new star in the heavens, a few white people, a very few, knew,
vaguely, that back in Colonial times there was a slave woman in Boston
who had written verses, who was therefore a prodigy. The space between
Phillis Wheatley and this new singer was desert. But Nature, as people
think, produces freaks, or sports; therefore a Negro poet was not
absolutely beyond belief, since poets are rather freakish, abnormal
creatures anyway. Incredulity therefore yielded to an attitude scarcely
worthier, namely, that dishonoring, irreverent interpretation of a
supreme human phenomenon which consists in denominating it a freak of
nature. But Dunbar is a fact, as Burns, as Whittier, as Riley, are
facts--a fact of great moment to a people and for a people. For one
thing, he revealed to the Negro youth of America the latent literary
powers and the unexploited literary materials of their race. He was the
fecundating genius of their talents. Upon all his people he was a
tremendously quickening power, not less so than his great contemporary
at Tuskegee. Doubtless it will be recognized, in a broad view, that the
Negro people of America needed, equally, both men, the counterparts of
each other.

It needs to be remarked for white people, that there were two Dunbars,
and that they know but one. There is the Dunbar of “the jingle in a
broken tongue,” whom Howells with gracious but imperfect sympathy and
understanding brought to the knowledge of the world, and whom the public
readers, white and black alike, have found it delightful to present, to
the entire eclipse of the other Dunbar. That other Dunbar was the poet
of the flaming “Ode to Ethiopia,” the pathetic lyric, “We Wear the
Mask,” the apparently offhand jingle but real masterpiece entitled
“Life,” the incomparable ode “Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary
eyes,” and a score of other pieces in which, using their speech, he
matches himself with the poets who shine as stars in the firmament of
our admiration. This Dunbar Howells failed to appreciate, and ignorance
of him has been fostered, as I have intimated, by professional readers
and writers. The first Dunbar, the generally accepted one, was, as
Howells pointed out, the artistic interpreter of the old-fashioned,
vanishing generation of black folk--the generation that was maimed and
scarred by slavery, that presented so many ludicrous and pathetic,
abject and lovable aspects in strange mixture. The second Dunbar was the
prophet robed in a mantle of austerity, shod with fire, bowed with
sorrow, as every true prophet has been, in whatever time, among
whatever people. He was the prophet, I say, of a new generation, a
coming generation, as he was the poet of a vanishing generation. The
generation of which he was the prophet-herald has arrived. Its most
authentic representatives are the poets that I put forward in this
volume as worthy of attention.

Dunbar’s real significance to his race has been admirably expressed not
only by Corrothers but in the following lines by his biographer, Lida
Keck Wiggins:

    Life’s lowly were laureled with verses
      And sceptered were honor and worth,
    While cabins became, through the poet,
      Fair homes of the lords of the earth.

So it was. But “honor and worth” yet remain, to be “sceptered.” Such
poems as these few here given from the choragus of the present
generation of Negro singers will suggest the kind of honor and the
degree of worth to which our tribute is due.[2]

ERE SLEEP COMES DOWN TO SOOTHE THE WEARY EYES

    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
      Which all the day with ceaseless care have sought
    The magic gold which from the seeker flies;
      Ere dreams put on the gown and cap of thought,
    And make the waking world a world of lies,--
      Of lies most palpable, uncouth, forlorn,
    That say life’s full of aches and tears and sighs,--
      Oh, how with more than dreams the soul is torn,
    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
      How all the griefs and heartaches we have known
    Come up like pois’nous vapors that arise
      From some base witch’s caldron, when the crone,
    To work some potent spell, her magic plies.
      The past which held its share of bitter pain,
    Whose ghost we prayed that Time might exorcise,
      Comes up, is lived and suffered o’er again,
    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
      What phantoms fill the dimly lighted room;
    What ghostly shades in awe-creating guise
      Are bodied forth within the teeming gloom.
    What echoes faint of sad and soul-sick cries,
      And pangs of vague inexplicable pain
    That pay the spirit’s ceaseless enterprise,
      Come thronging through the chambers of the brain,
    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
      Where ranges forth the spirit far and free?
    Through what strange realms and unfamiliar skies
      Tends her far course to lands of mystery?
    To lands unspeakable--beyond surmise,
      Where shapes unknowable to being spring,
    Till, faint of wing, the Fancy fails and dies
      Much wearied with the spirit’s journeying,
    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
      How questioneth the soul that other soul,--
    The inner sense which neither cheats nor lies,
      But self exposes unto self, a scroll
    Full writ with all life’s acts unwise or wise,
      In characters indelible and known;
    So, trembling with the shock of sad surprise,
      The soul doth view its awful self alone,
    Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

    Ere sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes,
      The last dear sleep whose soft embrace is balm,
    And whom sad sorrow teaches us to prize
      For kissing all our passions into calm,
    Ah, then, no more we heed the sad world’s cries,
      Or seek to probe th’ eternal mystery,
    Or fret our souls at long-withheld replies,
      At glooms through which our visions cannot see,
    Ere sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes.

LIFE

    A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
    A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
    A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
    And never a laugh but the moans come double;
                    And that is life!

    A crust and a corner that love makes precious,
    With the smile to warm and the tears to refresh us;
    And joy seems sweeter when cares come after,
    And a moan is the finest of foils for laughter:
                    And that is life!

_ODE TO ETHIOPIA_

    O Mother Race! to thee I bring
    This pledge of faith unwavering,
      This tribute to thy glory.
    I know the pangs which thou didst feel,
    When Slavery crushed thee with its heel,
      With thy dear blood all gory.

    Sad days were those--ah, sad indeed!
      But through the land the fruitful seed
      Of better times was growing.
    The plant of freedom upward sprung,
    And spread its leaves so fresh and young--
      Its blossoms now are blowing.

    On every hand in this fair land,
    Proud Ethiope’s swarthy children stand
      Beside their fairer neighbor;
    The forests flee before their stroke,
    Their hammers ring, their forges smoke,--
      They stir in honest labor.

    They tread the fields where honor calls;
    Their voices sound through senate halls
      In majesty and power.
    To right they cling; the hymns they sing
    Up to the skies in beauty ring,
      And bolder grow each hour.

    Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul
    Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll
      In characters of fire.
    High ’mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky
    Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,
      And truth shall lift them higher.

[Illustration: ETHIOPIA--AWAKENING

_By Meta Warrick Fuller_]

    Thou hast the right to noble pride,
    Whose spotless robes were purified
      By blood’s severe baptism,
    Upon thy brow the cross was laid,
    And labor’s painful sweat-beads made
      A consecrating chrism.

    No other race, or white or black,
    When bound as thou wert, to the rack,
      So seldom stooped to grieving;
    No other race, when free again,
    Forgot the past and proved them men
      So noble in forgiving.

    Go on and up! Our souls and eyes
    Shall follow thy continuous rise;
      Our ears shall list thy story
    From bards who from thy root shall spring,
    And proudly tune their lyres to sing
      Of Ethiopia’s glory.

WITH THE LARK

    Night is for sorrow and dawn is for joy,
    Chasing the troubles that fret and annoy;
    Darkness for sighing and daylight for song,--
    Cheery and chaste the strain, heartfelt and strong,
    All the night through, though I moan in the dark,
    I wake in the morning to sing with the lark.

    Deep in the midnight the rain whips the leaves,
    Softly and sadly the wood-spirit grieves.
    But when the first hue of dawn tints the sky,
    I shall shake out my wings like the birds and be dry;
    And though, like the rain-drops, I grieved through the dark,
    I shall wake in the morning to sing with the lark.

    On the high hills of heaven, some morning to be,
    Where the rain shall not grieve thro’ the leaves of the tree,
    There my heart will be glad for the pain I have known,
    For my hand will be clasped in the hand of mine own;
    And though life has been hard and death’s pathway been dark,
    I shall wake in the morning to sing with the lark.

WE WEAR THE MASK

    We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
        We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh, the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
        We wear the mask!


_7. J. Mord Allen_

In the year of Dunbar’s death (1906), J. Mord Allen published his
_Rhymes, Tales, and Rhymed Tales_. The contents are mainly in dialect,
dialect that possesses, as it seems to me, every merit of that medium.
There is great felicity of characterization, surprising turns of wit,
quaint philosophy. In a later chapter I will give a specimen of Mr.
Allen’s dialect verse, here two standard English poems. In both mediums
his credentials are authentic, no whit less so than even Dunbar’s. Only
the question arises why his muse became silent after this one
utterance--for he was at the time but thirty-one years old. Perhaps
poetry did not go with boiler-making, his occupation. Because of the
date of his one book I place him here with Dunbar, and there are yet
other reasons.

Mr. Allen affords but two standard English poems, the first and the last
of his book. Such a fact marks him as of the elder day, though that day
be less than a score of years agone. The concluding poem of his book has
a sweet sadness that must appeal to every heart whose childhood is
getting to be far away:

COUNTING OUT

    “Eeny meeny miny mo.”
    Ah, how the sad-sweet Long Ago
    Enyouths us, as by magic spell,
    With that old rhyme. You know it well;
    For time was, once, when e’en your eyes
    Saw Heaven plainly, in the skies.
    Past twilight, when a brave moon glowed
    Just o’er the treetops, and the road
    Was full of romping children--say,
    What was the game we used to play?
    Yes! Hide-and-seek. And at the base,
    Who first must go and hide his face?
    Remember--standing in a row--
    “Eeny meeny miny mo”?

    “Eeny meeny miny mo.”
    How fare we children here below?
    Our moon is far from treetops now,
    And Heaven isn’t up, somehow.
    No more for sport play we “I spy”;
    Our “laying low” and “peeping high”.
    Are now with consequences fraught;
    There’s black disgrace in being caught.
    But what’s to pay the pains we take?
    Let’s play the game for its own sake,
    And, ere ’tis time to homeward flit,
    Let’s get some pleasure out of it.
    For death will soon count down the row,
    “Eeny meeny miny mo.”

Though of the elder day yet Allen is, like Dunbar, a herald of the
generation that is now articulate. In this rôle of herald to a more
self-assertive generation, a more aspiring and race-conscious one, he
speaks with immense significance to us in this first poem of his book,
which, as being prophetic of much we now see in the colored folk of
America I permit to close this summary review of earlier Negro poetry:

THE PSALM OF THE UPLIFT

    Still comes the Perfect Thing to man
    As came the olden gods, in dreams;
    And then the man--made artist--knows
    How real is the thing which seems.
    Then, tongue or brush or magic pen
    May win the world to loud acclaim,
    But he who wrought knows in his soul
    That, like as tinsel is to gold,
    His work is, to his aim.

    It’s there ahead to him--and you
    And me. I swear it isn’t far;
    Else, black Despair would cut us down
    In the land of hateful Things Which Are.
    But, just beyond our finger-tips,
    Things As They Should Be shame the weak,
    And hold the aching muscles tense
    Through th’ next moment of suspense
    Which triumph is to break.

    And shall we strive? The years to come,
    Till sunset of eternity,
    Are given to the fairest god,
    The God of Things As They Should Be.
    The ending? Nay, ’tis ours to do
    And dare and bear and not to flinch;
    To enter where is no retreat;
    To win one stride from sheer defeat;
    To die--but gain an inch.



CHAPTER II

THE PRESENT RENAISSANCE OF THE NEGRO


_I. A Glance at the Field_

Many are the forms of expression that the life of a developing people or
group finds for itself--business and wealth, education and culture,
political and social unrest and agitation, literature and art. It can
scarcely happen that any people or group has a vital significance for
other peoples or groups, or any real potency, until it begins to express
itself in poetry. When, however, a race or a portion of our common race
begins to embody its aspirations, its grievances, its animating spirit
in song the world may well take notice. That race or portion of our
common race has within it an unreckoned potency of good and evil--evil
if the good be thwarted.

It is not, then, to editorials and speeches and sermons, nor to
petitions, protests, and resolutions, but to poems that the wise will
turn in order to learn the temper and permanent bent of mind of a
people. Witness the recent history of Ireland. Her literary renascence
preceded her effective political agitation. The political agitation
which resulted in her independence was the work of poets. The real life
of a people finds its only adequate record in song. All of a people’s
history that is permanently or profoundly significant is distilled into
poetry.

It is to the unknown poetry of a despised and rejected people that I
call attention in these pages. One of this people’s poets sings:

    We have fashioned laughter
    Out of tears and pain,
    But the moment after--
    Pain and tears again.
            _Charles Bertram Johnson._

And when he so sings we know there is one race above all others which
these words describe. Another sings:

    I will suppose that fate is just,
    I will suppose that grief is wise,
    And I will tread what path I must
    To enter Paradise.
            _Joseph S. Cotter, Sr._

And when he so sings we know out of what tribulations his resignation
has been born. The resolution of despair cries out in the lines of
another:

    My life were lost if I should keep
    A hope-forlorn and gloomy face,
    And brood upon my ills, and weep,
    And mourn the travail of my race.
            _Leslie Pinckney Hill._

Another singer, coming out of the Black Belt of the lower South, records
the daily and life-long history of his people in these lines:

IT’S ALL THROUGH LIFE

    A day of joy, a week of pain,
    A sunny day, a week of rain;
    A day of peace, a year of strife;
    But cling to Him, it’s all through life.

    An hour of joy, a day of fears,
    An hour of smiles, a day of tears;
    An hour of gain, a day of strife,
    Press on, press on, it’s all through life.
            _Waverley Turner Carmichael._

In the poetry which the Negro is producing to-day there is a challenge
to the world. His race has been deeply stirred by recent events; its
reaction has been mighty. The challenge, spoken by one, but for the
race, the inarticulate millions as well as the cultured few, comes thus:

TO AMERICA

    How would you have us--as we are,
    Or sinking ’neath the load we bear?
    Our eyes fixed forward on a star?
    Or gazing empty at despair?
    Rising or falling? Men or things?
    With dragging pace, or footsteps fleet?
    Strong, willing sinews in your wings?
    Or tightening chains about your feet?
            _James Weldon Johnson._

With slight regard for smooth words another declares his grievances,
that all may understand:

    Yes, I am lynched. Is it that I
    Must without judge or jury die?
    Though innocent, am I accursed
    To quench the mob’s blood-thirsty thirst?

    Yes, I am mocked. Pray tell me why!
    Did not my brothers freely die
    For you, and your Democracy--
    That each and all alike be free?
            _Raymond Garfield Dandridge._

So runs the dominant note of this poetry. But it would be unjust to the
race producing it to convey the idea that this is the only note. The
harp of Ethiopia has many strings and the brothers of Memnon are many.
Sometimes the note is one of simple beauty, like that of a wild rose
blossoming by the wayside. No reader could tell what race produced such
a lyric as the one following, but any reader responsive to the beauty of
art and to the truth of passion would assert its excellence:

    I will hide my soul and its mighty love
    In the bosom of this rose,
    And its dispensing breath will take
    My love wherever it goes.
    And perhaps she’ll pluck this very rose,
    And, quick as blushes start,
    Will breathe my hidden secret in
    Her unsuspecting heart.
            _George Marion McClellan._

In a Negro magazine one may chance upon a sonnet that the best poet of
our times might have signed and feared no loss to his reputation, nor
would there be any mark of race in its lines. To candid judgment I
submit the following, from Mrs. Alice Dunbar-Nelson:

VIOLETS

    I had not thought of violets of late,
    The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
    In wistful April days, when lovers mate
    And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.
    The thoughts of violets meant florists’ shops,
    And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;
    And garish lights, and mincing little fops,
    And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine.
    So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed,
    I had forgot wide fields and clear brown streams;
    The perfect loveliness that God has made--
    Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams
    And now unwittingly, you’ve made me dream
    Of violets, and my soul’s forgotten gleam.

It needs not that a poet write an epic to prove himself chosen of the
muse. The winds of time may blow into oblivion all but five lines of an
_opus magnum_, in which five lines alone was the laborious author a
poet. Wise is the poet who writes but the five lines, as here:

SUNSET

    Since Poets have told of sunset,
    What is left for me to tell?
    I can only say that I saw the day
    Press crimson lips to the horizon gray,
    And kiss the earth farewell.
            _Mary Effie Lee._

The theme may be as old as man and as common as humanity yet it can be
made to be felt as poetic by one who has the magic gift, as here:

LONELINESS

    I cannot make my thoughts stay home;
      I cannot close their door;
    And, oh, that I might shut them in,
      And they go out no more!

    For they go out, with wistful eyes,
      And search the whole world through;
    Just hoping, in their wandering,
      To catch a glimpse of you!
            _Winifred Virginia Jordan._

One’s find may be in _The Poet’s Ingle_ of a newspaper, where an unknown
name is attached to verses that have the charm which Longfellow found
in the simple and heartfelt lays of the humbler poet. From such a poem,
entitled _To My Grandmother_, by Mae Smith Johnson, I take two stanzas,
the first two as beautiful as the theme evoked:

    You ’mind me of the winter’s eve
    When low the sinking sun
    Casts soft bright rays upon the snow
    And day, now almost done,
    In silence deep prepares to leave,
    And calmly waits the signal “Go.”

    Your eyes are faded vestal lights
    That once the hearth illumed,
    Where vestal virgins vigil kept,
    And budding virtue bloomed:
    Like stars that beam on summer nights,
    Your eyes, by joy and sorrow swept.

Less beautiful, less original, but in another way not less appealing,
are these stanzas, also signed by an unknown name and taken from the
Christmas number of a newspaper. They are the last stanzas but one of a
poem entitled _The Child Is Found_, by Charles H. Este:

    O hearts that mourn and sorrow so,
    That doubt the power of God,
    An angel now is bending low--
    To comfort as you plod.

    He speaks with tones of whispering love,
    With feelings true and strong,
    And sings of sweetest joys above,
    For souls without a song.

Pride of race, no less than grief for wrongs endured, is one of the
notes of this living verse. Eulogies of the men and women who have lived
heroically for their people, giving vision, quickening aspiration,
opening roads of advance, find a place in every volume of verse and in
the pages of newspapers. Few white persons perhaps have paused to
reflect how noteworthy this traditionary store of heroic names really is
and how potent it is with the people inheriting it. Both practical and
poetic uses--if these two things are different--it has. One cannot
foretell to what reflections upon life the eulogist will be led ere he
concludes. From an ode to Booker T. Washington, by Roscoe Riley Dungee,
I take a stanza, by way of illustration:

    Yet, virtue walks a path obscure,
    And honor struggles to endure,
    While arrogance and deeds impure
      Adorn the Hall of Fame.
    Still, power triumphs over right,
    And wrong is victor in the fight;
    Greed, graft, and knavery excite
      Vociferous acclaim.

It has become evident to those who have seriously studied the
present-day life of the Negroes that there has been in these recent
years a renascence of the Negro soul. Poetry, as these pages will show,
is one of its modes of expression. Other expressions there are, very
significant ones, too, expressions which are material, tangible,
expressible in figures. Not of this kind is poetry. Yet of all forms
whereby the soul of a people expresses itself the most potent, the most
effective, is poetry. The re-born soul of the Negro is following the
tradition of all races in all times by pouring itself into that form of
words which embodies the most of passionate thought and feeling.

Out of the very heart of a race of twelve million people amongst us
comes this cry which a Negro poet of Virginia utters as

A PRAYER OF THE RACE THAT GOD MADE BLACK

    We would be peaceful, Father--but, when we must,
    Help us to thunder hard the blow that’s just!

    We would be prayerful: Lord, when we have prayed,
    Let us arise courageous--unafraid!

    We would be manly--proving well our worth,
    Then would not cringe to any god on earth!

    We would be loving and forgiving, thus
    To love our neighbor as Thou lovest us!

    We would be faithful, loyal to the Right--
    Ne’er doubting that the Day will follow Night!

    We would be all that Thou hast meant for man,
    Up through the ages, since the world began!

    God! save us in Thy Heaven, where all is well!
    We come slow-struggling up the Hills of Hell!
            _Lucian B. Watkins._

Too confidently, as we may learn, have we of the other race relied upon
the Negro’s innate optimism to keep him a safe citizen and a
long-suffering servant. That optimism, that gaiety and buoyancy of
spirit, if not indestructible in the African soul, is yet reducible to
the vanishing point. There are signs of something quite different in the
attitude of Negroes toward their white neighbors to-day. In their poetry
this reputed optimism, where it exists, is found in union with a note of
melancholy or of bitter complaint. A characteristic utterance of this
mood I find in a poem entitled “The Optimist,” from which I will give
one-third of its stanzas:

    Never mind, children, be patient awhile,
    And carry your load with a nod and a smile,
    For out of the hell and the hard of it all,
    Time is sure to bring sweetest honey--not gall.

    Out of the hell and the hard of it all,
    A bright star shall rise that never shall fall:
    A God-fearing race--proud, noble, and true,
    Giving good for the evil which they always knew.

         *       *       *       *       *

    So dry your wet pillow and lift your bowed head
    And show to the world that hope is not dead!
    Be patient! Wait! See what yet may befall,
    Out of the hell and the hard of it all.
            _Ethyl Lewis._

But in dark days the Negro has ever had refuges and sources of strength
for the want of which other races have been crushed. One of these
refuges for them is the benignant breast of nature--the deep peace of
the woods and the hills, the quiet soothing of pleasant-running water,
the benediction of bright skies. A rarely-gifted woman, Mrs. Georgia
Douglas Johnson, singing her own consolation, with a pathos that pierces
the heart, has sung for thousands of the women of her race else dumb
alike in grief and in joy, and in mingled grief and joy:

PEACE

    I rest me deep within the wood,
    Drawn by its silent call;
    Far from the throbbing crowd of men
    On nature’s breast I fall.

    My couch is sweet with blossoms fair,
    A bed of fragrant dreams,
    And soft upon my ear there falls
    The lullaby of streams.

    The tumult of my heart is stilled,
    Within this sheltered spot,
    Deep in the bosom of the wood,
    Forgetting, and--forgot!

Death and the mysteries of life, the pain and the grief that flesh and
soul are heirs to, the eternal problems that address themselves to all
generations and races, produce in the soul of the Negro the same
reactions as of old they produced in the soul of David or of Homer, or
as, in our own day, in the soul of a Wordsworth or a Shelley. Of this we
have a glimpse in the following lyric, from Walter Everette Hawkins:

IN SPITE OF DEATH

    Curses come in every sound,
    And wars spread gloom and woe around.
    The cannon belch forth death and doom,
    But still the lilies wave and bloom.
    Man fills the earth with grief and wrong,
    But cannot hush the bluebird’s song.
    My stars are dancing on the sea,
    The waves fling kisses up at me.
    Each night my gladsome moon doth rise;
    A rainbow spans my evening skies;
    The robin’s song is full and fine;
    And roses lift their lips to mine.

    The jonquils ope their petals sweet,
    The poppies dance around my feet;
    In spite of winter and of death,
    The Spring is in the zephyr’s breath.

This poetry but re-affirms the essential identity of human nature under
black and white skins. But it will remind most of the white race of how
ignorant they have been of that black race next door that is acquiring
wealth and culture and is expressing in art and literature the spirit of
an aspiring people--how ignorant of their real life, their very
thoughts, their completely human joys and griefs. One of their poets was
cognizant of this unhappy ignorance--the source of so much harshness of
treatment--when he wrote:

    My people laugh and sing
      And dance to death--
    None imagining
      The heartbreak under breath.
            _Charles Bertram Johnson._

Nothing weighs more heavily upon the soul of this race to-day than this
everywhere self-betraying crass ignorance, made the more grievous to
endure by the vain boast accompanying it, that “I know the Negro better
than he knows himself.” This poetry in every line of it is a convincing
contradiction of this insulting arrogancy. Essential identity, that is
the message of these poets.

This kinship of souls and essential oneness of human nature, which
Shylock, speaking for a similarly oppressed and outrageously treated
people, pressed home upon the Christian merchants of Venice, finds
typical expression in the following lines:

    We travel a common road, Brother,--
    We walk and we talk much the same;
    We breathe the same sweet air of heaven--
    Strive alike for fortune and fame;
    We laugh when our hearts fill with gladness,
    We weep when we’re smothered in woe;
    We strive, we endure, we seek wisdom;
    We sin--and we reap what we sow.
    Yes, all who would know it can see that
    When everything’s put to the test,
    In spite of our color and features,
    The Negro’s the same as the rest.
            _Leon R. Harris._

It is to be expected that, notwithstanding the Anglo-Saxon culture of
the producers of this poetry, the white reader will yet demand therein
what he regards as the African traits. Perhaps it will be crude,
artless, repetitious songs like the Spirituals. The quality of the
Spirituals is indeed not wanting in some of the most noteworthy
contemporary Negro verse. From Fenton Johnson’s three volumes of verse I
could select many pieces that exhibit this quality united with
disciplined art. For example, here is one:

I PLAYED ON DAVID’S HARP

(A Negro Spiritual)

    Last night I played on David’s harp,
    I played on little David’s harp
    The gospel tunes of Israel;
    And all the angels came to hear
    Me play those gospel tunes,
    As the Jordan rolled away.

    The angels shouted all the night
    Their “Glory, Hallelujah” shout;
    Old Gabriel threw his trumpet down
    To hear the songs of Israel,
    On mighty David’s harp,
    As the Jordan rolled away.

    When death has closed my weary eyes
    I’ll play again on David’s harp
    The last great song in life’s brief book;
    And all you children born of God
    Can stop awhile and hear me play,
    As the Jordan rolls away.

No less certain it is that many a reader will demand something more
crude, more obscure, more mystical. Something, perhaps, at once
ridiculous and wise--with big and strangely compounded words,
ludicrously applied, yet striving at the expression of some peculiarly
African idea. Of such verse I can produce no example. The nearest I can
come to meeting such impossible demand is by submitting the following
from William Edgar Bailey:

THE SLUMP

    Mr. Self at the bat!
    Well, we’re all at the bat--
    For one thing or other,
    For this or for that.
    The ball may be hurled, in the form of this plea:
    “Will you please help the poor?
    God, have mercy on me!”
    Mr. Self stops to think;
    But the ball cuts the plate--
    He’s aware that he slumped,
    Grasps the bat,--but too late.
    What you say, Mr. Ump?
    Can it be? Yes, ’tis done!
    “Well, I’ve said what I’ve said!”
                  Mr. Self,
                  Strike One!

    Mr. Self’s face is grim.
    ’Tis the critical test--
    For his heart, conscience-sick,
    Heaves stern at his breast.
    The Truth must be hurled, ’tis the law of the game;
    If in life or in death,
    If in falsehood or shame.
    Mr. Self, strike the ball--
    There’s a Tramp at your Gate!
    Mr. Self still amazed--
    And the ball cuts the plate.
    Mr. Self murmured not;
    The decision he knew,
    “Well, you’ve done that before.”
                  Sighed the Ump.
                  Strike Two!

    There’s the Beggar and Gate--
    But his silver and gold,
    Is amix with his blood;
    A part of his soul.
    The Nazarene stooped--as all Umpires will do,
    With His eye on a line,
    That his verdict be true--
    Just a shift of the Truth,
    Stern, the Nazarene tried,
    But he tho’t of the Cross,
    And the blood from His side.
    “Your decision is false;
    Oh, have mercy on me.”
    But a voice from the sky,
                  Whispered low.
                  Strike three.

Of humorous verse there is very little produced by the Negro writers of
these times. They take their vocation seriously. When their singing
robes are on it is to the plaintive notes of the flute or the dolorous
blasts of the trumpet they tune their songs.

These voices, and others like them, have but lately been lifted in song,
they are still youthful voices, and they are but preluding the more
perfect songs they are yet to sing. One voice that is now still,
silenced lately in death, at the age of twenty-three years, has sung for
them all what all feel:

THE MULATTO TO HIS CRITICS

    Ashamed of my race?
    And of what race am I?
    I am many in one.
    Through my veins there flows the blood
    Of Red Man, Black Man, Briton, Celt, and Scot,
    In warring clash and tumultuous riot.
    I welcome all,
    But love the blood of the kindly race
    That swarths my skin, crinkles my hair,
    And puts sweet music into my soul.
            _Joseph S. Cotter, Jr._

“Sweet music in the soul”--that is heaven’s kind gift to this people,
music of sorrow and of faith; music, low and plaintive, of hope almost
failing; music, clear and strong, born of vision triumphant; music,
alas, sometimes marred by the strident notes of hatred and revenge.
Verily, poets learn in suffering what they teach in song.

In concluding this preliminary survey it should be reiterated that, if
one meets here but with the rhythms and forms, as he may think, which
are familiar to him in the poetry of the white race, he should reflect
that only in that poetry has the Negro had an opportunity to be
educated. He has been educated away from his own heritage and his own
endowments. The Negro’s native wisdom should lead him back to his
natural founts of song. Our educational system should allow of and
provide for this. His own literature in his schools is a reasonable
policy for the Negro.

As regards the essential significance of this poetry, one of its makers,
Miss Eva A. Jessye, has said in a beautiful way almost what I wish to
say. Her poem shall therefore conclude this presentation:

THE SINGER

    Because his speech was blunt and manner plain
    Untaught in subtle phrases of the wise,
    Because the years of slavery and pain
    Ne’er dimmed the light of faith within his eyes;
    Because of ebon skin and humble pride,
    The world with hatred thrust the youth aside.

    But fragrance wafts from every trodden flower,
    And through our grief we rise to nobler things,
    Within the heart in sorrow’s darkest hour
    A well of sweetness there unbidden springs;
    Despised of men, discarded and alone--
    The world of nature claimed him as her own.

    She taught him truths that liberate the soul
    From bonds more galling than the slaver’s chain--
    That manly natures, lily-wise, unfold
    Amid the mire of hatred void of stain;
    Thus in his manhood, clean, superbly strong,
    To him was born the priceless gift of song.

    The glory of the sun, the hush of morn,
    Whisperings of tree-top faintly stirred,
    The desert silence, wilderness forlorn,
    Far ocean depths, the tender lilt of bird;
    Of hope, despair, he sang, his melody
    The endless theme of life’s brief symphony.

    And nations marveled at the minstrel lad,
    Who swayed emotions as his fancy led;
    With him they wept, were melancholy, sad;
    “’Tis but a cunning jest of Fate,” they said;
    They did not dream in selfish sphere apart
    That song is but the essence of the heart.


_II. Representatives of the Present Era_


I. THE COTTERS, FATHER AND SON


_The Father_

[Illustration: JOSEPH S. COTTER, SR.]

On the Kentucky plantation where Stephen Collins Foster one June
morning, when the mocking birds were singing and “the darkies were gay,”
composed and his sister sang, “My Old Kentucky Home,” there was among
those first delighted listeners who paused in their tasks to hear the
immortal song at its birth a slave girl in whose soul were strange
melodies of her own. Born of free people of color, she was bonded to the
owner of this plantation, yet her soul was such as must be free.
Faithful in her work, respectful and obedient, she was yet a dangerous
character among slaves, being too spirited. Hence her master ordered her
to leave, fearing she would demoralize discipline in the quarters. She
demanded to be taken away as she had been brought--in a wagon; and it
was so done. It seems that one-half of her blood was African and the
other half was divided between Indian and English, though it is
impossible to be sure of the exact proportion. An account of her in
those days by one who knew her reveals her as one of nature’s poets--a
Phillis Wheatley of the wash-tubs. “She was very fervent in her
religious devotions”--so runs this account--“and a very hard worker. She
would sometimes wash nearly all night and then have periods of prayer
and exaltation. Then again during the day she would draw from her bosom
a favorite book and pause to read over the wash-tub. She had a strong
dramatic instinct and would frequently make up little plays of her own
and represent each character vividly.” Of such mothers are seers and
poets born. And so in this instance it proved to be.

At the age of twenty, while yet a slave, she was married, under the
common law--though marriage it was not called--to a Scotch-Irishman, a
prominent citizen of Louisville, her employer at the time, who was
distinguished by a notably handsome physique and a great fondness for
books. Of this union was born, at Bardstown, a son, Joseph, so named for
the dreamer of biblical story.

The vision-seeing slave mother, her mind running on the bondage of her
people, named her son Joseph in the hope of his becoming great in the
service of his people, like the Hebrew Joseph. She lived to see her hope
fulfilled. The boy’s earliest education was in song and story invented
and sung or told by his mother. He got a few terms of school, reaching
the third grade. At ten years of age he went to work in a brickyard of
Louisville to help support his mother. Even there the faculty that
afterwards distinguished him appears in action, to his relief in time of
trouble. Bigger boys, white and black, working in the same yard, hazed
and harried him. Fighting to victory was out of the question, against
such odds. Brains won where brawn was wanting. He observed that the men
at their noon rest-hour, the time of his distress, told stories and
laughed. He couldn’t join them, but he tried story-telling in the boy
group. It worked. The men, hearing the laughter, came over and joined
them. The persecuted boy became the entertainer of both groups. He had
won mastery by wit, the proudest mastery in the world.

Then, until he was twenty-two years of age, he was a teamster on the
levee. At this time the desire for an education mastered him and he
entered a night school--the primary grade. Hard toil and the struggle to
get on had not killed his soul but had wiped out his acquisitions of
book-knowledge. In two terms he was qualified to teach. He is now the
principal of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor High School in Louisville, the
author of several books, a maker of songs and teller of stories, and a
man upright in conduct and wise in counsel.

It was at Bardstown, February 2, 1861, that Joseph Seamon Cotter was
born. Let Bardstown be put on the literary map of America, not because
Stephen Collins Foster wrote “My Old Kentucky Home” there, but because
one was born there the latchet of whose poetic shoes he was not worthy
to unloose. “A poet, a bard, to be born in Bardstown--how odd, and how
appropriate!” one exclaims. And _bard_ seems exactly the right
appellation for this song-maker and story-man. But it is not altogether
so. In character bardlike, but not in appearance. Bards have long,
unkempt, white hair, which mingles with beards that rest on their
bosoms. Cotter’s square-cut chin is clean-shaven, and his large
brain-dome shows like a harvest moon. But he makes poems and invents and
discovers stories, and, bard-like, recites or relates them to whatever
audience may call for them--in schools, in churches, at firesides. Minus
the hairy habiliments he is a bard.

Some of Cotter’s stories come out of Africa and are “different,” as the
word goes. Some are “current among the colored folks of Louisville.”
These, too, are different. Some are tragedies and some are comedies and
some are tragi-comedies of everyday life among the Negroes. I will give
one entire tale here, selecting this particular one because of its
brevity, not its pre-eminence:

THE BOY AND THE IDEAL

Once upon a time a Mule, a Hog, a Snake, and a Boy met. Said the Mule:
“I eat and labor that I may grow strong in the heels. It is fine to have
heels so gifted. My heels make people cultivate distance.”

Said the Hog: “I eat and labor that I may grow strong in the snout. It
is fine to have a fine snout. I keep people watching for my snout.”

“No exchanging heels for snouts,” broke in the Mule.

“No,” answered the Hog; “snouts are naturally above heels.”

Said the Snake: “I eat to live, and live to cultivate my sting. The way
people shun me shows my greatness. Beget stings, comrades, and stings
will beget glory.”

Said the Boy: “There is a star in my life like unto a star in the sky. I
eat and labor that I may think aright and feel aright. These rounds will
conduct me to my star. Oh, inviting star!”

“I am not so certain of that,” said the Mule. “I have noticed your kind
and ever see some of myself in them. Your star is in the distance.”

The Boy answered by smelling a flower and listening to the song of a
bird. The Mule looked at him and said: “He is all tenderness and care.
The true and the beautiful have robbed me of a kinsman. His star is
near.”

Said the Boy: “I approach my star.”

“I am not so certain of that,” interrupted the Hog. “I have noticed your
kind and I ever see some of myself in them. Your star is a delusion.”

The Boy answered by painting the flower and setting the notes of the
bird’s song to music.

The Hog looked at the boy and said: “His soul is attuned by nature. The
meddler in him is slain.”

“I can all but touch my star,” cried the Boy.

“I am not so certain of that,” remarked the Snake. “I have watched your
kind and ever see some of myself in them. Stings are nearer than stars.”

The Boy answered by meditating upon the picture and music. The Snake
departed, saying that stings and stars cannot keep company.

The Boy journeyed on, ever led by the star. Some distance away the Mule
was bemoaning the presence of his heels and trying to rid himself of
them by kicking a tree. The Hog was dividing his time between looking
into a brook and rubbing his snout on a rock to shorten it. The Snake
lay dead of its own bite. The Boy journeyed on, led by an ever inviting
star.

(Negro Tales.--Joseph S. Cotter, The Cosmopolitan Press, New York,
1912.)

     *       *       *       *       *

Yes--Uncle Remus, in reality--and not exactly so. No copy. Not every
like is the same. An Uncle Remus with culture and conscious art, yet
unspoilt, the native qualities strong. And how poetic those qualities
are!

Well might one expect a teacher, if he writes verse, to write didactic
verse. But I think you will pronounce him to be an extraordinary teacher
and verse-writer who writes as Mr. Cotter does, for example, in:

THE THRESHING FLOOR

    Thrice blessed he who wields the flail
      Upon this century’s threshing floor;
    A few slight strokes by him avail
      More than a hundred would of yore.

    Around him lies the ripened grain
      From every land and every age;
    The weakest thresher should attain
      Unto the wisdom of the sage.

    Ambitious youth, this is the wealth
      The ages have bequeathed to thee.
    Thou canst not take thy share by stealth
      Nor by mere ingenuity.

    Thy better self must spur thee on
      To win what time has made thy own;
    No hand but labor’s yet has drawn
      The sweets that labor’s hand has sown.

In verse presuming to be lyrical we hearken for the lyrical cry. That
cry is in his lines, melodiously uttered, and poignant. For example:

    The flowers take the tears
      Of the weeping night
    And give them to the sun
      For the day’s delight.

    My passion takes the joys
      Of the laughing day
    And melts them into tears
      For my heart’s decay.

The sweet sadness of those stanzas lingers with one. A stanza from a
poem entitled “The Nation’s Neglected Child” may help us to their
secret:

    I am not thy pampered steed,
      I am not thy welcome dog;
    I am of a lower breed
      Even than thy Berkshire hog;
    I am thy neglected child--
      Make me grow, but keep me wild.

In many of Cotter’s verses there is a sonorous flow which is evidence of
poetic power made creative by passion. Didacticism and philosophy do not
destroy the lyrical quality. In _The Book’s Creed_ this teacher-poet
makes an appeal to his generation to be as much alive and as creative as
the creed makers of other days were. The slaves of the letter, the
mummers of mere formulas, he thus addresses:

    You are dead to all the Then,
      You are dead to all the Now,
    If you hold that former men
      Wore the garland for your brow.

    Time and tide were theirs to brave,
      Time and tide are yours to stem.
    Bow not o’er their open grave
      Till you drop your diadem.

    Honor all who strove and wrought,
      Even to their tears and groans;
    But slay not your honest thought
      Through your reverence for their bones.

Cotter is a wizard at rhyming. His “Sequel to the Pied Piper of Hamelin”
surpasses the original--Browning’s--in technique--that is, in rushing
rhythms and ingenious rhymes. It is an incredible success, with no hint
of a tour-de-force performance. Its content, too, is worthy of the
metrical achievement. I will lay the proof before the competent reader
in an extract or two from this remarkable accomplishment:

    The last sweet notes the piper blew
      Were heard by the people far and wide;
    And one by one and two by two
      They flocked to the mountain-side.

    Some came, of course, intensely sad,
    And some came looking fiercely mad,
    And some came singing solemn hymns,
    And some came showing shapely limbs,
    And some came bearing the tops of yews,
    And some came wearing wooden shoes,
    And some came saying what they would do,
    And some came praying (and loudly too),
    And all for what? Can you not infer?
    A-searching and lurching for the Pied Piper,
    And the boys and girls he had taken away.
    And all were ready now to pay
    Any amount that he should say.

So begins the _Sequel_. Another passage, near the end, will indicate the
trend of the story:

    The years passed by, as years will do,
      When trouble is the master,
    And always strives to bring to view
      A new and worse disaster;
    And sorrow, like a sorcerer,
      Spread out her melancholy pall,
      So that its folds enveloped all,
    And each became her worshipper.
    And not a single child was born
      Through all the years thereafter;
    If words sprang from the lips of scorn
      None came from those of laughter.

Finally, the inhabitants of Hamelin are passing through death’s portal,
and when all had departed:

   --a message went to Rat-land

         *       *       *       *       *

    And lo! a race of rats was at hand

         *       *       *       *       *

    They swarmed into the highest towers,
    And loitered in the fairest bowers,
    And sat down where the mayor sat,
    And also in his Sunday hat;
    And gnawed revengefully thereat.
    With rats for mayor and rats for people,
    With rats in the cellar and rats in the steeple,
    With rats without and rats within,
    Stood poor, deserted Hamelin.

Like Dunbar, Cotter is a satirist of his people--or certain types of his
people--a gentle, humorous, affectionate satirist. His medium for satire
is dialect, inevitably. Sententious wisdom, irradiated with humor,
appears in these pieces in homely garb. In standard English, without
satire or humor that wisdom thus appears:

    What deeds have sprung from plow and pick!
      What bank-rolls from tomatoes!
    No dainty crop of rhetoric
      Can match one of potatoes.

The gospel of work has been set forth by our poet in a four-act poetic
drama entitled _Caleb, the Degenerate_. All the characters are Negroes.
The form is blank verse--blank verse of a very high order, too. The
language, like Shakespeare’s--though Browning rather than Shakespeare is
suggested--is always that of a poet. The wisdom is that of a man who has
observed closely and pondered deeply. Idealistic, philosophical,
poetical--such it is. It bears witness to no ordinary dramatic ability.

“Best bard, because the wisest,” says our Israfel. Verily. “Sage” you
may call this man as well as “bard.” The proof is in poems and tales,
apologues and apothegms. Joseph Seamon Cotter is now sixty years of age.
Yet the best of him, according to good omens, is yet to be given forth,
in song, story, precept, and drama. His nature is opulent--the
cultivation began late and the harvest grows richer.

The chief event of his life, I doubt not, remains to be mentioned--a
very sad one. This was the untimely death of his poet-son, Joseph S.
Cotter, Jr. Born of this sorrow was the following lyric:

    Oh, my way and thy way,
      And life’s joy and wonder,
    And thy day and my day
      Are cloven asunder.

    Oh, my trust and thy trust,
      And fair April weather,
    And thy dust and my dust
      Shall mingle together.

_The Son_

Dead at the age of twenty-three years, Joseph S. Cotter, Jr., left
behind a thin volume of lyrics, entitled _The Band of Gideon_, and about
twenty sonnets of an unfinished sequence, and a little book of one-act
plays. I will presently place the remarkable title-poem of his book of
lyrics before the reader, but first I will give two minor pieces,
without comment:

[Illustration: JOSEPH S. COTTER, JR.]

RAIN MUSIC

    On the dusty earth-drum
      Beats the falling rain;
    Now a whispered murmur,
      Now a louder strain.

    Slender silvery drumsticks,
      On the ancient drum,
    Beat the mellow music,
      Bidding life to come.

    Chords of earth awakened,
      Notes of greening spring,
    Rise and fall triumphant
      Over everything.

    Slender silvery drumsticks
      Beat the long tattoo--
    God the Great Musician
      Calling life anew.

COMPENSATION

    I plucked a rose from out a bower fair,
      That overhung my garden seat;
    And wondered I if, e’er before, bloomed there
      A rose so sweet.

    Enwrapt in beauty I scarce felt the thorn
      That pricked me as I pulled the bud;
    Till I beheld the rose, that summer morn,
      Stained with my blood.

    I sang a song that thrilled the evening air,
      With beauty somewhat kin to love,
    And all men knew that lyric song so rare
      Came from above.

    And men rejoiced to hear the golden strain;
      But no man knew the price I paid,
    Nor cared that out of my soul’s deathless pain
      The song was made.

The lyrical faculty is evinced by such poems. But other singers of our
day might have produced them--singers of the white race. Not so, I
think, of “The Band of Gideon.” Upon that poem is the stamp, not of
genius only, but of Negro genius. In it is re-incarnated, by a cultured,
creative mind, the very spirit of the old plantation songs and sermons.
The reader who has in his possession that background will respond to the
unique and powerful appeal of this poem.

THE BAND OF GIDEON

    The band of Gideon roam the sky,
    The howling wind is their war-cry,
    The thunder’s roll is their trumpet’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 earthquake, 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.”

    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.”

The reader, I predict, will be drawn again and again to this mysterious
poem. It will continue to haunt his imagination, and tease his thought.
The stamp of the African mind is upon it. Closely allied, on the one
hand by its august refrain to the Spirituals, on the other hand it
touches the most refined and perfected art; such, for example, as
Rossetti’s ballads or Vachel Lindsay’s cantatas. It can scarcely be
wondered at that the people of his race should call this untimely dead
singer their Negro Lycidas.


II. JAMES DAVID CORROTHERS

THE DREAM AND THE SONG

    So oft our hearts, beloved lute,
    In blossomy haunts of song are mute;
    So long we pore, ’mid murmurings dull,
    O’er loveliness unutterable;
    So vain is all our passion strong!
    The dream is lovelier than the song.

    The rose thought, touched by words, doth turn
    Wan ashes. Still, from memory’s urn,
    The lingering blossoms tenderly
    Refute our wilding minstrelsy.
    Alas! we work but beauty’s wrong!
    The dream is lovelier than the song.

    Yearned Shelley o’er the golden flame?
    Left Keats, for beauty’s lure, a name
    But “writ in water”? Woe is me!
    To grieve o’er floral faëry.
    My Phasian doves are flown so long--
    The dream is lovelier than the song!

    Ah, though we build a bower of dawn,
    The golden-winged bird is gone,
    And morn may gild, through shimmering leaves,
    Only the swallow-twittering eaves.
    What art may house or gold prolong
    A dream far lovelier than a song?

    The lilting witchery, the unrest
    Of wingèd dreams, is in our breast;
    But ever dear Fulfilment’s eyes
    Gaze otherward. The long-sought prize,
    My lute, must to the gods belong.
    The dream is lovelier than the song.

Cherokee-Indian, Scotch-Irish, French, and African blood in James David
Corrothers, the author of this poem, makes his complexion, he supposed,
“about that of the original man.” The reader has already had, at the
beginning of the discussion of Dunbar, a sonnet from this poet. The
sonnet, the above poem, and the others given here were published in _The
Century Magazine_. Not unworthy of _The Century’s_ standards, the reader
must say.

[Illustration: J. D. CORROTHERS]

James David Corrothers was born in Michigan, July 2, 1869. His mother in
giving him life surrendered her own. His father never cared for him.
Sheltered for a few years by maternal relatives, he was out on the world
in early boyhood, dependent on his own resources. Soon, because he was a
Negro, he was a wanderer for work through several states. Often without
money, friends, or food, he slept out of doors, sometimes in zero
weather. At nineteen years of age, as before stated, he was shining
shoes in a Chicago barber shop. There he was “discovered.”

Henry D. Lloyd was having his boots shined by young Corrothers when the
two fell into book talk. The distinguished writer was astonished at the
knowledge possessed by one engaged in such a menial occupation. Out of
this circumstance, it seems, the Negro boot-black became a student in
Northwestern University at Evanston, Illinois. By mowing lawns and doing
whatever odd jobs he could find he worked his way for three years in the
university. Then, by the kindness of Frances E. Willard, he had a year
in Bennett College, Greensboro, North Carolina. Prior to his entrance at
Northwestern there had been but one brief opportunity in his life for
attending school. But the wandering youth, battling against the adverse
fates, or, concretely stated, the disadvantage of being a Negro, had
managed somehow to make great books his companions. Hence, he had
entered what Carlyle calls “the true modern university.” Hence, his
literary conversation with Mr. Lloyd.

Out of those early struggles, and perhaps also out of later bitter
experiences, came such poems as the following:

AT THE CLOSED GATE OF JUSTICE

    To be a Negro in a day like this
    Demands forgiveness. Bruised with blow on blow,
    Betrayed, like him whose woe-dimmed eyes gave bliss,
    Still must one succor those who brought one low,
    To be a Negro in a day like this.

    To be a Negro in a day like this
    Demands rare patience--patience that can wait
    In utter darkness. ’Tis the path to miss,
    And knock, unheeded, at an iron gate,
    To be a Negro in a day like this.

    To be a Negro in a day like this
    Demands strange loyalty. We serve a flag
    Which is to us white freedom’s emphasis.
    Ah! one must love when truth and justice lag,
    To be a Negro in a day like this.

    To be a Negro in a day like this--
    Alas! Lord God, what evil have we done?
    Still shines the gate, all gold and amethyst
    But I pass by, the glorious goal unwon,
    “Merely a Negro”--in a day like _this_!

Even though his face be “red like Adam’s,” and even though his art be
noble like that of the masters of song, yet had Mr. Corrothers, even in
the republic of letters, felt the handicap of his complexion, as this
sonnet bears witness:

THE NEGRO SINGER

    O’er all my song the image of a face
    Lieth, like shadow on the wild, sweet flowers.
    The dream, the ecstasy that prompts my powers,
    The golden lyre’s delights, bring little grace
    To bless the singer of a lowly race.
    Long hath this mocked me: aye, in marvelous hours,
    When Hera’s gardens gleamed, or Cynthia’s bowers,
    Or Hope’s red pylons, in their far, hushed place!
    But I shall dig me deeper to the gold;
    Fetch water, dripping, over desert miles
    From clear Nyanzas and mysterious Niles
    Of love; and sing, nor one kind act withhold.
    So shall men know me, and remember long,
    Nor my dark face dishonor any song.

    Death has silenced the muse of this dark singer,
    one of the best hitherto. That his endowment was
    uncommon and that his achievement, as evinced by
    these poems, is one of distinction, to use Mr.
    Howells’s word, every reader equipped to judge
    of poetry must admit.


III. A GROUP OF SINGING JOHNSONS

In all rosters the name Johnson claims liberal space. Five verse-smiths
with that cognomen will be presented in this book, and there is a sixth.
These many Johnsons are no further related to one another, so far as I
know, than that they are all Adam’s offspring, and poets. Only three of
them will be presented in this chapter: James Weldon Johnson, of
Florida, author of _Fifty Years and Other Poems_ (1917); Charles Bertram
Johnson, of Missouri, author of _Songs of My People_ (1918); Fenton
Johnson, of Chicago, author of _A Little Dreaming_ (1914); _Unions of
the Dusk_ (1915), and _Songs of the Soil_ (1916). The fourth and fifth
are women, and will find a place in another group; the sixth is Adolphus
Johnson, author of _The Silver Chord_, Philadelphia, 1915. The three
mentioned above will be treated in the order in which they have been
named.


_1. James Weldon Johnson_

Now of New York, but born in Florida and reared in the South, James
Weldon Johnson is a man of various abilities, accomplishments, and
activities. He was graduated with the degrees of A. B. and A. M. from
Atlanta University and later studied for three years in Columbia
University. First a school-principal, then a practitioner of the law, he
followed at last the strongest propensity and turned author. His
literary work includes light operas, for which his brother, J. Rosamond
Johnson, composed the music, and a novel entitled _The Autobiography of
an Ex-Colored Man_. Having been United States consul in two
Latin-American countries, he is a master of Spanish and has made
translations of Spanish plays and poems. The English libretto of
_Goyescas_ was made by him for the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1915.
He is also one of the ablest editorial writers in the country. In the
_Public Ledger’s_ contest of 1916 he won the third prize. His editorials
are widely syndicated in the Negro weekly press. Poems of his have
appeared in _The Century_, _The Crisis_, and _The Independent_.

[Illustration: JAMES WELDON JOHNSON]

Professor Brander Matthews in his Introduction to _Fifty Years and Other
Poems_ speaks of “the superb and soaring stanzas” of the title-poem and
describes it as “a poem sonorous in its diction, vigorous in its
workmanship, elevated in its imagination, and sincere in its emotion.”
Doubtless this will seem like the language of exaggeration. The sceptic,
however, must withhold judgment until he has read the poem, too long for
presentation here. Mr. Johnson’s poetical qualities can be represented
in this place only by briefer though inferior productions. A poem of
special significance, and characterized by the qualities noted by
Professor Matthews in “Fifty Years,” is the following:

O SOUTHLAND!

    O Southland! O Southland!
      Have you not heard the call,
    The trumpet blown, the word made known
      To the nations, one and all?
    The watchword, the hope-word,
      Salvation’s present plan?
    A gospel new, for all--for you:
      Man shall be saved by man.

    O Southland! O Southland!
      Do you not hear to-day
    The mighty beat of onward feet,
      And know you not their way?
    ’Tis forward, ’tis upward,
      On to the fair white arch
    Of Freedom’s dome, and there is room
      For each man who would march.

    O Southland, fair Southland!
      Then why do you still cling
    To an idle age and a musty page,
      To a dead and useless thing?
    ’Tis springtime! ’Tis work-time!
      The world is young again!
    And God’s above, and God is love,
      And men are only men.

    O Southland! my Southland!
      O birthland! do not shirk
    The toilsome task, nor respite ask,
      But gird you for the work.
    Remember, remember
      That weakness stalks in pride;
    That he is strong who helps along
      The faint one at his side.

For pure lyric beauty and exquisite pathos, Wordsworthian in both
respects, but no hint of imitation, the following stanzas may be set,
without disadvantage to them, by the side of any in our literature:

    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.

Yet one other poem of this fine singer’s I will give, selecting from not
a few that press for the restricted space. The easy flow of the verse
and the ready rhyme will be remarked--and that supreme quality of good
lyric poetry, austere simplicity.

THE YOUNG WARRIOR

    Mother, shed no mournful tears,
    But gird me on my sword;
    And give no utterance to thy fears,
    But bless me with thy word.

    The lines are drawn! The fight is on!
    A cause is to be won!
    Mother, look not so white and wan;
    Give Godspeed to thy son.

    Now let thine eyes my way pursue
    Where’er my footsteps fare;
    And when they lead beyond thy view,
    Send after me a prayer.

    But pray not to defend from harm,
    Nor danger to dispel;
    Pray, rather, that with steadfast arm
    I fight the battle well.

    Pray, mother of mine, that I always keep
    My heart and purpose strong,
    My sword unsullied and ready to leap
    Unsheathed against the wrong.

Arduous labors in other fields than poetry threaten to silence Mr.
Johnson’s muse, and that is to be regretted.


2. _Charles Bertram Johnson_

School-teacher, preacher, poet--this is Charles Bertram Johnson of
Missouri. And in Missouri there is no voice more tuneful, no artistry in
song any finer, than his. Nor in so bold an assertion am I forgetting
the sweet voice and exquisite artistry of Sarah Teasdale. Mr. Johnson’s
art is not unlike hers in all that makes hers most charming. Only there
is not so much of his that attains to perfection of form. On pages 52
and 63 were given two of his quatrain poems. These were of his people.
But a lyric poet should sing himself. That is of the essence of lyric
poetry. In so singing, however, the poet reveals not only his individual
life, but that of his race to the view of the world. Another quatrain
poem, personal in form, may be accepted as of racial interpretation:

[Illustration: CHARLES BERTRAM JOHNSON]

SOUL AND STAR

    So oft from out the verge afar
      The dear dreams throng and throng,
    Sometimes I think my soul a star,
      And life a pulséd song.

Born at Callao, Missouri, October 5, 1880, of a Kentucky mother and a
Virginia father, Charles Bertram Johnson attended a one-room school
“across the railroad track,” where--who can explain this?--he was
“Introduced to Bacon, Shakespeare, and the art of rhyming.” It reads
like an old story. Some freak of a schoolmaster whose head is filled
with “useless” lore--poetry, tales, and “such stuff”--nurturing a child
of genius into song. But it was Johnson’s mother who was the great
influence in his life. She was an “adept at rhyming” and “she initiated
me into the world of color and melody”--so writes our poet. It is always
the mother. Then, by chance--but how marvelously chance comes to the aid
of the predestined!--by chance, he learns of Dunbar and his poetry. The
ambition to be a poet of his people like Dunbar possesses him. He knows
the path to that goal is education. He therefore makes his way to a
little college at Macon, Missouri, from which, after five years, he is
graduated--without having received any help in the art of poetry,
however. Two terms at a summer school and special instruction by
correspondence seem to have aided him here, or to have induced the
belief that he had been aided. For twenty-odd years he followed the
profession of teaching. For ten years of that period he also preached.
The ministry now claims his entire energies, and the muse knocks less
and less frequently at his door.

Yet he still sings. In a recent number of _The Crisis_ I find a poem of
his that in suggesting a life of toil growing to a peaceful close is
filled with soothing melody:

OLD FRIENDS

    Sit here before my grate,
      Until it’s ashen gray,
    Or till the night grows late,
      And talk the time away.

    I cannot think to sleep,
      And miss your golden speech,
    My bed of dreams will keep--
      You here within my reach.

    I have so much to say,
      The time is short at best,
    A bit of toil and play,
      And after that comes rest.

    But you and I know now
      The wisdom of the soul,
    The years that seamed the brow
      Have made our visions whole.

    Sit here before my grate
      Until the ash is cold;
    The things you say of late
      Are fine as shriven gold.

Even though one be born to sing, if circumstances have made him a
preacher he may be expected to moralize his song. Whether we shall be
reconciled to this will depend on the art with which it is done. If the
moral idea be a sweet human one, and if the verse still be melifluous,
we will submit, and our delight will be twofold--ethical and esthetical.
We will put our preacher-poet of Missouri to the test:

SO MUCH

    So much of love I need,
      And tender passioned care,
    Of human fault and greed
      To make me unaware:

    So much of love I owe,
      That, ere my life be done,
    How shall I keep His will
      To owe not any one?

Truth is, Mr. Johnson is not given to preaching in verse any more than
other poets. His sole aim is beauty. He assures me it is truth. Instead
of admitting disagreement I only assert that, being a poet, he must find
all truth beautiful. It is only for relative thinking we need the three
terms, truth, goodness, and beauty.

I will conclude this presentation of the Missouri singer with a lyrical
sermonette:

A RAIN SONG

    Chill the rain falls, chill!
    Dull gray the world; the vale
    Rain-swept; wind-swept the hill;
    “But gloom and doubt prevail,”
    My heart breaks forth to say.

    Ere thus its sorrow-note,
    “Cheer up! Cheer up, to-day!
    To-morrow is to be!”
    Babbled from a joyous throat,
    A robin’s in a mist-gray tree.

    Then off to keep a tryst--
    He preened his drabbled cloak--
    Doughty little optimist!--
    As if in answer, broke
    The sunlight through that oak.


_3. Fenton Johnson_

Dreams and visions--such are the treasures of suffering loyal hearts:
dreams, visions, and song. Happy even in their sorrows the people to
whom God has given poets to be their spokesmen to the world. Else their
hearts should stifle with woe. As the prophet was of old so in these
times the poet. As a prophet speaks Fenton Johnson, his heart yearning
toward the black folk of our land:

THESE ARE MY PEOPLE

    These are my people, I have built for them
    A castle in the cloister of my heart;
    And I shall fight that they may dwell therein.
    The God that gave Sojourner tongue of fire
    Has made with me a righteous covenant
    That these, my brothers of the dusk, shall rise
    To Sinai and thence in purple walk
    A newer Canaan, vineyards of the West.
    The rods that chasten us shall break as straw
    And fire consume the godless in the South;
    The hand that struck the helpless of my race
    Shall wither as a leaf in drear November,
    And liberty, the nectar God has blest,
    Shall flow as free as wine in Babylon.
    O God of Covenants, forget us not!

Fenton Johnson seems to be more deeply rooted in the song-traditions of
his people than are most of his fellow-poets. To him the classic
Spirituals afford inspiration and pattern. Whoever is familiar with
those “canticles of love and woe” will recognize their influence
throughout Mr. Johnson’s three volumes of song. I shall make no attempt
here to illustrate this truth but shall rather select a piece or two
that will represent the poet’s general qualities. Other poems more
typical of him as a melodist could be found but these have special
traits that commend them for this place.

THE PLAINT OF THE FACTORY CHILD

    Mother, must I work all day?
    All the day? Ay, all the day?
    Must my little hands be torn?
    And my heart bleed, all forlorn?
    I am but a child of five,
    And the street is all alive
    With the tops and balls and toys,--
    Pretty tops and balls and toys.

    Day in, day out, I toil--toil!
    And all that I know is toil;
    Never laugh as others do,
    Never cry as others do,
    Never see the stars at night,
    Nor the golden glow of sunlight,--
    And all for but a silver coin,--
    Just a worthless silver coin.

    Would that death might come to me!
    That blessed death might come to me,
    And lead me to waters cool,
    Lying in a tranquil pool,
    Up there where the angels sing,
    And the ivy tendrils cling
    To the land of play and song,--
    Fairy land of play and song.

THE MULATTO’S SONG

    Die, you vain but sweet desires!
      Die, you living, burning fires!
    I am like a Prince of France,--
      Like a prince whose noble sires
    Have been robbed of heritage;
      I am phantom derelict,
    Drifting on a flaming sea.

    Everywhere I go, I strive,
      Vainly strive for greater things;
    Daisies die, and stars are cold,
      And canary never sings;
    Where I go they mock my name,
      Never grant me liberty,
    Chance to breathe and chance to do.

_The Vision of Lazarus_, contained in _A Little Dreaming_, is a
blank-verse poem of about three-hundred lines, original, well-sustained,
imaginative, and deeply impressive.

In one of the newer methods of verse, and yet with a splendid suggestion
of the old Spirituals, I will take from a recent magazine a poem by Mr.
Johnson that will show how the vision of his people is turned toward the
future, from the welter of struggling forces in the World War:

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 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 altar
      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,
      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.


4. _Adolphus Johnson_

From the _Preface_ of Adolphus Johnson’s _The Silver Chord_ I will take
a paragraph that is more poetic and perfect in expression than any
stanza in his book. Poetry, I think, is in him, but when he wrote these
rhymes he was not yet sufficiently disciplined in expression. But this
is how he can say a thing in prose:

“As the Goddess of Music takes down her lute, touches its silver chords,
and sets the summer melodies of nature to words, so an inspiration
comes to me in my profoundest slumbers and gently awakens my highest
faculties to the finest thought and serenest contemplation herein
expressed. Always remember that a book is your best friend when it
compels you to think, disenthralls your reason, enkindles your hopes,
vivifies your imagination, and makes easier all the burdens of your
daily life.”


_IV. William Stanley Braithwaite_

The critical and the creative faculties rarely dwell together in
harmony. One or the other finally predominates. In the case of Mr.
Braithwaite it seems to be the critical faculty. He has preferred, it
seems, to be America’s chief anthologist, encouraging others up rugged
Parnassus, rather than himself to stand on the heights of song. Since
1913 he has edited a series of annual anthologies of American magazine
verse, which he has provided with critical reviews of the verse output
of the respective year. Of several anthologies of English verse also he
is the editor. Three books of original verse stand to his credit:
_Lyrics of Life and Love_ (1904), _The House of Falling Leaves_ (1908),
and _Sandy Star and Willie Gee_ (1922). These dates seem to prove that
the creative impulse has waned.

Verse artistry, in simple forms, reaches a degree of excellence in Mr.
Braithwaite’s lyrics that has rarely been surpassed in our times.
Graceful and esthetically satisfying expression is given to elusive or
mystical and rare fancies. I will give one of his brief lyrics as an
example of the qualities to which I allude:

SANDY STAR

    No more from out the sunset,
      No more across the foam,
    No more across the windy hills
      Will Sandy Star come home.

    He went away to search it,
      With a curse upon his tongue,
    And in his hands the staff of life
      Made music as it swung.

    I wonder if he found it,
      And knows the mystery now:
    Our Sandy Star who went away
      With the secret on his brow.

In a number of Mr. Braithwaite’s lyrics, as in this one, there is an
atmosphere of mystery that, with the charming simplicity of manner,
strongly suggests Blake. There is a strangeness in all beauty, it has
been said. There is commonly something of Faëryland in the finest lyric
poetry. Another lyric illustrating this quality in Mr. Braithwaite is
the following:

IT’S A LONG WAY

    It’s a long way the sea-winds blow
      Over the sea-plains blue,--
    But longer far has my heart to go
      Before its dreams come true.

    It’s work we must, and love we must,
      And do the best we may,
    And take the hope of dreams in trust
      To keep us day by day.

    It’s a long way the sea-winds blow--
      But somewhere lies a shore--
    Thus down the tide of Time shall flow
      My dreams forevermore.

Mr. Braithwaite’s art rises above race. He seems not to be
race-conscious in his writing, whether prose or verse. Yet no man can
say but that race has given his poetry the distinctive quality I have
indicated. In this connection a most interesting poem is his “A New
England Spinster.” The detachment is perfect, the analysis is done in
the spirit of absolute art. I will quote but two of its dozen or so
stanzas:

    She dwells alone, and never heeds
      How strange may sound her own footfall,
    And yet is prompt to others’ needs,
      Or ready at a neighbor’s call.

    But still her world is one apart,
      Serene above desire and change;
    There are no hills beyond her heart,
      Beyond her gate, no winds that range.

Here is the true artist’s imagination that penetrates to the secrets of
life. No poet’s lyrics, with their deceptive simplicity, better reward
study for a full appreciation of their idea. So much of suggestion to
the reader of the poems which follow:

FOSCATI

    Blest be Foscati! You’ve heard tell
      How--spirit and flesh of him--blown to flame,
    Leaped the stars for heaven, dropped back to hell,
      And felt no shame.

    I here indite this record of his journey:
      The splendor of his epical will to perform
    Life’s best, with the lance of Truth at Tourney--
      Till caught in the storm.

    Of a woman’s face and hair like scented clover,
      Te Deums, Lauds, and Magnificat, he
    Praised with tongue of saint, heart of lover--
      Missed all, but found Foscati!

AUTUMN SADNESS

    The warm October rain fell upon his dream,
      When once again the autumn sadness stirred,
    And murmured through his blood, like a hidden stream
      In a forest, unheard.

    The drowsy rain battered against his delight
      Of the half forgotten poignancies,
    That settle in the dusk of an autumn night
      On a world one hears and sees.

    One was, he thought, an echo merely,
      A glow enshadowed of truths untraced;
    But the autumn sadness, brought him yearly,
      Was a joy embraced.

THANKING GOD

    The way folks had of thanking God
      He found annoying, till he thought
    Of flame and coolness in the sod--
      Of balms and blessings that they wrought.

    And so the habit grew, and then--
      Of when and how he did not care--
    He found his God as other men
      The mystic verb in a grammar of prayer.

    He never knelt, nor uttered words--
      His laughter felt no chastening rod;
    “My being,” he said, “is a choir of birds,
      And all my senses are thanking God.”

Mr. Braithwaite is thoroughly conversant, as these selections indicate,
with the subtleties and finest effects of the art poetic, and his
impulses to write spring from the deepest human speculations, the purest
motives of art. Hence in his work he takes his place among the few.


_V. George Reginald Margetson_

Under tropical suns, amid the tropical luxuriance of nature, developed
the many-hued imagination of the subject of this sketch. His nature is
tropical, for Mr. Margetson is a prolific bard: _Songs of Life_, _The
Fledgling Bard and the Poetry Society_, _Ethiopia’s Flight_, _England in
the West Indies_--four published books, and more yet unpublished--are
proof. No excerpts can fully reveal the distinctive quality of Mr.
Margetson’s poetry--its sonorous and ever-varying flow, like a mountain
stream, its descriptive richness in which it resembles his native
islands. For he was born in the British West Indies, and there lived the
first twenty years of his life. Coming to America in 1897, his home has
been in Boston or its environment since that time. Educated in the
Moravian School at St. Kitts, he has lived with and in the English poets
from Spenser to Byron--Byron seems to have been his favorite--and so has
cultivated his native talent. I can give here but one brief lyric from
his pen.

[Illustration: GEORGE REGINALD MARGETSON]

THE LIGHT OF VICTORY

    In the East a star is rising,
      Breaking through the clouds of war,
    With a light old arts revising
      Shattering steel and iron bar.
    Freedom’s heirs with banners blazing,
      Emblems of Democracy,
    At the magic light are gazing
      Battling with Autocracy.

    Through the night brave souls are marching
      With the armies of the Free;
    Where the Stars and Stripes o’er-arching
      Form a sheltering canopy.
    Allies! hold a front united!
      Shaping well our destiny;
    Let each brutal wrong be righted
      In the drive for Liberty!


_VI. William Moore_

The productions I have seen in the Negro magazines and newspapers from
William Moore’s pen give me the idea of a poet distinctly original and
distinctly endowed with imagination. If there appears some obscurity in
his poems let it not be too hastily set down against him as a fault.
Some ideas are intrinsically obscure. The expression of them that should
be lucid would be false, inadequate. Some poets there needs must be who,
escaping from the inevitable, the commonplace, will transport us out
into infinity to confront the eternal mysteries. Mr. Moore does this in
two sonnets which I will give to represent his poetic work:

EXPECTANCY

    I do not care for sleep, I’ll wait awhile
    For Love to come out of the darkness, wait
    For laughter, gifted with the frequent fate
    Of dusk-lit hope, to touch me with the smile
    Of moon and star and joy of that last mile
    Before I reach the sea. The ships are late
    And mayhap laden with the precious freight
    Dawn brings from Life’s eternal summer isle.

    And should I find the sweeter fruits of dream--
    The oranges of love and mating song--
    I’ll laugh so true the morn will gayly seem
    Endless and ships full laden with a throng
    Of beauty, dreams and loves will come to me
    Out of the surge of yonder silver sea.

AS THE OLD YEAR PASSED

    I stood with dear friend Death awhile last night,
    Out where the stars shone with a lustre true
    In sacred dreams and all the old and new
    Of love and life winged in a silver flight
    Off to the sea of peace that waits where white,
    Pale silences melt in the tranquil blue
    Of skies so tender beauty doth imbue
    The time with holiness and singing light.

    My heart is Life, my soul, O Death, is thine!
    Is thine to kiss with yearning life again,
    Is thine to strengthen and to sweet incline
    To peace and mellowed dream of joy’s refrain.
    I’ll stand with Death again to-night, I think,
    Out where the stars reveal life’s deeper brink.


_VII. Joshua Henry Jones, Jr._

[Illustration: JOSHUA HENRY JONES, JR.]

Poets are born and nurtured in all conditions of life: Joseph Cotter the
elder was a slave-woman’s child; Dunbar wrote his first book between the
runs of the elevator he tended; Leon R. Harris was left in infancy to
the dreary shelter of an orphanage, then indentured to a brutal farmer;
Carmichael came from the cabin of an unlettered farmer in the Black Belt
of Alabama; of a dozen others the story is similar. Born in poverty, up
through adversities they struggled, with little human help save perhaps
from the croons and caresses of a singing mother, and a few terms at a
wretched school, they toiled into the kingdom of knowledge and entered
the world of poetry. Some, however, have had the advantages afforded by
parents of culture and of means. Among these is the subject of this
sketch, the son of Bishop J. H. Jones, of the African Methodist
Episcopal Church. He has had the best educational opportunity offered
by American colleges. He is a graduate of Brown University. Writing has
been his employment since graduation, and he has been on the staffs of
several New England papers. His first book of poems, entitled _The Heart
of the World_ (1919), now in the second edition, reveals at once a
student of poetry and an independent artist in verse. His second book,
_Poems of the Four Seas_ (1921), shows that his vein is still rich in
ore.

In Chapter VIII I give his “Goodbye, Old Year.” Another poem of similar
technique takes for its title the last words of Colonel Roosevelt: “Turn
out the light, please.” The reader cannot but note the sense of proper
effect exhibited in the short sentences, the very manner of a dying man.
But more than this will be perceived in this poem. It will seem to have
sprung out of the world-weary soul of the young poet himself. Struggle,
grief, weariness in the strife, have been his also. Hence:

TURN OUT THE LIGHT

    Turn out the light. Now would I slumber,
      I’m weary with the toil of day.
    Let me forget my pains to number.
      Turn out the light. Dreams come to play.

    Turn out the light. The hours were dreary.
      Clouds of despair long hid the sun.
    I’ve battled hard and now I’m weary.
      Turn out the light. My day is done.

    I’ve done life’s best gloom’s ways to brighten--
      I’ve scattered cheer from heart to heart,
    And where I could I’ve sought to righten
      The wrongs of men ere day depart.

    This morn ’twas bright with hope--and cheery.
      This noon gave courage--made me brave.
    But as the sun sank I grew weary
      Till now my soul for rest doth crave.

    Turn out the light. I’ve done my duty
      To friend and enemy as well.
    I go to sleep where things of beauty
      In glitt’ring chambers ever dwell.

    Turn out the light. Now would I slumber.
      To rest--to dream--soon go we all.
    Let’s hope we wake soul free of cumber.
      Turn out the light. Dream comrades call.

The next piece I select from Mr. Jones’s first book will represent his
talent in another sphere. I suggest that comparison might be made
between this song in literary English and Mr. Johnson’s Negro love song
in dialect, page 226.

A SOUTHERN LOVE SONG

                Dogwoods all a-bloom
                Perfume earth’s big room,
    White full moon is gliding o’er the sky serene.
                Quiet reigns about,
                In the house and out;
    Hoot owl in the hollow mopes with solemn mien.
                Birds have gone to rest
                In each tree-top nest;
    Cotton fields a-shimmer flash forth silver-green.

                O’er the wild cane brake,
                Whip-poor-wills awake,
    And they speak in tender voicings, Heart, of You.
                Answering my call,
                Through the leafy hall,
    Telling how I’m waiting for your tripping, Sue.
                All the world is glad,
                Just because I’m mad.
    Sense-bereft am I through my great love for you.

                Night is all a-smile,
                Happy all the while.
    That is why my heart so filled with song o’erflows.
                I have tarried long,
                Lilting here my song.
    And I’ll ever waiting be till life’s step slows.
                Come to me, my girl,
                Precious more than pearl,
    I’ll be waiting for you where the grapevine grows.

                How my heart doth yearn,
                And with anguish burn,
    Hungry for sweet pains awaked with your embrace.
                Starward goes my cry.
                Echo hears my sigh.
    Heaven itself its pity at my plight shows trace.
                Parson waits to wed.
                Soon the nuptials said.
    I’ve a rose-clad cottage reared for you to grace.

The title-piece of Mr. Jones’s first volume reveals his mastery of
effective form and his command of the language of passionate appeal. The
World War, in which the Negroes of the country gave liberally and
heroically, both of blood and treasure, for democracy, quickened failing
hopes in them and kindled anew their aspirations. In this poem the
writer speaks for his entire race:

THE HEART OF THE WORLD

    In the heart of the world is the call for peace--
      Up-surging, symphonic roar.
    ’Tis ill of all clashings; it seeks release
      From fetters of greed and gore.
    The winds of the battlefields echo the sigh
      Of heroes slumbering deep,
    Who gave all they had and now dreamlessly lie
      Where the bayonets sent them to sleep.

      _Peace for the wealthy; peace for the poor;
      Peace on the hillside, and peace on the moor._

    In the heart of the world is the call for right:
      For fingers to bind up the wound,
    Slashed deep by the ruthless, harsh hand of might,
      When Justice is crushed to the ground.
    ’Tis ill of the fevers of fear of the strong--
      Of jealousies--prejudice--pride.
    “Is there no ideal that’s proof against wrong?”
      Man asks of the man at his side.

      _Right for the lowly; right for the great;
      Right all to pilot to happiness’ gate._

    In the heart of the world is the call for love:
      White heart--Red--Yellow--and Black.
    Each face turns to Bethlehem’s bright star above,
      Though wolves of self howl at each back.
    The whole earth is lifting its voice in a prayer
      That nations may learn to endure,
    Without killing and maiming, but doing what’s fair
      With a soul that is noble and pure.

      _Love in weak peoples; love in the strong;
      Love that will banish all hatred and wrong._

    In the heart of the world is the call of God;
      East--West--and North--and South.
    Stirring, deep-yearning, breast-heaving call for God
      A-tremble behind each mouth.
    The heart’s ill of torments that rend men’s souls.
      Skyward lift all faiths and hopes;
    Across all the oceans the evidence rolls,
      Refreshing all life’s arid slopes.

      _God in the highborn; God in the low;
      God calls us, world-brothers. Hark ye! and know._

From _Poems of the Four Seas_ I will take a piece that gives the Negro
background for the yearning expressed in the foregoing poem:

BROTHERS

    They bind his feet; they thong his hands
    With hard hemp rope and iron bands.
    They scourge his back in ghoulish glee;
    And bleed his flesh;--men, mark ye--free.
    They still his groans with fiendish shout,
    Where flesh streams red they ply the knout.
    Thus sons of men feed lust to kill
    And yet, oh God! they’re brothers still.

    They build a pyre of torch and flame
    While Justice weeps in deepest shame.
    E’en Death in pity bows its head,
    Yet ’midst these men no prayer is said.
    They gather up charred flesh and bone--
    Mementos--boasting brave deed done.
    They sip of gore their souls to fill;
    Drink deep of blood their hands did spill.

    Go tell the world what men have done
    Who prate of God and yet have none;
    Think of themselves as wholly good,
    Blaspheme the name of brotherhood;
    Who hearken not as brothers cry
    For brother’s chance to live and die.
    To keep a demon’s murder tryst
    They’d rend the sepulcher of Christ.


_VIII. Walter Everette Hawkins_

CREDO

        I am an Iconoclast.
    I break the limbs of idols
    And smash the traditions of men.

        I am an Anarchist.
    I believe in war and destruction--
    Not in the killing of men,
    But the killing of creed and custom.

        I am an Agnostic.
    I accept nothing without questioning.
    It is my inherent right and duty
    To ask the reason why.
    To accept without a reason
    Is to debase one’s humanity
    And destroy the fundamental process
    In the ascertainment of Truth.

        I believe in Justice and Freedom.
    To me Liberty is priestly and kingly;
    Freedom is my Bride,
    Liberty my Angel of Light,
    Justice my God.

        I oppose all laws of state or country,
    All creeds of church and social orders,
    All conventionalities of society and system
    Which cross the path of the light of Freedom
    Or obstruct the reign of Right.

This is a faithful self-characterization--such a man in reality is
Walter Everette Hawkins. A fearless and independent and challenging
spirit. He is the rare kind of man that must put everything to the
severe test of absolute principles. He hates shams, hypocrisies,
compromises, chicaneries, injustices. His poems are the bold and
faithful expressions of his personality. Free he has ever been, free he
will be ever, striking right out for freedom and truth. Such a
personality is refreshing to meet, whether you encounter it in the flesh
or in a book.

[Illustration: WALTER EVERETTE HAWKINS]

Born about thirty-five years ago, on a little farm in North Carolina,
the thirteenth child of ex-slave parents, young Hawkins, one may
imagine, was not opulent in this world’s goods. Nor were his
opportunities such as are usually considered thrilling. A few terms of
miserable schooling in the village of Warrenton, the fragments of a few
more terms in a school maintained by the African Methodist Church,
then--“the University of Hard Knocks.” In the two first-named schools
the independent-spirited lad seems not to have gotten along well with
his teachers, hence a few dismissals. Always too prone to ask
troublesome, challenging questions, too prone to doubts and reflections,
he was thought incorrigible. In his “University” he chose his own
masters--the great free spirits of the ages--and at the feet of these he
was teachable, even while the knocks were hardest.

A lover of wild nature and able to commune with nature’s spirit, deeply
fond also of communing with the world’s master minds in books, Mr.
Hawkins is by necessity--while his spirit soars--the slave of routine
toil, being, until recently, a mail clerk in the post office of the City
of Washington. “My only recreation,” he writes me, “is in stealing away
to be with the masters, the intellectual dynamos, of the world, who
converse with me without wincing and deliver me the key to life’s
riddle.”

A true expression of himself I said Mr. Hawkins’s poems are. In no
degree are they fictions. As a companion to _Credo_, quoted to introduce
him, I will give the last poem in his book, which will again set him
before us as he is:

HERO OF THE ROAD

    Let me seek no statesman’s mantle,
      Let me seek no victor’s wreath,
    Let my sword unstained in battle
      Still lie rusting in its sheath;
    Let my garments be unsullied,
      Let no man’s blood to me cling;
    Life is love and earth is heaven,
      If I may but soar and sing.

    This then is my sternest struggle,
      Ease the load and sing my song,
    Lift the lame and cheer the cheerless
      As they plod the road along;
    And we see ourselves transfigured
      In a new and bigger plan;
    Man transformed, his own Messiah,
      God embodied into man.

For the whining craven class of men Mr. Hawkins has little respect:

    The man who complains
      When the world is all song,
    Or dares to sit mute
      When the world is all wrong;
    Who barters his freedom
      Vile honors to win,
    Deserves but to die
      With the vilest of men.

Upon the times in which we live his judgment is severe. His
condemnation, however, bears witness to that earnestness of soul and
that idealism of spirit which will not let the world repose in its
wickedness. From a list of several poems attesting this I select the
following as perhaps the most complete in form:

THE DEATH OF JUSTICE

    These the dread days which the seers have foretold,
    These the fell years which the prophets have dreamed;
    Visions they saw in those full days of old,
    The fathers have sinned and the children blasphemed.
    Hurt is the world, and its heart is unhealed,
    Wrong sways the sceptre and Justice must yield.

    We have come to the travail of troublous times,
    Justice must bow before Moloch and Baal;
    Blasphemous prayers for the triumph of crimes,
    High sounds the cry of the children who wail.
    Hurt is the world, and its heart is unhealed,
    Wrong sways the sceptre and Justice must yield.

    In the brute strength of the sword men rely,
    They count not Justice in reckoning things;
    Whom their lips worship their hearts crucify,
    This the oblation the votary brings.
    Hurt is the world, and its heart is unhealed,
    Wrong sways the sceptre and Justice must yield.

    Locked in death-struggle humanity’s host,
    Seeking revenge with the dagger and sword;
    This is the pride which the Pharisees boast,
    Man damns his brother in the name of his Lord.
    Hurt is the world, and its heart is unhealed,
    Wrong sways the sceptre and Justice must yield.

    Time dims the glare of the pomp and applause,
    Vainglorious monarchs and proud princes fall;
    Until the death of Time revokes his laws,
    His awful mandate shall reign over all.
    Hurt is the world, and its heart is unhealed,
    Wrong sways the sceptre and Justice must yield.

A number of Mr. Hawkins’s productions reveal possibilities of beauty and
effectiveness, which he had not the patience or the skill to realize.
One imagines that he has never been able to bring his spirit to a
submissive study of the minutiæ of metrical composition. A poet _in
esse_--or _in posse_--is all that nature ever makes. And even the most
free spirit must know well the traditions. Whether this iconoclast knows
the Cavalier traditions of English poetry may be left to conjecture, but
the following piece, illustrating Mr. Hawkins’s faults and virtues as a
singer, will prove his kinship to the poetic tribe of which Lovelace
and Suckling were conspicuous members:

ASK ME WHY I LOVE YOU

    Ask me why I love you, dear,
      And I will ask the rose
    Why it loves the dews of Spring
      At the Winter’s close;
    Why the blossoms’ nectared sweets
      Loved by questing bee,--
    I will gladly answer you,
      If they answer me.

    Ask me why I love you, dear,
      I will ask the flower
    Why it loves the Summer sun,
      Or the Summer shower;
    I will ask the lover’s heart
      Why it loves the moon,
    Or the star-besprinkled skies
      In a night in June.

    Ask me why I love you, dear,
      I will ask the vine
    Why its tendrils trustingly
      Round the oak entwine;
    Why you love the mignonette
      Better than the rue,--
    If you will but answer me,
      I will answer you.

    Ask me why I love you, dear,
      Let the lark reply,
    Why his heart is full of song
      When the twilight’s nigh;
    Why the lover heaves a sigh
      When her heart is true;
    If you will but answer me,
      I will answer you.


_IX. Claude McKay_

[Illustration: CLAUDE MCKAY]

An English subject, being born and growing to manhood in Jamaica, Claude
McKay, a pure blood Negro, was first discovered as a poet by English
critics. In Jamaica, as early as 1911, when he was but twenty-two years
of age, his _Constab Ballads_, in Negro dialect, was published. Even in
so broken a tongue this book revealed a poet--on the constabulary force
of Jamaica. In 1920 his first book of poems in literary English, _Spring
in New Hamp-Shire_, came out in England, with a _Preface_ by Mr. I. A.
Richards, of Cambridge, England. Meanwhile, shortly after the
publication of his first book, he had come to the United States.

Here he has worked at various occupations, has taken courses in
Agriculture and English in the Kansas State College, and has thus become
acquainted with life in the States. He is now on the editorial staff of
the _Liberator_, New York. There has been no poet of his race who has
more poignantly felt and more artistically expressed the life of the
American Negro. His poetry is a most noteworthy contribution to
literature. From _Spring in New Hampshire_ I am privileged to take a
number of poems which will follow without comment:

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.

THE LYNCHING

    His spirit in smoke ascended to high heaven.
    His Father, by the cruelest 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.

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 eager, passionate gaze:
    But, looking at her falsely-smiling face,
    I knew her self was not in that strange place.

IN BONDAGE

    I would be wandering in distant fields
    Where man, and bird, and beast live leisurely,
    And the old earth is kind and ever yields
    Her goodly gifts to all her children free;
    Where life is fairer, lighter, less demanding,
    And boys and girls have time and space for play
    Before they come to years of understanding,--
    Somewhere I would be singing, far away;
    For life is greater than the thousand wars
    Men wage for it in their insatiate lust,
    And will remain like the eternal stars
    When all that is to-day is ashes and dust:
    But I am bound with you in your mean graves,
    Oh, black men, simple slaves of ruthless slaves.

Distinction of idea and phrase inheres in these poems. In them the Negro
is esthetically conceived, and interpreted with vision. This is art
working as it should. Mr. McKay has passion and the control of it to the
ends of art. He has the poet’s insight, the poet’s understanding.

Perhaps the most arresting poem in this list, and the one most surely
attesting the genius of the writer, is _The Harlem Dancer_. It is an
achievement in portrayal sufficient by itself to establish a poetic
reputation. The divination that penetrates to the secret purity of soul,
or nobleness of character, through denying appearances--how rare is the
faculty, and how necessary! Elsewhere I give a poem from a Negro woman
which evinces the same divine gift in the author, exhibited in a poem
no less original and no less deeply impressive--Mrs. Spencer’s _At the
Carnival_. Here I will companion _The Harlem Dancer_ with one from Mr.
Dandridge, for the comparison will deepen the effect of each:

ZALKA PEETRUZA

(_Who Was Christened Lucy Jane_)

    She danced, near nude, to tom-tom beat,
    With swaying arms and flying feet,
    ’Mid swirling spangles, gauze and lace,
    Her all was dancing--save her face.

    A conscience, dumb to brooding fears,
    Companioned hearing deaf to cheers;
    A body, marshalled by the will,
    Kept dancing while a heart stood still:

    And eyes obsessed with vacant stare
    Looked over heads to empty air,
    As though they sought to find therein
    Redemption for a maiden sin.

    ’Twas thus, amid force-driven grace,
    We found the lost look on her face;
    And then, to us, did it occur
    That, though we saw--we saw not her.

Returning to Mr. McKay, we may assert that his new volume of verse,
_Harlem Shadows_, confirms and enhances the estimate of him we have
expressed.


_X. Leslie Pinckney Hill_

[Illustration: LESLIE PINCKNEY HILL]

Bearing the diploma of the Lyric Muse, Mr. Leslie Pinckney Hill,
schoolmaster of Cheyney, Pennsylvania, and authentic singer, is one of
the newest arrivals on the slopes of Parnassus. A first glance tells
that he is an agile climber, sinewy, easy of movement, light of step,
with both grace and strength. Every indication in form and motion is for
some point far up toward the summit. Youthful he is, ambitious, plainly,
and, in spite of a burden, buoyant. “Climber,” I said. I will drop the
figure. Poets were never pedestrians. Mr. Hill comes not afoot. If not
on the wings of Pegasus, yet on wings he comes--_the wings of
oppression_. Sad wings! yet it must be remarked that it is commonly on
such wings that poets of whatever race and time rise. And Mr. Hill’s
race knows no other wings. On the wings of oppression the Negro poet and
the Negro people are rising toward the summits of Parnassus, Pisgah, and
other peaks. This they know, too, and of it they are justly proud.

In his _Foreword_ Mr. Hill thus states the case of his people, and, by
implication, of himself: “Nothing in the life of the nation has seemed
to me more significant than that dark civilization which the colored man
has built up in the midst of a white society organized against it. The
Negro has been driven under all the burdens of oppression, both material
and spiritual, to the brink of desperation, but he has always been saved
by his philosophy of life. He has advanced against all opposition by a
certain elevation of his spirit. He has been made strong in tribulation.
He has constrained oppression to give him wings.”

The significant thing about these wings, in a critical view, is that
they fulfill the proper function of wings--bear aloft and sustain in
flight through the azure depths. Mr. Hill’s wings do bear aloft and
sustain: if not always, nor even ever, into the very empyrean of poetry
yet invariably, seventy times, into the ampler air. Like all his race,
he has suffered much; and, like all his race still, he has gathered
wisdom from sorrow. As a true poet should have, he has philosophy, also
vision and imagination--vision for himself and his people, imagination
that sees facts in terms of beauty and presents truths with vital
imagery. Add thereto craftsmanship acquired in the best traditions of
English poetry and you have Hill the poet.

The merit of his book cannot be shown by lines and stanzas. As ever with
true art, the merit lies in the whole effect of complete poems. Still,
we may here first detach from this and that poem a stanza or two,
despite the wrong to art. The first and fourth stanzas of the title-poem
will indicate Mr. Hill’s technique and philosophy:

    I have a song that few will sing
    In honor of all suffering,
    A song to which my heart can bring
    The homage of believing--
    A song the heavy-laden hears
    Above the clamor of his fears,
    While still he walks with blinding tears,
    And drains the cup of grieving.

         *       *       *       *       *

    So long as life is steeped in wrong,
    And nations cry: “How long, how long!”
    I look not to the wise and strong
    For peace and self-possession;
    But right will rise, and mercy shine,
    And justice lift her conquering sign
    Where lowly people starve and pine
    Beneath a world oppression.

The character and temper of the Negro in those gentler aspects which
make such an appeal to the heart are revealed in the following sonnet:

MATER DOLOROSA

    O mother, there are moments when I know
    God’s presence to the full. The city street
    May wrap me in the tumult and the heat
    Of futile striving; bitter winds may blow
    With winter-wilting freeze of hail and snow,
    And all my hopes lie shattered in defeat;
    But in my heart the springtime blossoms sweet,
    And heaven seems very near the way I go.

    These moments are the angels of that prayer
    Which thou hast breathed for many a troubled year
    With bended knee and swarthy-streaming face--
    “Uphold him, Father, with a double care:
    He is but mortal, yet his days must bear
    The world cross, and the burden of his race.”

If these poems, taken collectively, do not declare “what is on the
Negro’s mind” they yet truly reveal, to the reflecting person, what has
sunk deep into his heart. They are therefore a message to America, a
protest, an appeal, and a warning. They will penetrate, I predict,
through breast-armor of _aes triplex_ into the hearts of those whom
sermons and editorials fail to touch in the springs of action. Such is
the virtue of music wed to persuasive words. In strong lines of soaring
blank verse, in which Mr. Hill is particularly capable, he makes a
direct appeal to America in behalf of his people, in a poem entitled
Armageddon:

    Because ye schooled them in the arts of life,
    And gave to them your God, and poured your blood
    Into their veins to make them what they are,
    They shall not fail you in the hour of need.
    They own in them enough of you to feel
    All that has made you masters in your time--
    Dear art and riches, unremitting toil,
    Proud types of beauty, an unbounded will
    To triumph, wondrous science and old law--
    These have they learned to covet and to share.

    But deeper in them still is something steeled
    To hot abhorrence and unmeasured dread
    Of your undaunted sins against the light--
    Red sins of lust, of envy and of hate,
    Of guilty gain extorted from the weak,
    Of brotherhood traduced, and God denied.
    All this have they beheld without revolt,
    And borne the brunt in agonizing prayer.

    For other strains of blood that flow from times
    Older than Egypt, whence the dark man gave
    The rudiments of learning to all lands,
    Have been a strong constraint. And they have dreamed
    Of a peculiar mission under heaven,
    And felt the force of unexampled gifts
    That make for them a rare inheritance--
    The gift of cheerful confidence in man,
    The gift of calm endurance, solacing
    An infinite capacity for pain,
    The gift of an unfeigned humility,
    Blinding the eyes of strident arrogance
    And bigot pride to that philosophy
    And that far-glancing wisdom which it veils,
    Of joy in beauty, hardihood in toil,
    Of hope in tribulation, and of wide
    Adaptive power without a parallel
    In chronicles of men.

A sonnet entitled _To a Caged Canary in a Negro Restaurant_ will present
the poet’s people with the persuasiveness of pathos as the foregoing
poem with the persuasiveness of reason:

    Thou little golden bird of happy song!
    A cage cannot restrain the rapturous joy
    Which thou dost shed abroad. Thou dost employ
    Thy bondage for high uses. Grievous wrong
    Is thine; yet in thy heart glows full and strong
    The tropic sun, though far beyond thy flight,
    And though thou flutterest there by day and night
    Above the clamor of a dusky throng.
    So let my will, albeit hedged about
    By creed and caste, feed on the light within;
    So let my song sing through the bars of doubt
    With light and healing where despair has been;
    So let my people bide their time and place,
    A hindered but a sunny-hearted race.

It would be an injustice to this poet did I convey the idea that his
seventy-odd poems are exclusively occupied with race wrongs and
oppression. Not a few of them bear no stamp of an oppressed or afflicted
spirit, though of sorrow they may have been nurtured.

A lyric of pure loveliness is the following, entitled

TO A NOBLY-GIFTED SINGER

    All the pleasance of her face
    Telleth of an inward grace;
    In her dark eyes I have seen
    Sorrows of the Nazarene;
    In the proud and perfect mould
    Of her body I behold,
    Rounded in a single view,
    The good, the beautiful, the true;
    And when her spirit goes up-winging
    On sweet airs of artless singing,
    Surely the heavenly spheres rejoice
    In union with a kindred voice.

Schoolmaster I said Mr. Hill was. To represent his didactic quality, not
his purer lyrical note, nor yet his narrative beauty, I choose the
following piece:


SELF-DETERMINATION

_The Philosophy of the American Negro_

    Four things we will not do, in spite of all
    That demons plot for our decline and fall;
    We bring four benedictions which the meek
    Unto the proud are privileged to speak,
    Four gifts by which amidst all stern-browed races
    We move with kindly hearts and shining faces.

    _We will not hate._ Law, custom, creed and caste,
    All notwithstanding, here we hold us fast.
    Down through the years the mighty ships of state
    Have all been broken on the rocks of hate.

    _We will not cease to laugh and multiply._
    We slough off trouble, and refuse to die.
    The Indian stood unyielding, stark and grim;
    We saw him perish, and we learned of him
    To mix a grain of philosophic mirth
    With all the crass injustices of earth.

    _We will not use the ancient carnal tools._
    These never won, yet centuries of schools,
    Of priests, and all the work of brush and pen
    Have not availed to win the wisest men
    From futile faith in battleship and shell:
    We see them fall, and mark that folly well.

    _We will not waver in our loyalty._
    No strange voice reaches us across the sea;
    No crime at home shall stir us from this soil.
    Ours is the guerdon, ours the blight of toil,
    But raised above it by a faith sublime
    We choose to suffer _here_ and bide our time.

    And if we hold to this, we dream some day
    Our countrymen will follow in our way.

But though teacher Leslie Pinckney Hill is singer too. And though he has
a message for America he also has music. His powers are rich, varied,
cultured, and developing. His second book will be better than his
excellent first.



CHAPTER III

THE HEART OF NEGRO WOMANHOOD


_I. Miss Eva A. Jessye_

[Illustration: MISS EVA A. JESSYE]

From newspapers I have clipt several poems by Miss Jessye that exhibit a
nature touched to the finer things of the world and of life. She has
fancy, and skill in expression. I concluded section I of chapter II with
a poem of hers, and I will here give two more. The first, in a lighter
vein, betrays the human nature of a school-teacher in the midst of her
vexations while she tries to appear above the reach of common desires.

SPRING WITH THE TEACHER

    ’Tis now the time of silver moon,
    Of swelling bud and fancies free
    As western winds, but then, ah me!
    May cannot come too soon;
    The rover calls in every child,
    And sets his pulses running wild!

    “Do stop that noise and take your seat!
    Joe, learn to study quietly!
    Why girl, it surely has me beat
    How you forget geography!
    Brazil’s in Spain? Here, close that book!
    What caused the Civil War, you say?--
    Suzanna says somebody took
    Her beads; return them right away!

    “Now boy, I told you once before
    To put that story book away!
    I’ll call the roll: Beatrice Moore,
    Why were you absent yesterday?
    Why yes, I heard that mocking bird.
    Lee Arthur, straighten up your face!
    Well, surely, class, you never heard
    Of adverbs having tense and case!

    “Now, James, explain the term ‘per cent,’
    My, my, ’tis surely not forgot!
    If it were fun or devilment
    You’d know it all, sir, like as not!
    Who put that bent pin in my chair?
    No one of course--bent pins can walk!
    I’ll tell you though, had I sat there
    I’d make these straps and switches talk.

    “A picnic on for Saturday?
    (I wish that I were going, too!)
    Oh, no! I couldn’t get away,
    I have so many things to do.
    Well, there’s the bell! Goodbye, goodbye,
    And be good children, don’t forget.”--
    Well, thank the Lord they’re gone, but I
    Can hear their joyous laughter yet.

    ’Tis now the time of silver moon,
    Of swelling bud and fancies free
    As western winds, but then, ah me!
    May cannot come too soon!

Though the moral motive is rarely consistent with the artistic, yet in
the next poem of Miss Jessye’s I shall give there is a perfect
reconciliation. Original no doubt is the idea of this poem, but Sappho,
it seems to me, as one of her fragments bears witness, had meditated
upon the very same idea twenty-five centuries ago.

TO A ROSEBUD

    O dainty bud, I hold thee in my hand--
    A castaway, a dead, a lifeless thing,
    A few days since I saw thee, wet with dew,
    A bud of promise to thy parent cling,
    Now thou art crushed yet lovely as before,
    The adverse winds but waft thy fragrance more.

    How small, how frail! I tread thee underfoot
    And crush thy petals in the reeking ground:
    Perchance some one in pity for thy state
    Will pick thee up in reverence profound--
    Lo, thou art pure with virtue more intense,
    Thy perfume grows from earthly detriments.

    Why do we grieve? Let each affliction bear
    A greater beauty springing from the sod,
    May sweetness well as incense from the urn,
    Which, rising high, enshrouds the throne of God.
    Envoy of Hope, this lesson I disclose--
    “Be Ever Sweet,” thou humble, fragrant rose!

Miss Jessye, now a teacher of the piano in Muskogee, Oklahoma, was born
in Kansas and was graduated from Western University. She has taken
prizes in oratory, poetry, and essay-writing. Yet in her early twenties,
she has a volume of verse ready for publication.


_II. Mrs. J. W. Hammond_

[Illustration: MRS. J. W. HAMMOND]

Self-taught, and disclaiming knowledge of books, Mrs. Hammond of Omaha,
Nebraska, contributes to _The Monitor_ of that city verses of musical
cadences and gentle beauty. Her response to the scenes and objects of
nature is that of a poetic mind. The spirit of joy sings through her
verses. As a representative poem the following may be accepted:

THE OPTIMIST

    Who would have the sky any color but blue,
      Or the grass any color but green?
    Or the flowers that bloom the summer through
      Of other color or sheen?

    How the sunshine gladdens the human heart--
      How the sound of the falling rain
    Will cause the tender tears to start,
      And free the soul from pain.

    Oh, this old world is a great old place!
      And I love each season’s change,
    The river, the brook of purling grace,
      The valley, the mountain range.

    And when I am called to quit this life,
      My feet will not spurn the sod,
    Though I leave this world with its beauty rife,--
      There’s a glorious one with God!

One other poem of Mrs. Hammond’s I will give that is beautiful alike in
feeling and treatment.

TO MY NEIGHBOR BOY

    When sweet Aurora lifts her veil,
    And floods the world with rosy light,
    When morning stars, grown dim and pale,
    Proclaim the passing of the night--
    With waking bird and opening flower,
    I greet with joy the new-born day--
    For oft at this exquisite hour,
    I hear a strange new roundelay.
    No syncopating “jazz” or “blues,”
    Insults my eager listening ear,
    But softly as the falling dews,
    The strains come stealing sweet and clear.
    With lilting grace they rise above
    The early traffic’s sordid din--
    My neighbor boy is making love
        To his beloved violin.

    Sometimes I catch a quivering note--
    An over-burdened wordless cry.
    I say: “Those are the lines he wrote
    The day he told some one goodbye.”
    But when I hear a joyous strain
    Of melody serene and clear,
    I smile and say: “All’s well again--
    The little maiden must be near!”
    But best of all I love the mood
    That prompts a soft sweet minor key.
    My longing soul forgets to brood,
    While drinking in the melody.
    My restless spirit will not rove,
    Nor lose its faith in God and men,
    The while my neighbor boy makes love
      To his beloved violin.


_III. Mrs. Alice Dunbar-Nelson_

A sonnet has already been given from Mrs. Dunbar-Nelson to which I think
Mrs. Browning or Christina Rossetti might have appended her signature
without detriment to her fame. It is one of a series entitled _A Dream
Sequence_, the rest of the sequence being as yet unpublished. Instead
of pillaging this sequence, marring the effect of the individual member
so dislocated, I will take from her compilation, _The Dunbar
Speaker_,[3] so named for her first husband, the poet, two of her
original poems. The first is a war poem, doubtless, but the occasion is
immaterial. The spirit of rebellion against confinement to the petty
thing while the something big calls afar might be evoked into play by
any of a hundred situations.

[Illustration: ALICE DUNBAR-NELSON]

I SIT AND SEW

    I sit and sew--a useless task it seems,
    My hands grown tired, my head weighed down with dreams--
    The panoply of war, the martial tread of men,
    Grim-faced, stern-eyed, gazing beyond the ken
    Of lesser souls, whose eyes have not seen Death,
    Nor learned to hold their lives but as a breath--
    But--I must sit and sew.

    I sit and sew--my heart aches with desire--
    That pageant terrible, that fiercely pouring fire
    On wasted fields, and writhing grotesque things
    Once men. My soul in pity flings
    Appealing cries, yearning only to go
    There in that holocaust of hell, those fields of woe--
    But--I must sit and sew.

    The little useless seam, the idle patch;
    Why dream I here beneath my homely thatch,
    When there they lie in sodden mud and rain,
    Pitifully calling me, the quick ones and the slain?
    You need me, Christ! It is no roseate dream
    That beckons me--this pretty futile seam,
    It stifles me--God, must I sit and sew?

The second poem I shall give is also not unrelated to the recent World
War, and to all war: the lights alluded to, shining across and down the
Delaware for miles, are the lights of the DuPont powder mills. It is a
poem of fine symmetry, highly poetic diction, and great allusive
meaning--a poem that will bear and repay many readings, never growing
less beautiful.

THE LIGHTS AT CARNEY’S POINT

    O white little lights at Carney’s Point,
      You shine so clear o’er the Delaware;
    When the moon rides high in the silver sky,
    Then you gleam, white gems on the Delaware.
    Diamond circlet on a full white throat,
      You laugh your rays on a questing boat;
    Is it peace you dream in your flashing gleam,
      O’er the quiet flow of the Delaware?

    And the lights grew dim at the water’s brim,
      For the smoke of the mills shredded slow between;
    And the smoke was red, as is new bloodshed,
      And the lights went lurid ’neath the livid screen.

    O red little lights at Carney’s Point,
      You glower so grim o’er the Delaware;
    When the moon hides low sombrous clouds below,
      Then you glow like coals o’er the Delaware.
    Blood red rubies on a throat of fire,
      You flash through the dusk of a funeral pyre;
    Are there hearth fires red whom you fear and dread
      O’er the turgid flow of the Delaware?

    And the lights gleamed gold o’er the river cold,
      For the murk of the furnace shed a copper veil;
    And the veil was grim at the great cloud’s brim,
      And the lights went molten, now hot, now pale.

    O gold little lights at Carney’s Point,
      You gleam so proud o’er the Delaware;
    When the moon grows wan in the eastering dawn,
      Then you sparkle gold points o’er the Delaware.
    Aureate filigree on a Crœsus’ brow,
      You hasten the dawn on a gray ship’s prow.
    Light you streams of gold in the grim ship’s hold
      O’er the sullen flow of the Delaware?

    And the lights went gray in the ash of day,
      For a quiet Aurora brought a halcyon balm;
    And the sun laughed high in the infinite sky,
      And the lights were forgot in the sweet, sane calm.

Mrs. Dunbar-Nelson has not applied herself to poetry as she has to prose
fiction. As a short-story writer she has special distinction.


_IV. Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson_

[Illustration: MRS. G. D. JOHNSON]

Exquisite artistry in verse, with infallible poetic content, is
exhibited in Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson’s _The Heart of a Woman_. It
is also the saddest book produced by her race. Perfect lyrical notes,
the most poignant pathos--that is an exact description of it. Triple
bronze cannot armor any breast successfully against its appeal. For the
heart that speaks here is a heart that has known its garden of sorrows,
its Gethsemane. This is the harvest of her sorrows--dreams and songs, of
which she comments:

    The dreams of the dreamer
      Are life-drops that pass
    The break in the heart
      To the Soul’s hour-glass.

    The songs of the singer
      Are tones that repeat
    The cry of the heart
      Till it ceases to beat.

Neither in memory nor in dreams is there a refuge for the life-wounded
heart of this woman:

    What need have I for memory,
      When not a single flower
    Has bloomed within life’s desert
      For me, one little hour?

    What need have I for memory,
      Whose burning eyes have met
    The corse of unborn happiness
      Winding the trail regret?

And thus of her dreams, on the last page of her book:

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

What are the experiences and what the conditions of life--what must they
have been--which have had the tragic power to make a soul “try to forget
it has dreamed of stars?” The world little kens what hearts in it are
breaking, and why. To the grave the secret goes with the many, one in a
million betrays it in a cry. But not here is it betrayed:

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--goodnight!

Not without hurt to itself may the oyster produce its pearl. These poems
from the heart of a woman remind me of nothing so much as a string of
pearls. Each one is witness to a bruise or gash to the spirit. The lyric
cry has not been more piercing in anything written on American soil,
piercing all the more for the perfect restraint, the sure artistry. It
was a heart surcharged with sorrow in which these pearls of poesy took
shape from secret wounds. The heart of one woman speaks in them for
thousands in America, else inarticulate. “We weep,” says the African
proverb, “we weep in our hearts like the tortoise.” Without one word or
hint of race in all the book there is yet between its covers the
unwritten, unwritable tragedy of that borderland race which knows not
where it belongs in the world, a truly homeless race in soul. A sadder
book could hardly be.

Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and received
her academic education in Atlanta University and a musical education at
Oberlin. She now lives in Washington, D. C. She is at the beginning of
her career as an author. Two other books of lyrics, under the titles of
_An Autumn Love Cycle_, and _Bronze_,[4] she has in preparation for the
press at this time. Some of their contents have already appeared in
magazines. These two new volumes will make an advance in power and in
richness of content beyond _The Heart of a Woman_. They will also
provide the key to the tragic mystery concealed in that book. A poem
that is to appear in _Bronze_ will be given in a later chapter. I will
here give another. Both have already been published in magazines.

THE OCTOROON

    One drop of midnight in the dawn of life’s pulsating stream
    Marks her an alien from her kind, a shade amid its gleam.
    Forevermore her step she bends, insular, strange, apart--
    And none can read the riddle of her strangely warring heart.

    The stormy current of her blood beats like a mighty sea
    Against the man-wrought iron bars of her captivity.
    For refuge, succor, peace, and rest, she seeks that humble fold
    Whose every breath is kindliness, whose hearts are purest gold.


_V. Miss Angelina W. Grimké_

[Illustration: MISS ANGELINA GRIMKÉ]

Not less distinctive in quality than Mrs. Johnson’s, and not less
beautiful in artistry, are the brief lyrics of Miss Angelina W. Grimké,
also of the city of Washington. If hers should be called imagist poetry
or no I cannot say, but I am certain that more vivid imaging of objects
has not been done in verse by any contemporary. This, too, in stanzas
that suggest in their perfection of form the work of the old lapidaries.
Nor is there but a surface or formal beauty. There is passion, there is
beauty of idea, the soul of lyric poetry is there as well as the form. I
am weighing well my words in giving this praise, and I know that not
one in the thousand of those who write good verse would deserve them.
But I ask the sceptical individual to re-read them after he has perused
the poems themselves.

I will present several without interrupting comment:

DAWN

    Grey trees, grey skies, and not a star;
      Grey mist, grey hush;
    And then, frail, exquisite, afar,
      A hermit-thrush.

A WINTER TWILIGHT

    A silence slipping around like death,
    Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh, a breath;
    One group of trees, lean, naked and cold,
    Inking their crests ’gainst a sky green-gold;
    One path that knows where the corn flowers were;
    Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
    And over it softly leaning down,
    One star that I loved ere the fields went brown.

THE PUPPET-PLAYER

    Sometimes it seems as though some puppet-player.
      A clenched claw cupping a craggy chin.
    Sits just beyond the border of our seeing,
      Twitching the strings with slow, sardonic grin.

THE WANT OF YOU

    A hint of gold where the moon will be;
    Through the flocking clouds just a star or two;
    Leaf sounds, soft and wet and hushed,
    And oh! the crying want of you.

EL BESO

    Twilight--and you,
    Quiet--the stars;
    Snare of the shine of your teeth,
    Your provocative laughter,
    The gloom of your hair;
    Lure of you, eye and lip;
    Yearning, yearning,
    Languor, surrender;
      Your mouth,
    And madness, madness,
    Tremulous, breathless, flaming,
    The space of a sigh;
    Then awakening--remembrance,
    Pain, regret--your sobbing;
    And again quiet--the stars,
    Twilight--and you.

AT THE SPRING DAWN

    I watched the dawn come,
      Watched the spring dawn come.
    And the red sun shouldered his way up
      Through the grey, through the blue,
    Through the lilac mists.
    The quiet of it! The goodness of it!
      And one bird awoke, sang, whirred
    A blur of moving black against the sun,
      Sang again--afar off.
    And I stretched my arms to the redness of the sun,
      Stretched to my finger tips,
        And I laughed.
    Ah! It is good to be alive, good to love,
      At the dawn,
        At the spring dawn.

TO KEEP THE MEMORY OF CHARLOTTE FORTEN GRIMKÉ

    Still are there wonders of the dark and day;
    The muted shrilling of shy things at night,
    So small beneath the stars and moon;
    The peace, dream-frail, but perfect while the light
    Lies softly on the leaves at noon.
    These are, and these will be
    Until Eternity;
    But she who loved them well has gone away.

    Each dawn, while yet the east is veiled gray,
    The birds about her window wake and sing;
    And far away each day some lark
    I know is singing where the grasses swing;
    Some robin calls and calls at dark.
    These are, and these will be
    Until Eternity;
    But she who loved them well has gone away.

    The wild flowers that she loved down green ways stray;
    Her roses lift their wistful buds at dawn,
    But not for eyes that loved them best;
    Only her little pansies are all gone,
    Some lying softly on her breast.
    And flowers will bud and be
    Until Eternity;
    But she who loved them well has gone away.

    Where has she gone? And who is there to say?
    But this we know: her gentle spirit moves
    And is where beauty never wanes,
    Perchance by other streams, ’mid other groves;
    And to us here, ah! she remains
    A lovely memory
    Until Eternity.
    She came, she loved, and then she went away.

The subject of these beautiful memorial verses was not simply in feeling
but in expression also a poet herself. From “A June Song” written by her
I will take a stanza in evidence:

    How shall we crown her bright young head?
    Crown it with roses, rare and red;
    Crown it with roses, creamy white,
    As the lotus bloom that sweetens the night.
    Crown it with roses as pink as shell
    In which the voices of ocean dwell.
    And a fairer queen
    Shall ne’er be seen
    Than our lovely, laughing June.


_VI. Mrs. Anne Spencer_

Who can fathom to its depths the heart of womanhood? Under the
conditions of American

[Illustration: MRS. ANNE SPENCER]

life the Negro woman’s heart offers difficulties peculiar to itself.
These various writers--talented, cultured, with the keen sensibilities
of a specially sensitive people--have given us glimpses into some of the
depths, not all. A poet of the other sex, Mr. McKay, with that
divination which belongs to the poet, intimates in _The Harlem Dancer_,
quoted on page 128, that the index of the heart is not always in the
occupation or the face:

    But, looking at her falsely-smiling face,
    I knew her self was not in that strange place.

No, her self was free and too noble to be smirched by the “passionate
gaze of wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys.” It is a paradox that has puzzled
a recent white novelist. Cissie Dildine, in Mr. Stribling’s
_Birthright_, pilferer though she is, and sacrificer of her maidenhood,
yet does not lose caste among her people. They speak affectionately of
her and minister lovingly to her in jail, with no hint of reproach. It
is not other standards, as the novelist intimates, that we must apply,
but only right standards, in view of circumstances.

I am able to give here a poem that may start in the reader’s mind a
fruitful train of reflections, tending toward profound ethical truth.
The writer, Mrs. Anne Spencer of Lynchburg, Virginia, in all of her work
that I have seen, has marked originality. Her style is independent,
unconventional, and highly compressed. The poem which follows will
fairly represent her work and at the same time open another avenue to
the secret chambers of the Negro woman’s heart:

AT THE CARNIVAL

    Gay little Girl-of-the-Diving-Tank,
    I desire a name for you,
    Nice, as a right glove fits;
    For you--who amid the malodorous
    Mechanics of this unlovely thing,
    Are darling of spirit and form.
    I know you--a glance, and what you are
    Sits-by-the-fire in my heart.
    My Limousine-Lady knows you, or
    Why does the slant-envy of her eye mark
    Your straight air and radiant inclusive smile?
    Guilt pins a fig-leaf; Innocence is its own adorning.
    The bull-necked man knows you--this first time
    His itching flesh sees form divine and vibrant health,
    And thinks not of his avocation.
    I came incuriously--
    Set on no diversion save that my mind
    Might safely nurse its brood of misdeeds
    In the presence of a blind crowd.
    The color of life was gray.
    Everywhere the setting seemed right
    For my mood!
    Here the sausage and garlic booth
    Sent unholy incense skyward;
    There a quivering female-thing
    Gestured assignations, and lied
    To call it dancing;
    There, too, were games of chance
    With chances for none;
    But oh! Girl-of-the-Tank, at last!
    Gleaming Girl, how intimately pure and free
    The gaze you send the crowd,
    As though you know the dearth of beauty
    In its sordid life.
    We need you--my Limousine-Lady,
    The bull-necked man, and I.
    Seeing you here brave and water-clean,
    Leaven for the heavy ones of earth,
    I am swift to feel that what makes
    The plodder glad is good; and
    Whatever is good is God.
    The wonder is that you are here;
    I have seen the queer in queer places,
    But never before a heaven-fed
    Naiad of the Carnival-Tank!
    Little Diver, Destiny for you,
    Like as for me, is shod in silence;
    Years may seep into your soul
    The bacilli of the usual and the expedient;
    I implore Neptune to claim his child to-day!


_VII. Miss Jessie Fauset_

[Illustration: MISS JESSIE REDMON FAUSET]

By way of indicating the idealistic aspirations of the colored people I
gave at the end of Chapter I. J. Mord Allen’s poem _The Psalm of the
Uplift_. For the same purpose I will give here, at the end of this
chapter, a poem of the very present day from one of the most
accomplished young women of the Negro race. Besides its intrinsic merit
as a poem it has the further recommendation for a place in this chapter
that it celebrates a woman of the black race who was the very embodiment
of its noblest qualities--illiterate slave though she was. It is a
splendid testimonial to her people of this later day that Negro
literature is filled with tributes to Sojourner Truth. She was indeed a
wonderful woman, altogether worthy to be ranked with the noble heroines
of biblical story. From a Negro historian I take the following
restrained account of her:[5]

     Two Negroes, because of their unusual gifts, stood out with great
     prominence in the agitation. These were Sojourner Truth and
     Frederick Douglass. Sojourner Truth was born of slave parents about
     1798 in Ulster County, New York. She remembered vividly in later
     years the cold, wet cellar-room in which slept the slaves of the
     family to which she belonged, and where she was taught by her
     mother to repeat the Lord’s Prayer and to trust in God at all
     times. When in the course of gradual emancipation in New York she
     became legally free in 1827, her master refused to comply with the
     law. She left, but was pursued and found. Rather than have her go
     back, a friend paid for her services for the rest of the year. Then
     came an evening when, searching for one of her children that had
     been stolen and sold, she found herself a homeless wanderer. A
     Quaker family gave her lodging for the night. Subsequently she went
     to New York City, joined a Methodist Church, and worked hard to
     improve her condition. Later, having decided to leave New York for
     a lecturing tour through the East, she made a small bundle of her
     belongings and informed a friend that her name was no longer
     Isabella but Sojourner. She went on her way, lecturing to people
     where she found them assembled and being entertained in many
     aristocratic homes. She was entirely untaught in the schools, but
     she was witty, original, and always suggestive. By her tact and her
     gift of song she kept down ridicule, and by her fervor and faith
     she won many friends for the anti-slavery cause. As to her name she
     said: “And the Lord gave me Sojourner because I was to travel up
     an’ down the land showin’ the people their sins an’ bein’ a sign
     unto them. Afterwards I told the Lord I wanted another name, ’cause
     everybody else had two names, an’ the Lord gave me Truth, because I
     was to declare the truth to the people.”

The poem follows, with the author’s note on the saying of Sojourner
Truth which occasioned it:

ORIFLAMME

     I can remember when I was a little, young girl, how my old mammy
     would sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and
     groan, and I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’ And she
     would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my poor children; they do not
     know where I be and I don’t know where they be. I look up at the
     stars and they look up at the stars!’--Sojourner Truth.

    I think I see her sitting bowed and black,
      Stricken and seared with slavery’s mortal scars,
    Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet
      Still looking at the stars.

    Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons,
      Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom’s bars,
    Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set,
      Still visioning the stars!

“Still visioning the stars”--that is the idealism of the Negro. The soul
of Sojourner Truth goes marching on, star-led.



CHAPTER IV

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA


I. PER ASPERA


_I. Edward Smythe Jones_

[Illustration: EDWARD SMYTHE JONES]

It has not frequently happened in these times that a poet has dated a
poem from a prison cell, or dedicated a book of poems to the judge of a
police court. Mr. Edward Smythe Jones, however, has done this, and there
is an interesting story by way of explanation. From the poem alluded to
it seems that Mr. Jones in his over-mastering desire to drink at the
Harvard fountain of learning tramped out of the Southland up to
Cambridge. Arriving travel-worn, friendless, moneyless, hungry, he was
preparing to bivouac on the Harvard campus his first night in the
University city, when, being misunderstood, and not believed, he was
apprehended as a vagabond and thrown into jail. A poem, however, the
poem which tells this story, delivered him. The judge was convinced by
it, kindly entreated the prisoner, and set him free to return to the
academic shades. _Ad astra per aspera._

It was in “Cell No. 40, East Cambridge Jail, Cambridge, Massachusetts,
July 26, 1910,” that the unlucky bard committed to verse this story,
transmuting harsh experience to the joy of artistic production. The last
half of his version runs as follows:

    As soon as locked within the jail,
      Deep in a ghastly cell,
    Methought I heard the bitter wail
      Of all the fiends of hell!
    “O God, to Thee I humbly pray
      No treacherous prison snare
    Shall close my soul within for aye
      From dear old Harvard Square.”

    Just then I saw an holy Sprite
      Shed all her radiant beams,
    And round her shone the source of light
      Of all the poets’ dreams!
    I plied my pen in sober use,
      And spent each moment spare
    In sweet communion with the Muse
      I met in Harvard Square!

    I cried: “Fair Goddess, hear my tale
      Of sorrow, grief and pain.”
    That made her face an ashen pale,
      But soon it glowed again!
    “They placed me here; and this my crime,
      Writ on their pages fair;--
    ‘He left his sunny native clime,
      And came to Harvard Square!’”

    “Weep not, my son, thy way is hard,
      Thy weary journey long--
    But thus I choose my favorite bard
      To sing my sweetest song.
    I’ll strike the key-note of my art
      And guide with tend’rest care,
    And breathe a song into thy heart
      To honor Harvard Square.

    “I called old Homer long ago,
      And made him beg his bread
    Through seven cities, ye all know,
      His body fought for, dead.
    Spurn not oppression’s blighting sting,
      Nor scorn thy lowly fare;
    By them I’ll teach thy soul to sing
      The songs of Harvard Square.

    “I placed great Dante in exile,
      And Byron had his turns;
    Then Keats and Shelley smote the while,
      And my immortal Burns!
    But thee I’ll build a sacred shrine,
      A store of all my ware;
    By them I’ll teach thy soul to sing
      ‘A place in Harvard Square.’

    “To some a store of mystic lore,
      To some to shine a star:
    The first I gave to Allan Poe,
      The last to Paul Dunbar.
    Since thou hast waited patient, long,
      Now by my throne I swear
    To give to thee my sweetest song
      To sing in Harvard Square.”

    And when she gave her parting kiss
      And bade a long farewell,
    I sat serene in perfect bliss
      As she forsook my cell.
    Upon the altar-fire she poured
      Some incense very rare;
    Its fragrance sweet my soul assured
      I’d enter Harvard Square.

    Reclining on my couch, I slept
      A sleep sweet and profound;
    O’er me the blessed angels kept
      Their vigil close around.
    With dawning’s smile, my fondest hope
      Shone radiant and fair:
    The Justice cut each chain and rope
      ’Tween me and Harvard Square!

Of all the Negro poets whose writings I have perused, Edward Smythe
Jones is the most difficult to estimate with certainty. There is an
eloquence and luxuriance of language and imagery in his stanzas which
perplexes the critic and yet persuades him to repeated readings. The
result, however, fails to become clear. If, with his copiousness, the
reserve of disciplined art ever becomes his, and his critical faculty is
trained to match his creative, then poetry of noteworthy merit may be
expected from him. His deeply religious bent, his aspiration after the
best things of the mind, his ambition to treat lofty themes, augur well
for him.

Mr. Jones’s two best poems, _The Sylvan Cabin: A Centenary Ode on the
Birth of Abraham Lincoln_ and _An Ode to Ethiopia: to the Aspiring Negro
Youth_, are too long for insertion here. I will give a shorter patriotic
ode, not included in his book, but written, I believe, during the World
War:

FLAG OF THE FREE

    Flag of the free, our sable sires
      First bore thee long ago
    Into hot battles’ hell-lit fires,
      Against the fiercest foe.
    And when he shook his shaggy mien,
      And made the death-knell ring,
    Brave Attucks fell upon the Green,
      Thy stripes first crimsoning.

    Thy might and majesty we hurl,
      Against the bolts of Mars;
    And from thy ample folds unfurl
      Thy field of flaming stars!
    Fond hope to nations in distress,
      Thy starry gleam shall give;
    The stricken in the wilderness
      Shall look to thee and live.

    What matter if where Boreas roars,
      Or where sweet Zephyr smiles?
    What matter if where eagle soars,
      Or in the sunlit isles?
    Thy flowing crimson stripes shall wave
      Above the bluish brine,
    Emblazoned ensign of the brave,
      And Liberty enshrine!

    Flag of the Free, still float on high
      Through every age to come;
    Bright beacon of the azure sky,
      True light of Freedom’s dome.
    Till nations all shall cease to grope
      In vain for liberty,
    Oh, shine, last lingering star of hope
      Of all humanity!

Is there, in all our American poetry, a more eloquent apostrophe to our
flag than that, not excepting even Joseph Rodman Drake’s? Perhaps the
allusion to Attucks in the first stanza will require a note for the
white reader. Every colored school-child, however, knows that Crispus
Attucks was a brave and stalwart Negro, who, in the van of the patriots
of Boston that resisted the British soldiers in the so-called “Boston
Massacre,” March 5, 1770, fell with two British bullets in his breast,
among the first martyrs for independence:

    Thus Attucks brave, without a moment’s pause,
    Full bared his breast in Freedom’s holy cause,
    First fell and tore the code of Tyranny’s cruel laws--

so writes of him this same poet in his _Ode to Ethiopia_.


_II. Raymond Garfield Dandridge_

Twelve years ago a young house-decorator in Cincinnati was stricken down
with partial paralysis, since which time he has been bedfast and all but
helpless. On this bed of distress he learned what resources were within
himself, powers that in health he knew not of. The fountain of poetry
sprang up in what threatened to be a desert life.--The artist-nature
within manifested itself in a new realm, the realm of words set to
tuneful measures. This artisan, turned by affliction into a poet, is
Raymond Garfield Dandridge. Again, _ad astra per aspera_.

[Illustration: RAYMOND G. DANDRIDGE]

It is not great poetry that Dandridge is giving to the world, but it is
poetry. His musings shaped into rhyme reach the heart. They have
sweetness and light--“the two most precious things in the world.” All
the art he has acquired, untaught, from his reading and unaided
thinking. Naturally one would not expect that art to be flawless. His
initial poem, while not literally a self-description, will serve to
introduce this adopted son of the lyric Muse:

THE POET

    The poet sits and dreams and dreams;
    He scans his verse; he probes his themes.

    Then turns to stretch or stir about,
    Lest, like his thoughts, his strength give out.

    Then off to bed, for he must rise
    And cord some wood, or tamp some ties,

    Or break a field of fertile soil,
    Or do some other manual toil.

    He dare not live by wage of pen,
    Most poorly paid of poor paid men,

    With shoes o’er-run, and threadbare clothes,--
    And editors among the foes

    Who mock his song, deny him bread,
    Then sing his praise when he is dead.

A secret consolation is intimated in the following lines:

TO--

    Though many are the dreams I dream,
    They’re born within a single theme.
    The same kind voice I ever hear,
    Instilling faith, upbraiding fear:
    The same consoling smile appears
    To snuff my sighs and dry my tears:
    And fondest heart, of purest gold,
    Is hers whose name I here withhold,
    And pray naught ever change my theme,
    Or wake me from my dream.

Reflections upon the deeper meanings of life and death are inevitable to
one situated as Mr. Dandridge is, provided he is given to serious
reflections at all. And the thoughts of such a person are apt to have
value for their sincerity. Two brief meditations in rhyme, as we may
call them, will represent his thinking on such themes:

TIME TO DIE

    Black Brother, think you life so sweet
    That you would live at any price?
    Does mere existence balance with
    The weight of your great sacrifice?
    Or, can it be you fear the grave
    Enough to live and die a slave?
    O, Brother! be it better said,
    When you are gone and tears are shed,
    That your death was the stepping stone
    Your children’s children cross’d upon.
    Men have died that men might live:
    Look every foeman in the eye!
    If necessary, your life give
    For something, ere in vain you die.

ETERNITY

    Vast realm beyond the gate of death,
    Where craven scavengers and kings,
    Alike, with passing final breath,
    Relinquish claim to earthly things:

    Endless, unexplored expanse,
    Where souls, bereft of mortal clay,
    Wander at will, in peace, perchance--
    Perchance in strife, who dare would say?

Even in the confinement to which his affliction has subjected him, Mr.
Dandridge has felt the strong pulse-throbs of his people’s new kindled
aspirations. The strength of the soul may indeed increase with the
weakness of the body. These lines are surely not wanting in the passion
without which “facts” are cold:

FACTS

    Triumphant Sable Heroes homeward turning,
    Arrayed in medals bright, and half-healed scars,
    Have service, life, and limb been given earning
    Trophies issued at the hand of Mars?

    If your sole gain has been these “marks of battle,”
    If valiant deeds insure no greater claim,
    If you are still to be the herder’s cattle,
    Then ill spilt blood fell short of Freedom’s aim.

    Democracy means more than empty letters,
    And Liberty far more than partly free;
    Yet, both are void as long as men in fetters
    Are at eclipse with Opportunity.


_III. George Marion McClellan_

[Illustration: GEORGE MARION MCCLELLAN]

Aptly has Mr. McClellan entitled his book of poems _The Path of Dreams_.
A dreamer is he and the home of his spirit is dreamland:

    Sweet-scented winds move inward from the shore,
      Blythe is the air of June with silken gleams,
    My roving fancy treads at will once more
      The golden path of dreams.

And that path leads the poet ever back to the golden days of his youth,
when Southern suns and Southern moons steeped his very being in dreams
and Southern birds gave him their melodies and Southern mountains lifted
his soul heavenward. A wanderer upon the earth he appears to have been,
and as all wanderers’ hearts turn back to some loved region or spot so
his to Dixie. Seldom has the longing for distant, remembered scenes, for
spring’s returning and for summer’s glow, been more sweetly expressed in
rhyme than in the various poems of _The Path of Dreams_. And yet,
sweeter songs than those are locked up in his breast, not to be sung:

    The summer sweetness fills my heart with songs
    I cannot sing, with loves I cannot speak.

When harsh necessity imprisons him in the city he sighs:

    I think the sight of fields and shady lanes
    Would ease my heart of pains.

But what contradictions poets have ever found in their experiences! The
ministrants of joy but wring the cry of pain from the yearning heart.
Lovely May is harder to endure, in exile, than gloomy December. The
city’s discordant cries may be endured, bringing neither grief nor joy,
while a bird’s carol may be exquisite torture:

    The woodlark’s tender warbling lay,
      Which flows with melting art,
    Is but a trembling song of love
      That serves to break my heart.

Musing on whatever scene, the poet’s thoughts are tinged with that
sadness which to every sensitive nature has a sweetness in it:

    The sun went down in beauty,
      While I stood musing alone,
    Stood watching the rushing river
      And heard its restless moan;
    Longings, vague, intenable,
      So far from speech apart,
    Like the endless rush of the river,
      Went surging through my heart.

With no less sadness or beauty, and with that philosophy towards which
poetry ever has a bias, our poet of dreams thus reflects, on watching
the ephemera that dart with glimmering wings in keen delight where the
breezes fling the sweets of May:

    Creatures of gauze and velvet wings,
      With a day of gleams and flowers,
    Who knows--in the light of eternal things--
      Your life is less than ours?

    Weary at last, it is ours, like you,
      When our brief day is done,
    Folding our hands, to say adieu,
      And pass with the setting sun.

One must say of George Marion McClellan: “Here is a finely touched
spirit that responds deeply to the mystery and charm of mountains and
starry skies, and that charm and mystery he is capable of expressing in
stanzas of lyric beauty.” Every page of his book will confirm for the
reader the estimate he may have formed from the quotations already
given. Without rifling it of its choicest treasures I will put before
the reader a few entire poems which I am sure will give increased
delight on repeated readings:

TO HOLLYHOCKS

    Gay hollyhocks with flaming bells
    And waving plumes, as gently swells
      The breeze upon the Summer air,
    You bind me still with magic spells
    When to the wind, in grave farewells,
      You bow in all your graces fair.

    You bring me back the childhood view,
    Where arching skies and deepest blue
      Stretch on in endless lengths above;
    To see you so awakes anew
    Long past emotions, from which grew
      My wild and first heart-throbs of love.

    There is in all your brilliant dyes,
    Your gorgeousness and azure skies,
      A joy like soothing summer rain;
    Yet in the scene there vaguely lies
    A something half akin to sighs,
      Along the borderland of pain.

THE HILLS OF SEWANEE

    Sewanee Hills of dear delight,
      Prompting my dreams that used to be,
    I know you are waiting me still to-night
      By the Unika Range of Tennessee.

    The blinking stars in endless space,
      The broad moonlight and silvery gleams,
    To-night caress your wind-swept face,
      And fold you in a thousand dreams.

    Your far outlines, less seen than felt,
      Which wind with hill propensities,
    In moonlight dreams I see you melt
      Away in vague immensities.

    And, far away, I still can feel
      Your mystery that ever speaks
    Of vanished things, as shadows steal
      Across your breast and rugged peaks.

    O dear blue hills, that lie apart,
      And wait so patiently down there,
    Your peace takes hold upon my heart
      And makes its burden less to bear.

THE FEET OF JUDAS

    Christ washed the feet of Judas!
    The dark and evil passions of his soul,
    His secret plot, and sordidness complete,
    His hate, his purposing, Christ knew the whole,
    And still in love he stooped and washed his feet.

    Christ washed the feet of Judas!
    Yet all his lurking sin was bare to him,
    His bargain with the priest, and more than this,
    In Olivet, beneath the moonlight dim,
    Aforehand knew and felt his treacherous kiss.

    Christ washed the feet of Judas!
    And so ineffable his love ’twas meet,
    That pity fill his great forgiving heart,
    And tenderly he wash the traitor’s feet,
    Who in his Lord had basely sold his part.

    Christ washed the feet of Judas!
    And thus a girded servant, self-abased,
    Taught that no wrong this side the gate of heaven
    Was ever too great to wholly be effaced,
    And, though unasked, in spirit be forgiven.

    And so if we have ever felt the wrong
    Of trampled rights, of caste, it matters not,
    What e’er the soul has felt or suffered long,
    Oh, heart! this one thing should not be forgot:
    Christ washed the feet of Judas.

IN MEMORY OF KATIE REYNOLDS, DYING

                          O Death!
    If thou hast aught of tenderness,
      Be kindly in thy touch
    Of her whose fragile slenderness
      Was overburdened much
    With life. And let her seem to go to sleep,
      As often does a tired child, when it has grown
    Too tired to longer weep.

                  A rose but half in bloom--
    She is too young and beautiful to die,
      But yet, if she must go,
    Let her go out as goes a sigh
      From tired life and woe.
    And let her keep, in death’s brief space
      This side the grave, the dusky beauty still
    Belonging to her face.

                      She must have been
    Of those upon the trembling lyre
      Of whom the poets sung:
    “Whom the gods love” and desire
      Fade and “die young.”
    Her life so loved on earth was brief,
      But yet withal so beautiful there is no cause,
    But in our loss, for grief.

This poet, formerly a school principal in Louisville, Kentucky, is now
in Los Angeles, California, whither he took his tubercular son--in
vain--endeavoring to establish there a sanitarium for persons of his
race afflicted as his son was. For the third time: _ad astra per
aspera_.


_IV. Charles P. Wilson_

The following verses were written by a man in the Missouri State
Penitentiary. He might prefer that his name be withheld. He will shortly
go forth a free man and a better one--so resolved to be--with verses
enough composed during his period of incarceration to make a small book:

SOMEBODY’S CHILD

    Don’t be too quick to condemn me,
    Because I have made a bad start;
    Remember you see but the surface,
    And know not what’s in the heart.
    I may bear the marks of a sinful life,
    And I may have been a bit wild;
    But back of all remains this fact,
      That I am somebody’s child.

    My cheeks by tears may be polished,
    And my heart is no stranger to pain;
    I know what it is to be friendless,
    And to learn each affliction means gain.
    I may be out in life’s storm,
    And misfortune around me has piled;
    But kindly remember this little fact,
      That I am somebody’s child.

    Probably to-night you’ll be happy,
    In some joys or pleasures you’ll share:
    And that very same moment may find me,
    Tearfully pleading in prayer.
    So don’t be too harsh when you judge me,
    For your judgment with God will be filed;
    You would know--could you see past the surface--
      That I am somebody’s child.

And so a fourth time the motto--or is it a proverb?--_ad astra per
aspera._


_V. Leon R. Harris_

Now editor of the Richmond (Indiana) _Blade_, contributor of
short-stories to _The Century Magazine_, an honored citizen and the head
of a respected family, Leon R. Harris was an orphan asylum’s ward. Most
splendidly has he, yet in his early thirties, illustrated the old adage
chosen as a heading for this chapter. His father, a roving musician,
took no interest in the future poet. His mother died and left him
almost in the cradle. The orphanage which became his refuge gave him at
least food, shelter, and schooling to the fourth grade. Then he was
given to a Kentucky family to be reared. It was virtual slavery, and the
boy ran away from over-work and beatings. Making his escape to
Cincinnati he was befriended by a traveling salesman and began to find
himself. At eleven years of age, some of his verses were printed in a
Cincinnati daily with “Author Unknown” attached. He now made his way to
Berea and worked his way for two years in that good old college. Then
for three years he worked his way in Tuskegee.

[Illustration: LEON R. HARRIS]

We next find him in Iowa, married; then in North Carolina, teaching
school; then in Ohio, working in steel mills. This last was his
employment until about two years ago. His short stories and poems are
right out of his life. In the former the peonage system, prevalent in
some sections of the South, and the cruelties of the convict labor
camps are more powerfully portrayed than anywhere else in American
literature. The following poem will represent his writings in verse:

THE STEEL MAKERS

    Filled with the vigor such jobs demand,
    Strong of muscle and steady of hand,
    Before the flaming furnaces stand
      The men who make the steel.
    ’Midst the sudden sounds of falling bars,
    ’Midst the clang and bang of cranes and cars,
    Where the earth beneath them jerks and jars,
      They work with willing zeal.

    They meet each task as they meet each day,
    Ready to labor and full of play;
    Their faces are grimy, their hearts are gay,
      There is sense in the songs they sing;
    While stooped like priests at the holy mass,
    In the beaming light of the lurid gas,
    Their jet black shadows each other pass,
      And their hammers loudly ring.

    What do they see through the furnace door,
    From which the dazzling white lights pour?
    Ah, more than the sizzling liquid ore
      They see as they gaze within!
    For a band of steel engirdles the earth,
    Binds men to men from their very birth,
    Through all that exists of any worth
      There courses a steely vein.

    Steamers that ply o’er the ocean deep,
    Trains which over the mountains creep,
    The ships of the air that dart and leap
      Where the screaming eagles soar;
    The plow which produces the nation’s food,
    The bars that keep the bad from the good,
    Skyscrapers standing where forests stood,
      They see through their furnace door.

    They see the secretive submarines,
    And the noisy, whirring big machines,
    Grinding steel into numberless things
      The people know and need;
    The scissors that fashion wee babies’ clothes,
    The beds where the pallid sick repose,
    The knife that the nervy surgeon holds
      O’er the wounds that gape and bleed.

    Yet more they see through the furnace door!
    They see the bursting hot shells pour
    On the battle-fields as in days of yore
      The Deluge waters fell.
    They see the bloody bayonet blade,
    The unsheathed sword and the hand grenade,
    The havoc, the wreck and the ruin made
      By the steel they roll and sell.

    All this through the furnace door they see
    As they work and laugh--they are full and free;
    Their steel has purchased their liberty
      From want and the tyrant’s sway.
    And just as long as their gas shall burn,
    In times of need will the people turn
    To them for their product and they shall learn
      Its value endures for aye.

    For of what they make we are servants all,
    They have bound our lives in an iron thrall,
    We do their bidding, we heed their call,
      As they work with willing zeal.
    So tap your heats with a courage bold,
    You’re worth to your world a thousand fold
    More than the men who mine her gold,
      You men who make her steel!

Intrinsic merit is in that poem, apart from the circumstance of its
being written by a workman himself. As an interpretation of the life of
his fellow-workmen--their imaginative, inner life--it is a human
document to be reflected upon. As for the artistic quality of the verses
they place you in imagination amid the sights and sounds described and
they have something in them suggestive of the steel bars the men are
making.


_VI. Irvin W. Underhill_

In what strange disguises comes ofttimes the call to nobler things! Our
happiness not seldom springs out of seeming misfortune. An illustration
is afforded by Mr. Irvin W. Underhill, of Philadelphia, to whom
blindness brought a more glorious seeing--the seeing of truth, of
greater meaning in life, of greater beauty in the world. Out of this new
vision springs a corresponding message in verse, a message not of
bitterness for

[Illustration: IRVIN W. UNDERHILL]

what might to another man, in the middle years of his life, have seemed
a bitter loss, but of love, and exhortation, and encouragement. Blind,
he lives in the Light. In his little book, entitled _Daddy’s Love and
Other Poems_, are poems witnessing to a beautiful spirit, poems of
beauty. Because of its sage counsel, however, I pass over some of these
lovelier expressions of sentiment and choose a didactic piece:

TO OUR BOYS

    I speak to you, my Colored boys,
      I bid you to be men,
    Don’t put yourselves upon the rack
      Like pigeons in a pen.
    Come out and face life’s problem, boys,
      With faith and courage too,
    And justify that wondrous faith,
      Abe Lincoln had in you.

    Don’t treat life as a little toy,
      A dance or a game of ball;
    Those things are all right in their place,
      But they are not life’s all.
    Life is a problem serious,
      Give it the best you have,
    Succeed in all you undertake
      And help your brother live.

    If farming seems to be your call,
      Then take hold of the plough,
    And stick it down into the soil
      Till sweat runs down your brow.
    Then make this resolution firm:
      “I’m going to do my best,
    And stick this good old plough of mine
      Down deeper than the rest.”

    If you’re to be a carpenter
      Then train your hand and eye
    To work out angles, clean and clear
      As any metal die.
    Then read up on materials,
      On beauty and on style,
    And prove to all, the house you build
      Is sure to be worth while.

    Why sure, a banker, you can be,
      A lawyer or a priest;
    Or you can be a merchant prince,
      Their work is not the least.
    It makes no difference what you try
      If you would get the best,
    You’ll have to stick that plough of yours
      Down deeper than the rest.

    Don’t fawn up to another man
      And beg him for a job;
    Remember that your brain and his
      Were made by the same God.
    So use it boys, with all your might,
      With faith and courage too,
    And justify that wondrous faith
      Abe Lincoln had in you.


II. AD ASTRA


_I. James C. Hughes_

There are tragic stories of Negro aspirants for poetic fame that read
like the old stories of English poets in London in the days when the
children of genius starved and died young. As typical of not a few there
is the story of James C. Hughes, of Louisville, Kentucky. The Louisville
_Times_, March 10, 1905, contained his picture and an article by Joseph
S. Cotter in appreciation of his compositions. “This young man,” writes
Cotter, speaking of a collection of verses and prose sketches which
Hughes then had ready for publication, “this young man has the
essentials of the poet, and to me his work is interesting. It is
serious, and preaches while it sings.”

     *       *       *       *       *

To illustrate the range and quality of Hughes I will quote from this
article two selections, one in prose and one in dialect verse:


     ASPIRATION

     “True love is the same to-day as when the vestal virgins held their
     mystic lights along the path of virtue. Virtue wears the same
     vesture that she wore upon the ancient plain that led to fame
     immortal. Now the royal gates of honor stand ajar for men of
     courage, souls who will not time their spirit-lyre to suit the
     common chord. Our nation has known men who held within their palms
     our country’s destiny: and, smiling in the armor of a fearless
     truth, have thrown away their lives. Awake, O countrymen, awake,
     this noble flame. The gods will fan it, and the world shall burn
     with honor and pure love.”

The bit of dialect verse follows, taken from a poem entitled _Apology
for Wayward Jim_:

    “You has offen tole us, Massy,
    We’s as free as we kin be;
    But we needs some kind o’ check, suh,
    So’s we’d keep on bein’ free.

    “Please do’ whip ole Jim dis time, suh;
    Marse, I ’no’s you’s good an’ kind;
    Ain’t no slabery on dis ’arth, suh,
    Like de slabery ob de mind.

    “You has offen said obejence
    Wuz de key to freedom’s do’--
    When we l’arned dis golden lesson
    We wuz free foreber mo’.

    “But you see dese darkies’ minds, suh,
    Ain’t so flexerbul as dat,
    Dey can’t zackly understand, suh,
    What you means by saying dat.

    ’Hain’t but one compound solution
    To dis problem, as I see;
    Long’s a human soul’s a slabe, suh,
    Ain’t no way to make it free.”

The young author of these selections, failing to get his book published,
lost his mind and “disappeared from view.” So ends his story.


_II. Leland Milton Fisher_

Another sad story, more frequently repeated in the lives of the writers
represented in this book, is that of Leland Milton Fisher. First I shall
give one of his poems, as passionately sweet a lyric as can be found in
American literature:

FOR YOU, SWEETHEART

    For you, sweetheart, I’d have your skies
    As bright as are your own bright eyes,
    And all your day-dreams warm and fair
    As is the sunshine in your hair.
    The Fates to you should be as kind
    As are the thoughts in your pure mind,
    And every bird I’d have impart
    Its sweetest song to you, sweetheart.

    For you, sweetheart, I’d have each dart
    Sorrow fashions for your tender heart,
    Thrust in my own thrice happy breast,
    That yours might have unbroken rest.

    If you should fall asleep and lie
    So very still and quiet that I
    Would know your soul had slipped away
    From your divinely molded clay,
    Then, looking in your fair, sweet face
    I’d pray to God: “In thy good grace,
    O, Father, let me sleep, nor wake
    Again on earth, for her dear sake.”

Born in Humbolt, Tennessee, in 1875, Fisher died of tuberculosis, ere
yet thirty years of age, leaving behind an unpublished volume of poems.


_III. W. Clarence Jordan_

In another chapter I have written of a poet whose birthplace was
Bardstown, Kentucky. W. Clarence Jordan, a Negro schoolmaster of
Bardstown, now dead, wrote the following lines in answer to the
questions, so frequently asked in derision, which stands as its title:

WHAT IS THE NEGRO DOING?

    As we pass along life’s highway,
        Day by day,
    Thousands daily ask the question,
        “What, I pray,
    Tell me what’s the Negro doing?
    And what course is he pursuing?
    What achievements is he strewing
        By the way?”

    Many say he’s retrograding
        Very fast;
    Others say his glory’s fading,--
        Cannot last;
    That his prospects now are blighted,
    That his chances have been slighted,
    This his wrongs cannot be righted.
        Time has passed.

    Friends, lift up your eyes; look higher;
        Higher still.
    There’s the vanguard of our army
        On the hill.
    You’ve been looking at the rear guard.
    Lift your eyes, look farther forward;
    Thousands are still pressing starward--
        Ever will.


_IV. Roscoe C. Jamison_

Roscoe C. Jamison was fortunate in leaving behind him a friend at his
early death, some three years since, who treasured his fugitive verses
sufficiently to gather them together, though but a handful, and send
them out to the world in a little pamphlet. Fortunate also was he in
another friend able to write his elegy:

    Too soon is hushed his silver speech,
      The music dies upon his lute,
    The cadence falls beyond our reach;
      Too soon the Poet’s lips are mute.

[Illustration: ROSCOE C. JAMISON]

So wrote in this elegy, _Lacrimae Aethiopiae_, Charles Bertram Johnson,
of this untimely dead singer. Hardly a score of poems are in this
pamphlet, yet enough are here to reveal a poet in the making. Jamison
was a better poet, even in these imperfect pieces, than many a writer of
better verses. Here are the ardent impulses and here are the glowing
ideas from which poetry of the higher order springs. The art, however,
is undisciplined, grammar, metre, and rhymes are sometimes at fault.
However, bold strokes of poetry atone, the effects are the effects of a
real poet. Sometimes one finds in the small collection a poem that is
all but perfect, a production that might have come from a maturer
craftsman. I venture to put him to the test in the following poem:

CASTLES IN THE AIR

    I build my castles in the air.
      How beautiful they seem to me,
    Standing in all their glory there,
      Like stars above the sea!

    I watch them with admiring eyes,
      For in them dwells life’s fondest hope:
    If they be swept from out the skies,
      In darkness I must grope.

    They hold life’s joys, life’s sweetest dreams;
      They make the weary years seem bright.
    As one guided by bright starbeams
      I struggle through the night.

    Sometimes from out the skies they fall,
      And my soul shrieks in its pain;
    But from the heights I hear Hope’s call,
      “Arise and build again.”

    What though life be with sorrow filled
      And each day brings its load of care,
    I’m happy still while I can build
      My castles in the air!

Who but will say, despite the metrical defects, this is a real poem?
Another poem will show his art at a better advantage, while the pathos
is of another kind, very touching pathos it is, too:

A SONG

    I loved you, Dear. I did not know how much,
    Until the silence of the Grave lay cold
    Between us, and your hand I could not touch,
    And your sweet face, oh! never more behold.

    I loved you, Dear. I did not know how true,
    Until in other eyes I found no light;
    I know--alas!--my Spirit without you
    Must drift forever in a starless night!

A different kind of merit, the merit of intense reprobation of cruel
arrogancy in the one race and of treacherous cowardice in the other, is
exemplified in _The Edict_. Triumphant faith, which is the Negro’s
peculiar heritage, asserts itself in such a way, in the final stanza, as
to lift the poem to the heights of moral feeling.

THE EDICT

    All these must die before the Morning break:
    They who at God an angry finger shake,
    Declaring that because He made them White,
    Their race should rule the world by sacred right.
    They who deny a common Brotherhood--
    Who cry aloud, and think no Blackman good--
    The blood-cursed mob always eager to take
    The rope in hand or light the flaming stake,
    Jeering the wretch while he in death pain quakes--
    All these must die before the Morning breaks.

    All these must die before the Morning breaks:
    The Blackmen, faithless, whose loud laughter wakes
    Harsh echoes in the most unbiased places.
    They who choose vice, and scorn the gentle graces--
    Who by their manners breed contemptuous hate,
    Suggesting jim-crow laws from state to state--
    They who think on earth they may not find
    An ideal man nor woman of their kind.
    But from some other Race that ideal take--
    All these must die before the Morning break!

    We know, O Lord, that there will come a time,
    When o’er the World will dawn the Age Sublime,
    When Truth shall call to all mankind to stand
    Before Thy throne as Brothers, hand in hand,
    Be not displeased with him who this song makes--
    All these must die before the Morning breaks!

If lyric poetry be self-revealment--and such it is, or it is nothing--we
can learn from the following poem how deep a sorrow at some time in his
life this poet must have experienced:

HOPELESSNESS

    Had you called from the fire, or from the sea,
    From ’mid the roaring flames, or dark’ning wave,
    With eagerness I then had come to thee,
    To perish with thee if I could not save.

    But now helpless I sit and watch you die,
    There is no power can save, the doctors say;
    I lift my eyes unto the silent sky,
    And wonder why it is that mortals pray.

The title-poem of the booklet, _Negro Soldiers_, is no doubt Jamison’s
masterpiece. It is worthy of the universal admiration it has won from
those who know it.



CHAPTER V

THE NEW FORMS OF POETRY


The newer methods in poetry--free-verse, rhythmic strophes, polyphonic
prose--have been tried with success by only a few Negroes. Of free-verse
particularly not many noteworthy pieces have come from Negro poets. Well
or ill, each may judge according to his taste. But the objection has
been made that the Negro verse-makers of our time are bound by
tradition, are sophisticated craftsmen. More independence, more
differentness, seems to be demanded. But the conditions of their poetic
activity seem to me in this demand to be lost sight of. They are as much
the heirs of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury as their white contemporaries.
And the Negro is said to be preëminently imitative--that is, responsive
to environing example and influence. One requirement and only one can we
lay upon the Negro singer and that is the same we lay upon the artists
of every race and origin. However, for artistic freedom he has an
authority older than free-verse, and that authority is not outside his
own race. It is found in the old plantation melodies--rich in artistic
potentiality beyond exaggeration.


I. FREE-VERSE

In Negro newspapers and magazines, rarely as yet in books, are to be
found some free-verse productions of which I will give some specimens.
From Will Sexton I shall quote here two brief poems in this form and in
a later chapter another (p. 233). His Whitemanesque manner will be
remarked. These brief pieces will suggest a poet of some force:

_Songs of Contemporary Ethiopia_

THE BOMB THROWER

    Down with everything black!
    Down with law and order!
    Up with the red flag!
    Up with the white South!
    I am America’s evil genius.

THE NEW NEGRO

    Out of the mist I see a new America--a land of ideals.
    I hear the music of my fathers blended with
         the “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
    I am the crown of thorns Tyranny must bear
         a thousand years--
    I am the New Negro.

Another vers-librist of individual quality is Andrea Razafkeriefo. He is
a prolific contributor to _The Negro World_, the newspaper organ of the
Universal Negro Improvement Society. This paper regularly gives a
considerable portion of a page of each issue to original verse
contributions. One of Mr. Razafkeriefo’s recent free-verse poems is the
following, in which the style seems to me to be remarkably effective:

THE NEGRO CHURCH

    That the Negro church possesses
    Extraordinary power,
    That it is the greatest medium
    For influencing our people,
    That it long has slept and faltered,
    Failed to meet its obligations,
    Are, to honest and true thinkers,
    Facts which have to be admitted.

    For these reasons there are many
    Who would have the church awaken
    And adopt the modern methods
    Of all other institutions.
    Make us more enlightened Christians,
    Teach us courtesy and English,
    Racial pride and sanitation,
    Science, thrift and Negro history.

    Yea, the preacher, like the shepherd,
    Should be leader and protector,
    And prepare us for the present
    Just as well as for the future;
    He should know more than Scriptures,
    And should ever be acquainted
    With all vital, daily subjects
    Helpful to his congregation.

    Give us manly, thinking preachers
    And not shouting money-makers,
    Men of intellect and vision,
    Who will really help our people:
    Men who make the church a guide-post
    To the road of racial progress,
    Who will strive to fit the Negro
    For this world as well as heaven.

In another chapter I give one of Mr. Razafkeriefo’s poems in regular
stanzas of the traditional type. It is but just to state that his
productions exhibit a great variety of forms. His moods and traits, too,
are various. There is the evidence of ardent feeling and strong
conviction in most he writes.

[Illustration: LANGSTON HUGHES]

This poet gets his strange name (pronounced rä-zäf-ker-rāf) from the
island of Madagascar. His father, now dead, “falling in battle for
Malagasy freedom,” before the poet’s birth, was a nephew of the late
queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona III. His mother, a colored American, was
a daughter of a United States consul to Madagascar. The poet was born
in the city of Washington in 1895 and now resides in Cleveland, Ohio.

To a young student in Columbia University we are indebted for some of
the most symmetrical and effective free-verse poems that have come to my
attention. His name is Langston Hughes. For information about him I
refer the reader to the first index, at the end of this book. This poem
appeared in _The Crisis_, January, 1922:

THE NEGRO

    I am a Negro:
      Black as the night is black,
    Black like the depths of my Africa.

    I’ve been a slave:
      Cæsar told me to keep his door-steps clean,
    I brushed the boots of Washington.

    I’ve been a worker:
      Under my hand the pyramids arose.
    I made mortar for the Woolworth building.

    I’ve been a singer:
      All the way from Africa to Georgia I carried my sorrow songs.
    I made ragtime.

    I’ve been a victim:
      The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo.
    They lynch me now in Texas.

    I am a Negro:
      Black as the night is black,
    Black like the depths of my Africa.

Other specimens of free-verse have been given on pages 67, 102, and 119.
In every instance the poet’s choice of this form seems to me justified
by the particular effectiveness of it.


II. PROSE POEMS


_I. W. E. Burghardt DuBois_

[Illustration: W. E. B. DUBOIS]

The name of no Negro author is more widely known than that of W. E.
Burghardt DuBois. Editor, historian, sociologist, essayist, poet--he is
celebrated in the Five Continents and the Seven Seas. It is in his
impassioned prose that DuBois is most a poet. _The Souls of Black Folk_
throbs constantly on the verge of poetry, while the several chapters of
_Darkwater_ end with a litany, chant, or credo, rhapsodical in character
and in free-verse form. In all this work Dr. DuBois is the spokesman of
perhaps as many millions of souls as any man living.

“A Litany at Atlanta,” placed as an epilogue to “The Shadow of the
Years” in _Darkwater_,[6] should be read as the litany of a race. Modern
literature has not such another cry of agony:

A LITANY AT ATLANTA

O Silent God, Thou whose voice afar in mist and mystery hath left our
ears an-hungered in these fearful days--

    _Hear us, good Lord!_

Listen to us, Thy children: our faces dark with doubt are made a mockery
in Thy Sanctuary. With uplifted hands we front Thy Heaven, O God,
crying:

    _We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!_

We are not better than our fellows, Lord; we are but weak and human men.
When our devils do deviltry, curse Thou the doer and the deed,--curse
them as we curse them, do to them all and more than ever they have done
to innocence and weakness, to womanhood and home.

    _Have mercy upon us, miserable sinners!_

And yet, whose is the deeper guilt? Who made these devils? Who nursed
them in crime and fed them on injustice? Who ravished and debauched
their mothers and their grandmothers? Who bought and sold their crime
and waxed fat and rich on public iniquity?

    _Thou knowest, good God!_

Is this Thy Justice, O Father, that guile be easier than innocence and
the innocent be crucified for the guilt of the untouched guilty?

    _Justice, O Judge of men!_

Wherefore do we pray? Is not the God of the Fathers dead? Have not seers
seen in Heaven’s halls Thine hearsed and lifeless form stark amidst the
black and rolling smoke of sin, where all along bow bitter forms of
endless dead?

    _Awake, Thou that steepest!_

Thou art not dead, but flown afar, up hills of endless light, through
blazing corridors of suns, where worlds do swing of good and gentle men,
of women strong and free--far from cozenage, black hypocrisy, and chaste
prostitution of this shameful speck of dust!

    _Turn again, O Lord; leave us not to perish in our sin!_

    From lust of body and lust of blood,--
        _Great God, deliver us!_
    From lust of power and lust of gold,--
        _Great God, deliver us!_
    From the leagued lying of despot and of brute,--
        _Great God, deliver us!_

A city lay in travail, God our Lord, and from her loins sprang twin
Murder and Black Hate. Red was the midnight; clang, crack, and cry of
death and fury filled the air and trembled underneath the stars where
church spires pointed silently to Thee. And all this was to sate the
greed of greedy men who hide behind the veil of vengeance.

    _Bend us Thine ear, O Lord!_

In the pale, still morning we looked upon the deed. We stopped our ears
and held our leaping hands, but they--did they not wag their heads and
leer and cry with bloody jaws: _Cease from Crime!_ The word was mockery,
for thus they train a hundred crimes while we do cure one.

    _Turn again our captivity, O Lord!_

Behold this maimed and broken thing, dear God: it was an humble black
man, who toiled and sweat to save a bit from the pittance paid him. They
told him: _Work and Rise!_ He worked. Did this man sin? Nay, but someone
told how someone said another did--one whom he had never seen nor known.
Yet for that man’s crime this man lieth maimed and murdered, his wife
naked to shame, his children to poverty and evil.

    _Hear us, O Heavenly Father!_

Doth not this justice of hell stink in Thy nostrils, O God? How long
shall the mounting flood of innocent blood roar in Thine ears and pound
in our hearts for vengeance? Pile the pale frenzy of blood-crazed
brutes, who do such deeds, high on Thine Altar, Jehovah Jireh, and burn
it in hell forever and forever!

    _Forgive us, good Lord; we know not what we say!_

Bewildered we are and passion-tossed, mad with the madness of a mobbed
and mocked and murdered people; straining at the armposts of Thy throne,
we raise our shackled hands and charge Thee, God, by the bones of our
stolen fathers, by the tears of our dead mothers, by the very blood of
Thy crucified Christ: What meaneth this? Tell us the plan; give us the
sign.

    _Keep not Thou silent, O God._

Sit not longer blind, Lord God, deaf to our prayer and dumb to our dumb
suffering. Surely Thou, too, art not white, O Lord, a pale, bloodless,
heartless thing!

    _Ah! Christ of all the Pities!_

Forgive the thought! Forgive these wild, blasphemous words! Thou art
still the God of our black fathers and in Thy Soul’s Soul sit some soft
darkenings of the evening, some shadowings of the velvet night.

But whisper--speak--call, great God, for Thy silence is white terror to
our hearts! The way, O God, show us the way and point us the path!

Whither? North is greed and South is blood; within, the coward, and
without, the liar. Whither? To death?

    _Amen! Welcome, dark sleep!_

Whither? To life? But not this life, dear God, not this. Let the cup
pass from us, tempt us not beyond our strength, for there is that
clamoring and clawing within, to whose voice we would not listen, yet
shudder lest we must,--and it is red. Ah! God! It is a red and awful
shape.

    _Selah!_

In yonder East trembles a star.

    _Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord!_

Thy Will, O Lord, be done!

    _Kyrie Eleison!_

Lord, we have done these pleading, wavering words.

    _We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!_

We bow our heads and hearken soft to the sobbing of women and little
children.

    _We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!_

Our voices sink in silence and in night.

    _Hear us, good Lord._

In night, O God of a godless land!

    _Amen!_

In silence, O Silent God.

    _Selah!_


_II. Kelly Miller_

[Illustration: KELLY MILLER]

Dr. Kelly Miller is professor of sociology in Howard University. He has
been professor of mathematics. He is the author of several prose
works--able expositions of aspects of inter-racial problems. It is
rumored that he is a poet. However that may be, his admirable volume of
essays entitled _Out of the House of Bondage_ concludes with a strophic
chant, highly poetical, and poured forth with the fervor of some old
Celtic bard, triumphant in the vision of a new day dawning:

I SEE AND AM SATISFIED

The vision of a scion of a despised and rejected race, the span of whose
life is measured by the years of its Golden Jubilee, and whose fancy,
like the vine that girdles the tree-trunk, runneth both forward and
back.

     I see the African savage as he drinks his palmy wine, and basks in
     the sunshine of his native bliss, and is happy.

     I see the man-catcher, impelled by thirst of gold, as he entraps
     his simple-souled victim in the snares of bondage and death, by use
     of force or guile.

     I see the ocean basin whitened with his bones, and the ocean
     current running red with his blood, amidst the hellish horrors of
     the middle passage.

     I see him laboring for two centuries and a half in unrequited toil,
     making the hillsides of our southland to glow with the snow-white
     fleece of cotton, and the valleys to glisten with the golden
     sheaves of grain.

     I see him silently enduring cruelty and torture indescribable, with
     flesh flinching beneath the sizz of angry whip or quivering under
     the gnaw of the sharp-toothed bloodhound.

     I see a chivalric civilization instinct with dignity, comity and
     grace rising upon pillars supported by his strength and brawny arm.

     I see the swarthy matron lavishing her soul in altruistic devotion
     upon the offspring of her alabaster mistress.

     I see the haughty sons of a haughty race pouring out their lustful
     passion upon black womanhood, filling our land with a bronzed and
     tawny brood.

     I see also the patriarchal solicitude of the kindly-hearted owners
     of men, in whose breast not even iniquitous system could sour the
     milk of human kindness.

     I hear the groans, the sorrows, the sighings, the soul striving of
     these benighted creatures of God, rising up from the low grounds of
     sorrow and reaching the ear of Him Who regardeth man of the
     lowliest estate.

     I strain my ear to supernal sound, and I hear in the secret
     chambers of the Almighty the order to the Captain of Host to break
     his bond and set him free.

     I see Abraham Lincoln, himself a man of sorrows and acquainted with
     grief, arise to execute the high decree.

     I see two hundred thousand black boys in blue baring their breasts
     to the bayonets of the enemy, that their race might have some
     slight part in its own deliverance.

     I see the great Proclamation delivered in the year of my birth of
     which I became the first fruit and beneficiary.

     I see the assassin striking down the great Emancipator; and the
     house of mirth is transformed into the Golgotha of the nation.

     I watch the Congress as it adds to the Constitution new words,
     which make the document a charter of liberty indeed.

     I see the new-made citizen running to and fro in the first fruit of
     his new-found freedom.

     I see him rioting in the flush of privilege which the nation had
     vouchsafed, but destined, alas, not long to last.

     I see him thrust down from the high seat of political power, by
     fraud and force, while the nation looks on in sinister silence and
     acquiescent guilt.

     I see the tide of public feeling run cold and chilly, as the vial
     of racial wrath is wreaked upon his bowed and defenceless head.

     I see his body writhing in the agony of death as his groans issue
     from the crackling flames, while the funeral pyre lights the
     midnight sky with its dismal glare. My heart sinks with heaviness
     within me.

     I see that the path of progress has never taken a straight line,
     but has always been a zigzag course amid the conflicting forces of
     right and wrong, truth and error, justice and injustice, cruelty
     and mercy.

     I see that the great generous American Heart, despite the temporary
     flutter, will finally beat true to the higher human impulse, and my
     soul abounds with reassurance and hope.

     I see his marvelous advance in the rapid acquisition of knowledge
     and acquirement of things material, and attainment in the higher
     pursuits of life, with his face fixed upon that light which shineth
     brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.

     I see him who was once deemed stricken, smitten of God, and
     afflicted, now entering with universal welcome into the patrimony
     of mankind, and I look calmly upon the centuries of blood and tears
     and travail of soul, and am satisfied.


_III. Charles H. Conner_

As a companion piece to this litany and this vision I will present
another vision that for calm, clear beauty of style takes us immediately
back to _Pilgrim’s Progress_. The author calls it a sermonette, and it
is one of three contained in a very small book entitled _The Enchanted
Valley_. But the author is no preacher. He is a ship-yard worker in
Philadelphia--I almost said a “common” worker. But such workmen were
never common, anywhere, at any time. Charles Conner wears the garb and
wields the tools of a common workman, but he has most uncommon visions.
He is a seer and a philosopher. He has informed me that there is
American Indian blood in his veins. From the mystical and philosophical
character of his writings, both prose and verse, I should have expected
an East Indian strain. Twice have I visited his humble habitation, and
each time it was a visit to the Enchanted Valley.

[Illustration: CHARLES H. CONNER]

THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT IN THE NATURAL WORLD

At the dawning of a day, in a deep valley, a man awoke.

     *       *       *       *       *

It was a valley of treasures that everywhere abounded.

     *       *       *       *       *

He opened his eyes, and beheld the greensward bedecked with many colored
jewels that sparkled in the light.

     *       *       *       *       *

His ears caught the medley of sounds, that awoke innumerable echoes; and
with the balmy air peopled the valley with delights. How he came there,
or why, he knew not; nor scarcely thought or cared.

     *       *       *       *       *

As he gazed upon the multitude of things, in his heart upsprung desire;
and he gathered the treasures that lay around, till his arms were full,
and his body decked in all their bright array.

     *       *       *       *       *

Then the sun went down behind the hill; and the vale grew dark; and the
night air chill; and the place grew solemn, silent, still.

     *       *       *       *       *

A new thing then, to mortal ken, seemed hovering on the threshold near.
A strange, fantastic thing, it crept, intangible, nearer, nearer swept,
the pallid, startling face of Fear!

     *       *       *       *       *

But, the night brings sleep at last--and dreams; and day follows night;
and sunshine follows storm throughout the length of days. But a trace of
the dreams remains, like the faintly clinging scent that marks a hidden
trail; and so, because of his dreams, the man’s desire reached out, and
scaled the lofty peaks that walled him in.

     *       *       *       *       *

His pleasant valley seemed too narrow and confined.

     *       *       *       *       *

So, with his treasures fondly pressed to his beating heart, he tried to
scale the heights.

     *       *       *       *       *

He scrambled and struggled with might and main, slipped and arose; and
fell again and again. The spirit was willing, and valiant, and brave;
but the treasure encumbered it with fatal hold; and held him bound, as
with fold on fold a corpse is held in its lowly grave. So, try as he
might, he could not rise much higher than one’s hands can reach; and one
by one, his gathered treasures lost their brightness and their charm; as
gathered flowers wilt and fade; and his arms weary from the burden that
they bore, let fall and scattered lie, little by little, more and more
of the things he had gathered and vainly prized. And each thing lost was
so much lightness gained, enabling him to mount a little higher up the
rugged steep. And so it was till night was come again at last; and worn
and weary, he sank down to sleep and rest.

     *       *       *       *       *

And, as he slept, his arms relaxed their hold; and down the steep his
dwindling treasures rolled, till the last of them found their natural
level and resting place, the lower stretch of ground. ’Twas then a
strange sight met my gaze, long to be remembered in the coming days of
trial and endeavor.

     *       *       *       *       *

From out that sleeping form a luminous haze arose, airy and white; and
glowed within it an amber fire, as it mounted higher, higher; and, as it
arose, it had the appearance of a man; and its countenance was the
countenance of him that slept. Thus up and up it winged its flight,
until above the highest peak ’twas lost to sight. I pondered the matter
in wonder and awe, until long past the midnight hour, how that a soul
at last gained its longed for power to win the distant height.

     *       *       *       *       *

There is a kingdom of earth, and of water and of air.

     *       *       *       *       *

Each has its own. The heavier cannot rise above its level, to the next
and lighter zone.

     *       *       *       *       *

The treasures of the soul’s desire, were treasures of earth, whose
lightest joys were too heavy and too gross to be sustained in the finer,
rarer atmosphere; and thus were as a leaden weight that anchored the
soul to earth, without its being at all aware that the things it thought
so pleasant and so fair, were shackles to bind it hard and fast; and
make it impossible for it to gain the region that instinctively it felt
and knew was the rightful place of its abode.


_IV. William Edgar Bailey_

Yet one more prose-poem I will give, as a sort of coda to the series. It
is taken from a paper-covered booklet entitled _The Firstling_, by
William Edgar Bailey, from which _The Slump_, on page 65, was taken:


TO A WILD ROSE

The wild rose silently peeps from its uncouth habitation, thrives and
flourishes in its glory; its fragrant bud bows to sip the nectar of the
morning. Its delicate blossom blushes in the balmy breeze as the wind
tells its tale of adoration. Performing well its part, it withers and
decays; the chirping sparrow perches serenely on its boughs, only to
find it wrapped in sadness and solemnity--yet its grief-stained leaf and
weather beaten branches silently chant euphonic choruses in natural
song, in solemn commemoration of its faded splendor.

Dead, yes dead--but in thy hibernal demise dost thou bequeath a truth
eternal as the stars. I saw thee, Rose, when the elf of spring hung thy
floral firstling upon that thorny bower and robed thy ungainly form in a
garb of green, and, Rose, thou wert sweet!

     *       *       *       *       *

I saw the same vernal sprite pay homage to thy highbrowed kinsman in
yonder stench-bestifled dell, and, in his pause of an instant, baptized
its sacred being in the same aromatic blood. I saw thee, Rose, in thy
autumnal desolation, when the Storm-God was wont to do thee harm, laid
waste thy foliage, and cast at thy feet, as a challenge, his mantle of
snow, and the Law of Non-resistance was still unbroken.

     *       *       *       *       *

Tell me thy story, Rose! Do the stars in their unweary watch breathe
forth upon thee a special benediction from the sky? Or did the wind waft
a drop of blood from the Cross to thy dell to sanctify thy being? Oh,
leave me not, thou Redeemer of the Woods, to plod the way alone! My
Nazarene, grant but to me a double portion of thy humble pride--and in
my tearful grief permit thou me to pluck a fragrant thought from thy
thorny bosom!


_V. R. Nathaniel Dett_

Primarily a composer and pianist, Mr. Dett exemplifies the close kinship
of poetry and music, for in the former art as well as in the latter he
exhibits a finely creative spirit. To speak first of his compositions
for the piano, the following works are widely known and greatly admired
by lovers of music: “Magnolia Suite,” “In the Bottoms Suite,” “Listen to
the Lambs,” “Marche Negre,” “Arietta,” “Magic Song,” “Open Yo’ Eyes,”
and “Hampton, My Home by the Sea.” Mr. Dett took a degree in music at
Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and a Harvard prize in music (1920). The
musical endowment for which his race is celebrated is cultured and
refined in him and guided by science. The basis of his brilliant
compositions is to be found in the folk melodies of his people. The
musical genius of his people expresses itself through him with
conscious, perfected art. To sit under the spell of his performance of
his own pieces is to acquire a new idea of the Negro people.

[Illustration: R. NATHANIEL DETT]

The same refined and exalted spirit reveals itself in Mr. Dett’s verse
as in his music. Having this combination of gifts, he cannot but raise
the highest expectations. I present in this place a poem in blank verse
of nobly contemplative mood, suggesting far more, as the best poems do,
than it says:

AT NIAGARA

   --No, no! Not tonight, my Friend,
     I may not, cannot go with you tonight.
     And think not that I love you any less
     Because this now I’d rather be alone.
     My heart is strangely torn; unwonted thoughts
     Have so infused themselves into my mind
     That altogether there is wrought in me
     A sort of hapless mood, whose phantom power
     Born perhaps of my own fantasies
     Has ta’en me. By its subtle spell
     I’m wooed and changed from what’s my natural self.
     I am so possessed I can but wish
     For nothing else save this and solitude.
     If in companionship I sought relief
     Yours indeed would be the first I’d seek.
     There is none other whom I so esteem,
     None who quite so perfect understands.
     Your presence always is a soothing balm,
   --Ne’er failing me when troubled. But tonight,
     Forgive me, Friend--I’d rather be alone.
     Leave me, let me with myself commune.
     Presently if no change come, I shall go
     Stand in the shadowed gorge, or where the moon
     Throws her silver on the rippling stream,
     List to the sounding cataract’s thundering fall,
     Or hark to spirit voices in the wind.
     For methinks sometimes that these strange moods
     Are heaven-sent us by the jealous God
     Who’d thus remind us that no human love
     Can fully satisfy the longing heart:
     Perhaps an intimation sent to souls
     That he would speak somewhat, or nearer draw.
     Therefore I’ll to Him. Talking waters, stars,
     The moon and whispering trees shall make me wise
     In what it is He’d have my spirit know.
     And Nature singing from the earth and sky
     Shall fill me with such peace, that in the morn
     I’ll be the gay glad self you’ve always known.
     Urge me no further, now you understand.
     A nobler friend than you none ever knew--
     But not this time. Tonight I’ll be alone;
     And if from moonlit valley God should speak,
     Or in the tumbling waters sound a call,
     Or whisper in the sighing of the wind,
     He’ll find me with an undivided heart
     Patient waiting to hear; but Friend,--alone.



CHAPTER VI

DIALECT VERSE


The reader of these pages may ask: “But where is the Negro’s humorous
verse? Here is the pathos, where is the comedy of Negro life?” It may
also be asked where the dialect verse is, and the dramatic narratives
and character pieces that made Dunbar famous.

The present-day Negro poets do not, as has been asserted, spurn dialect.
Many of them have given a portion of their pages to character pieces in
dialect, humorous in effect. Whether those who have excluded such pieces
from their books have done so on principle or not I cannot say. In
general, however, these writers are too deeply earnest for dialect
verse, and the “broken tongue” is too suggestive of broken bodies and
servile souls. But by those who have employed dialect its uses and
effects have been well understood. Dialect, as is proven by Burns,
Lowell, Riley, Dunbar, often gets nearer the heart than the language of
the schools is able to do, and for home-spun philosophy, for mother-wit,
for folk-lore, and for racial humor, for whatever is quaint and peculiar
and native in any people, it is the only proper medium. Poets of the
finest art from Theocritus to Tennyson have so used it. Genius here as
elsewhere will direct the born poet and instruct him when to use dialect
and when the language that centuries of tradition have refined and
standardized and encrusted with poetic associations. There is a world of
poetic wealth in the strangely naïve heart of the rough-schooled Negro
for which the smooth-worn, disconsonanted language of the cabin and the
field is beautifully appropriate. There is also another world of poetic
wealth in the Negro of culture for which only the language of culture is
adequate. To such we must say: “All things are yours.”

While, as remarked, many Negro verse-writers have used dialect
occasionally, in the ways indicated, Waverley Turner Carmichael has made
it practically his one instrument of expression in his little book
entitled _From the Heart of a Folk_. A representative piece is the
following:

MAMMY’S BABY SCARED

    Hush now, mammy’s baby scaid,
    Don’ it cry, eat yo’ bread;
    Nothin’ ain’t goin’ bother you,
    Does’, it bothers mammy too.

    Mammy ain’t goin’ left it ’lone
    W’ile de chulen all are gone;
    Hush, now, don’ it cry no mo’e,
    Ain’t goin’ lay it on de flo’.

    Hush now, finish out yo’ nap,
    W’ile I make yo’ luttle cap;
    Blessid luttle sugar-pie,
    Hush now, baby, don’ it cry.

    Mammy’s goin’ to make its dres’,
    Go to sleep an’ take yo’ res’;
    Hush now, don’ it cry no mo’e,
    Ain’t goin’ lay you on de flo’.

Carmichael was born at Snow Hill, Alabama, and in the Industrial
Institute there received the rudiments of an education, which was added
to by a summer term at Harvard. Since the book mentioned I have seen
nothing from his pen.

The elder Cotter in _A White Song and a Black Song_ gives us in the
second part several dialect pieces in the most successful manner.
Several are satirical, like the following:

THE DON’T-CARE NEGRO

    Neber min’ what’s in your cran’um
      So your collar’s high an’ true.
    Neber min’ what’s in your pocket
      So de blackin’s on your shoe.

    Neber min’ who keeps you comp’ny
      So he halfs up what he’s tuk.
    Neber min’ what way you’s gwine
      So you’s gwine away from wuk.

    Neber min’ de race’s troubles
      So you profits by dem all.
    Neber min’ your leaders’ stumblin’
      So you he’ps to mak’ dem fall.

    Neber min’ what’s true to-morrow
      So you libes a dream to-day.
    Neber min’ what tax is levied
      So it’s not on craps or play.

    Neber min’ how hard you labors
      So you does it to de en’
    Dat de judge is boun’ to sen’ you
      An’ your record to de “pen.”

    Neber min’ your manhood’s risin’
      So you habe a way to stay it.
    Neber min’ folks’ good opinion
      So you have a way to slay it.

    Neber min’ man’s why an’ wharfo’
      So de worl’ is big an’ roun.
    Neber min’ whar next you’s gwine to
      So you’s six foot under groun’.

Raymond Garfield Dandridge in _The Poet and Other Poems_ has included a
handful of dialect pieces which prove him a master of this species of
composition. I will select but one to represent this class of his work
here:

DE INNAH PART

    I ’fess Ise ugly, big, an’ ruff,
    Mah voice is husky, mannah’s gruff;
    But, mah gal sed, “Neb mine yore hide,
    I jedged you by yore inside side”;
    An’ sed, dat she hab alwuz foun’,
    De gole beneaf de surfuss groun’.

    She claims dat offen rail ruff hides
    Am boun’ erroun’ hi’ grade insides;
    W’ile sum dat ’pear “sharp ez a tack”
    Kinceals a heart dat’s hard an’ black;
    An’, to prove her way ob thinkin’,
    Gibs fo’ zample Abeham Linkin.

    Ole “Hones’ Abe,” so lank an’ tall,
    Worn’t no parlah posin’ doll:
    Yet he stood out miles erbove
    Uddah men, in truf an’ love.
    An’ in han’lin’ ’fairs of state,
    Proved de greates’ ob de great.

    In makin’ great men, Nature mus’
    Fo’ got erbout de beauty dus’
    An’ fashun dem frum nachel clay,
    De gritty kine, dat doan decay.
    But, mos’ her time she spent, I know,
    Erpon de parts dat duzen show.

Two poems by Sterling M. Means, one in standard English and one in
dialect may well be placed here side by side for comparison as being
identical in theme and feeling, and differing but in manner. They are
taken from his book entitled _The Deserted Cabin and Other Poems_:

THE OLD PLANTATION GRAVE

    ’Tis a scene so sad and lonely,
      ’Tis the site of ancient toil;
    Where our fathers bore their burdens,
      Where they sleep beneath the soil;
    And the fields are waste and barren,
      Where the sugar cane did grow,
    Where they tilled the corn and cotton,
      In the years of long ago;

    And along the piney hillside,
      Where the hound pursued the slave,
    In the dreary years of bondage,
      There he fills an humble grave.

THE OLD DESERTED CABIN

    Dis ole deserted cabin
      Remin’s me ob de past;
    An’ when I gits ter t’inkin’,
      De tears comes t’ick an’ fast.

    I wunner whur’s A’nt Doshy,
      I wunner whur’s Brur Jim;
    I hyeahs no corn-songs ringin’,
      I hyeahs no Gospel hymn.

    Dis ole deserted cabin
      Am tumblin’ in decay;
    An’ all its ole-time dwellers
      Hab gone de silent way.

    Dey voices hushed in silence,
      De cabin drear an’ lone;
    An’ dey who used ter lib hyeah
      Long sense is dead an’ gone.

J. Mord Allen’s poems and tales in dialect are worthy of distinction.
They are executed in the true spirit of art. I should rank his book,
elsewhere named, as one of the few best the Negro has contributed to
literature. I will give here one specimen of his dialect verse:

A VICTIM OF MICROBES

     NOTE.--Physicians are agreed that laziness is a microbe disease.

              Go en fetch er lawyer, ’Tilda,
                ’Kaze I wants ter make mah will;
              Neenter min’ erbout de doctor--
                ’Tain’t no use ter take er pill.--
              Chunk up de kitchen fire,
                En fetch mah easy-ch’er,
              En put er piller in it:
                Maybe I’ll git better hyeah.
    I done hyeahed de doctor say it--de doctor hisse’f said it--
      I’m plumb chock full o’ microbes en mah time’s ercomin’ quick.
    So, ’stid o’ up en fussin’ wid me fer bein’ lazy,
      Yer’d better be er nussin’ me, ’kaze I’m jes’ mighty sick.

              I ’spec’ I must er cotch it
                Back in Tennessee;
              ’Kaze, fur ez I kin ’member,
                I wuz bad ez I could be--
              P’intly hated hoein’ ’taters--
                Couldn’t chop er stick o’ wood--
              Couldn’t pick er sack o’ cotton--
                Never wuz er lick o’ good.
    En de folks dey called me lazy--my own mammy called me lazy
      When, ’stid o’ gwine plowin’, I wuz fishin’ in de creek;
    Took en tole de white folks ’bout it, en made er heap o’ trouble,
      En all fer want o’ medersun--me bein’ mighty sick.

              So, now yer knows de reason
                Why I’m always loafin’ ’roun’,
              When jobs is runnin’ after men
                In ev’y part o’ town.
              Dar’s patches on mah breeches,
                En you’s er sight ter see;
              Dat’s de work o’ dem same microbes,
                En it kain’t be laid on me.
    ’Kaze de doctor he explained it, en de doctor’s book explained it,
      En some Latin words explained it, en explained it mighty quick--
    It’s mah lights er else mah liver, er maybe, its mah stomach--
      It’s somep’n in mah insides, en it sho’ has made me sick.

              En so, I hope yer’ll git yerse’f
                Er washin’, now, er two,
              Er get er job o’ scrubbin’
                Er somp’n else ter do;
              ’Kaze dat doctor p’intly showed me
                So I couldn’t he’p but tell
              Dat dem microbes got me han’ en foot
                En I jes’ kain’t git well.
    Darfo’ I hope yer’ll he’p me ter pass mah las’ days easy,
      En keep er fire in de stove en somep’n in de pan.
    I know it’s hard ter do it, en I’m sorry I kain’t he’p yer;
      But me ’n de doctor bofe knows I’m er mighty sick man.

James Weldon Johnson entitled a section of his book _Jingles and
Croons_. Among these pieces, so disparagingly designated, are to be
found some of the best dialect writing in the whole range of Negro
literature. Every quality of excellence is there. The one piece I give
is perhaps not above the average of a score in his book:

MY LADY’S LIPS AM LIKE DE HONEY

(Negro Love Song)

    Breeze a-sighin’ and a-blowin’,
    Southern summer night.
    Stars a-gleamin’ and a-glowin’,
    Moon jus shinin’ right.
    Strollin’, like all lovers do,
    Down de lane wid Lindy Lou;
    Honey on her lips to waste;
    ’Speck I’m gwine to steal a taste.

        Oh, ma lady’s lips am like de honey,
        Ma lady’s lips am like de rose;
        An’ I’m jes like de little bee a-buzzin’
        ’Round de flowers wha’ de nectah grows.
        Ma lady’s lips dey smile so temptin’,
        Ma lady’s teeth so white dey shine,
        Oh, ma lady’s lips so tantalizin’,
        Ma lady’s lips so close to mine.

    Bird a-whistlin’ and a-swayin’
    In de live-oak tree;
    Seems to me he keeps a-sayin’,
    “Kiss dat gal fo’ me.”
    Look heah, Mister Mockin’ Bird,
    Gwine to take you at yo’ word;
    If I meets ma Waterloo,
    Gwine to blame it all on you.

        Oh, ma lady’s lips am like de honey,
        Ma lady’s lips am like de rose;
        An’ I’m jes like de little bee a-buzzin’
        ’Round de flowers wha’ de nectah grows.
        Ma lady’s lips dey smile so temptin’,
        Ma lady’s teeth so white dey shine,
        Oh, ma lady’s lips so tantalizin’,
        Ma lady’s lips so close to mine.

    Honey in de rose, I ’spose, is
    Put der fo’ de bee;
    Honey on her lips, I knows, is
    Put der jes fo’ me.
    Seen a sparkle in her eye,
    Heard her heave a little sigh;
    Felt her kinder squeeze mah han’,
    ’Nuff to make me understan’.

Numerous other writers would furnish quite as good specimens of
dialectical verse as those given. This medium of artistic expression is
not being neglected, it is only made secondary and, as it were,
incidental. By perhaps half of the poets it is not used. With a few, and
they of no little talent, it is the main medium. Among this few,
Carmichael has been named; S. Jonathan Clark, of Dublin, Mississippi,
and Theodore Henry Shackelford, of Jamaica Plains, New York, are others.

[Illustration: THEODORE HENRY SHACKELFORD]

Shackelford, with little schooling, displays a versatility of talent.
His own pen has illustrated with interesting realistic sketches his book
entitled _My Country and Other Poems_, and for some of his lyrics he has
written music. A large proportion of his pieces are in dialect, much in
the spirit of Dunbar. His best productions in standard English are
ballads. He tells a tale in verse with Wordsworthian simplicity and
feeling. Mr. Clark is a school principal, with the education that
implies. He has not yet published a book.



CHAPTER VII

THE POETRY OF PROTEST


[Illustration: EQUALITY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL

(Photograph of a panel of the Carl Schurz Monument)]

As elsewhere intimated there is being produced in America a literature
of which America, as the term is commonly understood, is not aware. It
is a literature of protest--protest sometimes pathetic and prayerful,
sometimes vehement and bitter. It comes from Negro writers, in prose and
verse, in the various forms of fiction, drama, essay, editorial, and
lyric. It is only with the lyric form that we are here concerned. Of
that we shall make a special presentation, in this chapter.

An artistic and restrained expression of the protest against irrational
color prejudice, in the plaintive, pathetic key, is found in the
following free-verse poem by Winston Allen:

THE BLACK VIOLINIST

    I touched the violin,
    I, whose hand was black,
    I touched the violin
    In a grand salon.
    I touched the violin
    In a Russian palace.
    I touched the violin
    And the dream-born strains
    Chanted by the Congo
    Soared to Heaven’s chambers.

    Could I touch the violin?
    I, whose hand was black?
    And bring to life dream music?
    Men had taunted me,
    Age-worn months: their jeers
    Snapped to bits my heartstrings,
    Snapped my inner soul;
    And the sting of living
    Tortured me the livelong day.

Sometimes the protest runs in a lighter vein--as thus, in verses
entitled:

OLD JIM CROW

    Wherever we live, it’s right to forgive,
      It’s wrong to hold malice, we know,
    But there’s one thing that’s true, from all points of view,
      All Negroes hate old man Jim Crow.

    His home is in hell; he loves here to dwell;
      We meet him wherever we go;
    In all public places, where live both the races,
      You’ll always see Mr. Jim Crow.

    Be we well educated, even to genius related,
      We may have a big pile of dough,
    That cuts not a figger, you still are a nigger,
      And that is the law with Jim Crow.
            _The Nashville Eye._

But the Negro is seldom humorous these days on the subject of racial
discriminations. Occasionally, in dialect verse, he still makes merry
with the foibles or over-accentuated traits of certain types of the
Negro. In general, however, the Negro verse-smith goes to his work with
a grim aspect. He is there to smite. Sometimes the anvil clangs, more
mightily than musically. But there is precedent.

A stanza each from two poems somewhat intense will serve to show the
character of much verse in Negro newspapers. The first is from verses
entitled “Sympathy,” by Tilford Jones:

    Mourn for the thousands slain,
    The youthful and the strong;
    Mourn for the last; but pray,
    For those hung by the mobbing throng.
    Pray to our God above,
    To break the fell destroyer’s sway,
    And show His saving love.

The second is the last stanza of a poem entitled _Shall Race Hatred
Prevail?_ by Adeline Carter Watson.

    By the tears of Negro mothers,
    By the woes of Negro wives,
    By the sighs of Negro children,
    By your gallant snuffed-out lives,
    By the throne of God eternal;
    Standing hard by Heaven’s gate,
    Ye shall crush this cursed, infernal,
    Western stigma: groundless hate!

The following two poems have a world of pathos for every reflecting
person, in the unanswered question of each. The first is by Mrs. Georgia
Douglas Johnson:

TO MY SON

    Shall I say, “My son, you are branded in this country’s pageantry,
    Foully tethered, bound forever, and no forum makes you free?”
    Shall I mark the young light fading through your soul-enchanneled eye,
    As the dusky pall of shadows screen the highway of your sky?
    Or shall I with love prophetic bid you dauntlessly arise,
    Spurn the handicap that binds you, taking what the world denies?
    Bid you storm the sullen fortress built by prejudice and wrong,
    With a faith that shall not falter in your heart and on your tongue!

The second is by Will Sexton:

TO MY LOST CHILD

    It is well, child of my heart, the rosebush drops
         its petals on your grave.
    It is well, child of my heart, the sparrow sings to
         you when Aurora has rouged the sky.
    In your trundle bed deep in the bosom of the earth
         you can dream pleasanter dreams than I.
    You have never felt the sting of living in a white
         man’s civilization and beneath a white man’s laws.
    You have never been forced to dance to the music of
         hate played by an idle orchestra.
    You have never toiled long hours and bowed and
         scraped for the chance to breathe.
    In your dreams you wonder in the Heaven beyond the
         skies with the God civilization rebukes.
    Tell me, little child, are you not happy in that
         realm no white man can enter?

In much of this utterance of protest, this arraignment of the white
man’s civilization that rebukes God, there may be more passion than
poesy. But out of such passion, as it were a rumbling of thunder, the
lightning will one day leap. A poet born and reared in South Carolina,
Joshua Henry Jones, Jr., appeals from man’s inhumanities to God’s
prevailing power in passionate stanzas of which this is the first, the
rest being like:

    They’ve lynched a man in Dixie.
      O God, behold the crime.
    And midst the mad mob’s howling
      How sweet the church bells chime!
    They’ve lynched a man in Dixie.
      You say this cannot be?
    See where his lead-torn body
      Mute hangs from yonder tree.

This or a similar lynching provoked the following lines from another,
Walter Everette Hawkins, in a poem entitled _A Festival in Christendom_.
After relating that the white people of a certain community were on
their way to church on the Sabbath day, the poem continues:

    And so this Christian mob did turn
    From prayer to rob, to lynch and burn.
    A victim helplessly he fell
    To tortures truly kin to hell;
    They bound him fast and strung him high,
    They cut him down lest he should die
    Before their energy was spent
    In torturing to their heart’s content.
    They tore his flesh and broke his bones,
    And laughed in triumph at his groans;
    They chopped his fingers, clipped his ears
    And passed them round as souvenirs.
    They bored hot irons in his side
    And reveled in their zeal and pride;
    They cut his quivering flesh away
    And danced and sang as Christians may;
    Then from his side they tore his heart
    And watched its quivering fibres dart.
    And then upon his mangled frame
    They piled the wood, the oil and flame.
    Lest there be left one of his creed,
    One to perpetuate his breed;
    Lest there be one to bear his name
    Or build the stock from which he came,
    They dragged his bride up to the pyre
    And plunged her headlong in the fire,
    Full-freighted with an unborn child,
    Hot embers on her form they piled.
    And they raised a Sabbath song,
    The echo sounded wild and strong,
    A benediction to the skies
    That crowned the human sacrifice.

Few are the poets quoted or mentioned in this volume who have not
contributed to this literature of protest. James Weldon Johnson, whose
predominant motive is artistic creation, affords more than one poem in
which the note of protest is sounded in pathos. Pathos is indeed the
characteristic note of the great body of Negro verse. Aided by the two
preceding extracts to an understanding of Johnson’s point of view, the
reader will appreciate the following poem, remarkable for that restraint
which adds to the potency of art:

THE BLACK MAMMY

    O whitened head entwined with turban gay,
    O kind black face, O crude, but tender hand,
    O foster-mother in whose arms there lay
    The race whose sons are masters of the land!
    It was thine arms that sheltered in their fold,
    It was thine eyes that followed through the length
    Of infant days these sons. In times of old
    It was thy breast that nourished them to strength.
    So often hast thou to thy bosom pressed
    The golden head, the face and brow of snow;
    So often has it ’gainst thy broad, dark breast
    Lain, set off like a quickened cameo.
    Thou simple soul, as cuddling down that babe
    With thy sweet croon, so plaintive and so wild,
    Came ne’er the thought to thee, swift like a stab,
    That it some day might crush thine own black child?

There died in Fort McHenry hospital, February, 2, 1921, a soldier-poet
of the Negro race, who had been called “the poet laureate of the New
Negro,” his name Lucian B. Watkins. He deserved the title, whatever may
be the exact definition of “the New Negro.” For in his lyrics, of many
forms, racial consciousness reached a degree of intensity to which only
a disciplined sense of art set a limit.--He was born in a cabin at
Chesterfield, Virginia, struggled in the usual way for the rudiments of
book-knowledge, became a teacher, then a soldier. His health was wrecked
in the World War. He died before his powers were matured.--Short and
simple are the annals of the poet. Before one of his intenser race poems
I shall give his last lyric cry, uttered but a few days before his
lingering death:

[Illustration: LUCIAN B. WATKINS]

    My fallen star has spent its light
        And left but memory to me;
    My day of dream has kissed the night
        Farewell, its sun no more I see;
    My summer bloomed for winter’s frost:
        Alas, I’ve lived and loved and lost!

    What matters it to-day should earth
        Lay on my head a gold-bright crown
    Lit with the gems of royal worth
        Befitting well a king’s renown?--
    My lonely soul is trouble-tossed,
        For I have lived and loved and lost.

    Great God! I dare not question Thee--
        Thy way eternally is just;
    This seeming mystery to me
        Will be revealed, if I but trust;
    Ah, Thou alone dost know the cost
        When one has lived and loved and lost.

The following sonnet, entitled “The New Negro,” will serve to represent
much of Watkins’s verse:

    He thinks in black. His God is but the same
    John saw--with hair “like wool” and eyes “as fire”--
    Who makes the visions for which men aspire.
    His kin is Jesus and the Christ who came
    Humbly to earth and wrought His hallowed aim
    ’Midst human scorn. Pure is his heart’s desire;
    His life’s religion lifts; his faith leads higher.
    Love is his Church, and Union is its name.

    Lo, he has learned his own immortal rôle
    In this momentous drama of the hour;
    Has read aright the heavens’ Scriptural scroll
    ’Bove ancient wrong--long boasting in its tower.
    Ah, he has sensed the truth. Deep in his soul
    He feels the manly majesty of power.

The protest not infrequently takes the form of entreaty and appeal,
sometimes the form of an invocation of divine wrath upon the doers of
evil. The following poem from Watkins, unique and effective in form and
biblical phrasing, is the kind of appeal that will not out of the mind:

A MESSAGE TO THE MODERN PHARAOHS

    (Loose him and let him go--John 11.44)

    “Loose him!”--this man on whom you plod
    Beneath your heel hate-iron-shod;
    His silent sorrow troubles God--
          “Let him go!”

    There will be plagues, wars will not cease,--
    There cannot be a lasting peace
    Until this being you release--
          “Let him go!”

    Each doomful kingdom--throne and crown--
    Built on the lowly fettered down,
    Shall perish--lo, the heavens frown--
          “Let him go!”

    Naught but a name is Liberty,
    Naught but a name--Democracy,
    Till love has made each mortal free--
          “Let him go!”

    “Loose him!” He has his part to play
    In Life’s Great Drama, day by day,--
    He has his mission, God’s own way,--
          “Let him go!”

    “Loose him!” ’Twill be your master rôle,
    ’Twill be your triumph and your goal:
    ’Twill be the saving of your soul--
          “Let him go!”

Mr. Hawkins, whom I have quoted, entitled his book _Chords and
Discords_. What did he mean by “discords”? Perhaps a disparagement of
his muse’s efforts at music. Perhaps, and rather, something in the
content, for the contrasts are sharp, the tones are piercing. These
“discords” abound in contemporary Negro verse. Between the octave and
the sestet of the following sonnet, by Mrs. Carrie W. Clifford, the
discord is of the kind that stabs you:

AN EASTER MESSAGE

    Now quivering to life, all nature thrills
    At the approach of that triumphant queen,
    Pink-fingered Easter, trailing robes of green
    Tunefully o’er the flower-embroidered hills,
    Her hair perfumed of myriad daffodils:
    Upon her swelling bosom now are seen
    The dream-frail lilies with their snowy sheen,
    As lightly she o’erleaps the spring-time rills.
    To black folk choked within the deadly grasp
    Of racial hate, what message does she bring
    Of resurrection and the hope of spring?
    Assurance their death-stupor is a mask--
    A sleep, with elements potential, rife,
    Ready to burst full-flowered into life.

The Negro’s deep resentment of his wrongs has found its most artistic
expression in the verse of a poet who came to us from Jamaica--Mr.
Claude McKay. In another chapter I have given the reader an opportunity
to judge of his merits. He will be represented here by a sonnet,
written, I believe, shortly after the race-riot in the national capital,
July, 1919. It has been widely reprinted in the Negro newspapers.

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!

Race consciousness has recently attained an extraordinary pitch in the
Negro, and there seems to be no prospect of any abatement. The
verse-smiths one and all have borne witness to a feeling of great
intensity on all subjects pertaining to their race--the discriminations
and injustices practised against it, the limitations that would be
imposed upon it, the contumelies that would offend it. Ardent appeals
are therefore made to race pride and ardent exhortations to race unity.
The ancient rôle of the poet whereby he is identified with the prophet
is being resumed by the enkindled souls of black men. With their natural
gift for music and eloquence, with their increasing culture, with their
building up of a poetic tradition now in process, with this
intensification of race consciousness, almost anything may be expected
of the Negro in another generation.



CHAPTER VIII

MISCELLANEOUS POEMS


_I. Eulogistic_

[Illustration: MAE SMITH JOHNSON]

Altogether admirable is the disposition of Negro verse-writers to
eulogize the notable personages of their race, the men and women who
have blazed the trail of advance. The mention of Attucks, Black Sampson,
Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and others like these, all practically
unknown to white readers, is frequent, and reverential odes and sonnets
to Douglass, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Washington, Dunbar, are many and
enthusiastic. Here as elsewhere, however, I refrain from giving mere
titles and from comments on productions merely cited. The reader will
find such poems as I allude to in every poet’s volume. I refer to this
body of eulogistic verse only to suggest to the reader who takes up the
writings of the American Negroes that he will learn that they have a
heritage of heroic traditions from which poetry springs in every race.

Instead of giving here such specimens of poetic eulogy as I have alluded
to, however, I shall give a few poems of a more general significance,
poems of appeal or tribute to the entire black race or poems of
affectionate tribute to individuals. A free-verse poem entitled “The
Negro,” by Mr. Langston Hughes, on page 200, may be recalled. Here is a
sonnet with the same title, by Mr. McKay, which appeared in _The
People’s Pilot_, published in Richmond, Va.:

THE NEGRO

    Think ye I am not fiend and savage too?
      Think ye 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 ye do
      I could match--outmatch: am I not Afric’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!

From another Virginia magazine, also now defunct, _The Praiseworthy
Muse_, of Norfolk, I take the following poem, signed by John J. Fenner,
Jr.:

RISE! YOUNG NEGRO--RISE!

    Ho! we from slumber wake!
      Rise! young Negro--rise!
    Begin our daily task anew--
    Thank God we’re spared to--
      Rise! young Negro--rise!

    Thy task may be an humble one.
      Rise! young Negro--rise!
    However great, however small,
    Honesty and respect for all--
      Rise! young Negro--rise!

    Each has a race to run.
      Rise! young Negro--rise!
    Enter now while we’re young,
    Though weak and just begun.
      Rise! young Negro--rise!

    Our banner flown will some day read:
      Rise! young Negro--rise!
    Victory’s ours! We’ve won the race.
    Then let us live in God by grace.
      Rise! young Negro--rise!

In spirit and in form both these productions seem to be quite
noteworthy. The first has in it something darkly and terribly ominous,
while the second has all the fervor of religion in its youth. The class
of poems to follow will afford a contrast. They will bear witness to
that pride of race, perhaps, which we of the white race have commended
to the colored people:

DAYBREAK

    Awake! Arise! Men of my race--
      I see our morning star,
    And feel the dawn breeze on my face
      Creep inward from afar.

    I feel the dawn, with soft-like tread,
      Steal through our lingering night,
    Aglow with flame our sky to spread
      In floods of morning light.

    Arise, my men! Be wide-awake
      To hear the bugle call
    For Negroes everywhere to break
      The bands that bind us all.

    Great Lincoln, now with glory graced,
      All Godlike with the pen,
    Our chattel fetters broke and placed
      Us in the ranks of men.

    But even he could not awake
      The dead, nor make alive,
    Nor change stern Nature’s laws, which make
      The fittest to survive.

    Let every man his soul inure
      In noblest sacrifice,
    And with a heart of oak endure
      Ignoble, arrant prejudice.

    Endurance, love, will yet prevail
      Against all laws of hate;
    Such armaments can never fail
      Our race its best estate.

    Let none make common cause with sin,
      Be that in honor bound,
    For they who fight with God must win
      On every battleground.

    Though wrongs there are, and wrongs have been,
      And wrongs we still must face,
    We have more friends than foes within
      The Anglo-Saxon race.

    In spite of all the Babel cries
      Of those who rage and shout,
    God’s silent forces daily rise
      To bring his will about.
            _George Marion McClellan._

THE NEGRO WOMAN

    Were it mine to select a woman
      As queen of the hall of fame;
    One who has fought the gamest fight
      And climbed from the depths of shame;
    I would have to give the sceptre
      To the lowliest of them all;
    She, who has struggled through the years,
      With her back against the wall.

    Wronged by the men of an alien race,
      Deserted by those of her own;
    With a prayer in her heart, a song on her lips
      She has carried the fight alone.
    In spite of the snares all around her;
      Her marvelous pluck has prevailed
    And kept her home together--
      When even her men have failed.

    What of her sweet, simple nature?
      What of her natural grace?
    Her richness and fullness of color,
      That adds to the charm of her face?
    Is there a woman more shapely?
      More vigorous, loving and true?
    Yea, wonderful Negro woman
      The honor I’d give to you.
                _Andrea Razafkeriefo._

THE NEGRO CHILD

    My little one of ebon hue,
      My little one with fluffy hair,
    The wide, wide world is calling you
      To think and do and dare.

    The lessons of stern yesterdays
      That stir your blood and poise your brain
    Are etching out the simple ways
      By which you must attain.

    An echo here, a memory there,
      An act that links itself with truth;
    A vision that makes troubles air
      And toils the joy of youth.

    These be your food, your drink, your rest,
      These be your moods of drudgeful ease,
    For these be nature’s spur and test
      And heaven’s fair decrees.

    My little one of ebon hue,
      My little one with fluffy hair,
    Go train your head and hands to do,
      Your head and heart to dare.
                   _Joseph S. Cotter, Sr._

THE MOTHER

    The mother soothes her mantled child
      With plaintive melody, and wild;
    A deep compassion brims her eye
      And stills upon her lips the sigh.

    Her thoughts are leaping down the years,
      O’er branding bars, through seething tears:
    Her heart is sandaling his feet
      Adown the world’s corroding street.

    Then, with a start, she dons a smile,
      His tender yearnings to beguile;
    And only God will ever know
      The wordless measure of her woe.
                _Georgia Douglas Johnson._

The foregoing poems are generic in character, the following, specific.
And yet there is much in these also that is typical and universal:

TO A NEGRO MOTHER

    I hear you croon a little lullaby,
      I see you press his little lips to yours,
    Again old scenes come to my memory,
      As if Love’s stream had gained the long lost shores;
    As if the tidal wave of human good
      Had thrown o’er me the mantle of control;
    As if the beauty of true motherhood
      Had gained the premise of my common soul.

    The poet’s heart is yet within your breast,
      The captain’s sword unconsciously you wield;
    You know the sculptor’s masterpiece the best,
      Thro’ you the master painter is revealed.
    In you there dwells the Race’s latent power--
      The power to make, the power to break apart;
    The power to lift, the power again to lower
      That burnished shield that guards the Race’s heart.

    And am I speaking as in hapless rhymes
      Of things at least that may not come to pass?
    Or is it not the spirit of the times
      All things that savour power to amass?
    Canst thou not see within thine own pure soul
      That which thy Race and all the world awaits,
    The master-leader who will reach the goal
      And hew with sword of flame the city gates?

    O Negro mother, from the dust arise,
      Take up your task with grace and fortitude,
    Knowing the goal is not the azure skies,
      But here, and now, for thine own Race’s good.
    Create anew the captains of the past;
      Build in your soul the Ethiopian power,
    That when the mighty quest is gained at last,
      O Negro mother, fame shall be your dower.
                 _Ben E. Burrell._

TO MY GRANDMOTHER

    You ’mind me of the winter’s eve
      When low the sinking sun
    Casts soft bright rays upon the snow
      And day, now almost done,
    In silence deep prepares to leave,
      And calmly waits the signal “Go.”

    Your eyes are faded vestal lights
      That once the hearth illumed,
    Where vestal virgins vigil kept,
      And budding virtue bloomed:
    Like stars that beam on summer nights,
      Your eyes, by joy and sorrow swept.

    Asleep, one night, an angel kissed
      Your hair and on the morn
    The raven threads were silv’ry gray;
      The angel fair had borne
    Your youth away ere it you missed
      And left old age to bless your way.

    Smile on, for when you smile, it seems
      I cannot do a wrong;
    Your smiles go with me all the while
      And make life one sweet song;
    And oft at night my troubled dream
      Grows gay at thoughts of your bright smile.

    Dark Africa with Caucasian blood
      To tinge your veins combined,
    Your proud head bowed to slavery’s thrall,
      Your hands to toil consigned.
    The Lord of hosts becalmed the flood,
      The God Omnipotent o’er all.

    Your ears have heard the din of war,
      The martial tramp of feet,
    Your voice has risen to your God
      In supplications sweet.
    May angels kiss each furrowed scar
      Upon your brow where care has trod.

    God bless the hands all withered now
      By age and weary care.
    God rest the feet that sought the way
      To freedom bright and fair.
    God bless thy life and e’er endow
      Thee with new strength each new-born day.
            _Mae Smith Johnson._

EBON MAID AND GIRL OF MINE

    The sweetest charm of all the earth
    Came into being with her birth.
    All that without her we would lack
    She is in purity and black.

    The pansy and the violet,
    The dark of all the flowers met
    And gave their wealth of color in
    The sable beauty of her skin.

    Glad winds of evening are her face,
    Gentle with love and rich in grace;
    The blazing splendors of her eyes
    Are jewels from the midnight skies.

    Her hair--the darkness caught and curled,
    The ancient wonder of the world--
    Seems, in its strange, uncertain length,
    A constant crown of queenly strength.

    Her smile, it is the rising moon,
    The waking of a night in June;
    Her teeth are tips of white, they gleam
    Like starlight in a happy dream.

    Her laughter is a Christmas bell
    Of “peace on earth and all is well!”
    Her voice--it is the dearest part
    Of all the glory in her heart.

    The height of joy, the deep of tears,
    The surging passion of the years,
    The mystery and dark of things,
    We feel their meanings when she sings.

    Her thoughts are pure and every one
    But makes her good to look upon.
    Daughter of God! you are divine,
    O, Ebon Maid and Girl of Mine!
            _Lucian B. Watkins._

I will conclude this section with a very well rhymed tribute to two
Negro bards between whom there was a friendship and a correspondence
similar to that which existed between Burns and Lapraik. The writer,
James Edgar French, was a native of Kentucky, studied for the ministry,
and died early:

DUNBAR AND COTTER

    Dunbar and Cotter! foster-brothers, ye,
    Nurst at the breast of heav’nly minstrelsy!
    The first two Negroes who have dared to climb
    Parnassus’ mount, and carve your names in rhyme;
    Who, over icy walls of prejudice,
    Where twice ten thousand gorgon monsters hiss,
    Did scale the peak and make the steep ascent;
    For which great feat ye had small precedent.
    There were who said: “The Negro is not fit
    To write good prose, much less to rhyme with wit”;
    That nothing ever Negroes could inspire
    With Spenser’s fancy or with Shakespere’s fire:
    With Dryden’s vigor, with the ease of Pope,
    To weave the iambic pentametric rope,
    But ye, immortal sons of Afric, ye
    Have proved these charges gross absurdity;
    That old Dame Nature’s no respecter in
    Regard to person or the hue of skin.
    Omnific God, at whose fiatic hand
    Did primogenial light deluge the land;
    Whose word supreme did out of chaos draw
    A world, and order made its guiding law,
    Bequeath’d like talents to the black and white;
    To read form’d some and others made to write;
    To govern these, and those to governed be,
    And you, great twain, endued with poesy!
            _James Edgar French._


_II. Commemorative and Occasional_

From this body of Negro verse which I have been describing and giving
specimens of may be selected pieces commemorative of days and seasons
that are quite up to the standard of similar pieces provided for white
children in their school-readers. These selections will further
illustrate the variety of themes and emotional responses in this body
of contemporary verse.

The first selection hardly needs any allowance to be made for it, I
think, on the score that it was written by a girl only sixteen years of
age:

CHRISTMAS CHEER

    ’Tis Christmas time! ’Tis Christmas time!
    Dear hallowed name of every clime!
    How each one’s heart now happy feels,
    How each one’s face fresh joy reveals
    As Christmas Day is drawing near
    The merriest day of all the year!

    Old spite and hate, the scowl, the sneer
    Are vanquished, all, by kindly cheer,
    And friendships nigh forgot and cold
    Glow warm again as once of old.
    Man’s worries cease, his hope returns,
    His breast with love now brighter burns;
    So, Christmas cheer! Oh, Christmas cheer!
    A hearty welcome to you here.

    A welcome through the world where trod
    The source of joy, the Son of God,
    The Lowly One who from above
    First warmed cold earth with gladsome love:
    Who still proclaims with golden voice,
    “Peace on earth! Rejoice! Rejoice!”
             _Corinne E. Lewis._

If the reader is disposed to make comparisons he might recall, without
very great detriment to the following poem, Tennyson’s famous stanzas
on the same theme. It is in the effective manner of the poems already
given from its author:

GOODBYE OLD YEAR

    Goodbye, Old Year. Here comes New.
    You’ve done wonders; now you’re through;
    Adding wisdom to the ages,
    Making history’s best pages;
    Rest and slumber with the sages.
    Good-bye, Old Year. Welcome, New.

    Goodbye, Old Year. Welcome, New.
    Off with false hopes; on with true.
    Nations raise a mighty chorus,
    Rich intoning, grand, sonorous,
    Blithe and gladsome, sad, dolorous;
    Goodbye, Old Year. Welcome, New.
    Off with false hopes. On with true.

    Goodbye, Old Year. Hail the New.
    Goodbye, hatreds. Wrongs, adieu.
    Down Life’s lane, with high or lowly,
    Weak, or strong, sin-cursed, or holy,
    Time is reaping--trudging slowly.
    Goodbye, Old Year. Hail the New.
    Goodbye, hatreds. Wrongs, adieu.

    Goodbye, Old Year. Come in, New.
    Stout hearts look for light to you.
    Rising hopes new scenes are staging;
    Brotherhood our thoughts engaging.
    Dreams of Peace hide battle raging.
    Goodbye, Old Year. Come in, New.
    Stout hearts fondly look to you.
            _Joshua Henry Jones, Jr._

The remainder of the series will be given without comment:

THE MONTHS

January

    To herald in another year,
      With rhythmic note the snowflakes fall
    Silently from their crystal courts,
      To answer Winter’s call.
    Wake, mortal! Time is winged anew!
      Call Love and Hope and Faith to fill
    The chambers of thy soul to-day;
      Life hath its blessings still!

February

    The icicles upon the pane
      Are busy architects; they leave
    What temples and what chiseled forms
      Of leaf and flower! Then believe
    That though the woods be brown and bare,
      And sunbeams peep through cloudy veils,
    Though tempests howl through leaden skies,
      The springtime never fails!

March

    Robin! Robin! call the Springtime!
      March is halting on his way;
    Hear the gusts. What! snowflakes falling!
      Look not for the grass to-day.
      Ay, the wind will frisk and play,
      And we cannot say it nay.

April

    She trips across the meadows,
      The weird, capricious elf!
    The buds unfold their perfumed cups
      For love of her sweet self;
    And silver-throated birds begin to tune their lyres,
    While wind-harps lend their strains to Nature’s magic choirs.

May

    Sweet, winsome May, coy, pensive, fay,
      Comes garlanded with lily-bells,
    And apple blooms shed incense through the bow’r,
      To be her dow’r;
    While through the leafy dells
      A wondrous concert swells
    To welcome May, the dainty fay.

June

    Roses, roses, roses,
    Creamy, fragrant, dewy!
      See the rainbow shower!
    Was there e’er so sweet a flower?
    I’m the rose-nymph, June they call me.
      Sunset’s blush is not more fair
      Than the gift of bloom so rare,
    Mortal, that I bring to thee!

July

    Sunshine and shadow play amid the trees
      In bosky groves, while from the vivid sky
    The sun’s gold arrows fleck the fields at noon,
      Where weary cattle to their slumber hie.
    How sweet the music of the purling rill,
    Trickling adown the grassy hill!
    While dreamy fancies come to give repose
    When the first star of evening glows.

August

    Haste to the mighty ocean,
      List to the lapsing waves;
    With what a strange commotion
      They seek their coral caves.
    From heat and turmoil let us oft return,
    The ocean’s solemn majesty to learn.

September

    With what a gentle sound
    The autumn leaves drop to the ground;
    The many-colored dyes,
    They greet our watching eyes.
    Rosy and russet, how they fall!
    Throwing o’er earth a leafy pall.

October

    The mellow moon hangs golden in the sky,
      The vintage song is over, far and nigh
    A richer beauty Nature weareth now,
    And silently, in reverence we bow
      Before the forest altars, off’ring praise
    To Him who sweetness gives to all our days.

November

    The leaves are sere,
    The woods are drear,
    The breeze, that erst so merrily did play,
    Naught giveth save a melancholy lay;
    Yet life’s great lessons do not fail
    E’en in November’s gale.

December

    List! List! the sleigh bells peal across the snow;
    The frost’s sharp arrows touch the earth and lo!
    How diamond-bright the stars do scintillate
    When Night hath lit her lamps to Heaven’s gate.
    To the dim forest’s cloistered arches go,
    And seek the holly and the mistletoe;
    For soon the bells of Christmas-tide will ring
    To hail the Heavenly King!
            _H. Cordelia Ray._

WHILE APRIL BREEZES BLOW

(A Song for Arbor Day.)

    Come, let us plant a tree today--
    Forsake your book, forsake your play,
    Bring out the spade and hie away
        While April breezes blow.

    Your life is young, and it should be
    As full of vigor as this tree,
    As fair, as upright and as free,
        While April breezes blow.

    Come, let us plant a tree to stand
    Both fair and useful in the land,
    Supremely tall and nobly grand
        A strong and trusty oak.

    Dig deep and let the long roots hold
    A firm embrace within the mold:
    And may your life in truth unfold
        A strong and trusty oak.

    Come, let us plant a supple ash,
    A tree to bend when others crash,
    And stand when vivid lightnings flash,
        And clouds pour down the rain:

    So while we plant we’ll learn to bend
    And hold our ground, tho’ storms descend
    Throughout our life, and lightnings rend,
        And clouds pour down the rain.

    Then let us plant these trees between
    A graceful spruce in living green,
    That e’en in winter days is seen
        Like changeless springtime still:

    And so may you as years go by,
    And winter comes and snowflakes fly,
    Be yet in heart, and mind and eye,
        Like changeless springtime still.

    Bring out the spade and hie away,
    And let us plant a tree today
    While skies are bright and hearts are gay,
        And April breezes blow.

    In other days ’neath April skies,
    Around this tree may joyful cries
    And happy children’s songs arise,
        While April breezes blow.
            _D. T. Williamson._

A NATION’S GREATNESS

    What makes a nation truly great?
    Not strength of arms, nor men of state,
    Nor vast domains, by conquest won,
    That knew not rise nor set of sun;
    Nor sophist’s schools, nor learned clan,
    Nor laws that bind the will of man,--
    For these have proved, in ages past,
    But futile dreams that could not last;
    And they that boast of such today,
    Are fallen, vanquished in the fray,
    Their glory mingled with the dust,
    Their archives stained with crime and lust;
    And all that breathed of pomp and pride,
    Like the untimely fig, has died.
    One thing, alone, restrains, exalts
    A nation and corrects its faults;
    One thing, alone, its life can crown
    And give its destiny renown.
    That nation, then, is truly great,
    That lives by love, and not by hate;
    That bends beneath the chastening rod,
    That owns the truth, and looks to God!
            _Edwin Garnett Riley._

THANKSGIVING

    My heart gives thanks for many things--
      For strength to labor day by day,
    For sleep that comes when darkness wings
      With evening up the eastern way.
    I give deep thanks that I’m at peace
      With kith and kin and neighbors, too;
    Dear Lord, for all last year’s increase,
      That helped me strive and hope and do.

    My heart gives thanks for many things;
      I know not how to name them all.
    My soul is free from frets and stings,
      My mind from creed and doctrine’s thrall.
    For sun and stars, for flowers and streams,
      For work and hope and rest and play,
    For empty moments given to dreams--
      For these my heart gives thanks today.
            _William Stanley Braithwaite._

I will conclude this anthology with a selection from our Madagascar
poet, Andrea Razafkeriefo, which, in a happy strain, conveys a very good
philosophy of life--which is especially the Afro-American’s:

RAINY DAYS

    On rainy days I don’t despair,
      But slip into my rocking chair;
    With my old pipe and volume rare
      And wade in fiction deep.
    The pitter-patter of the rain
      Upon the roof and window pane
    Comes like a lullaby’s refrain,
      Till soon I’m fast asleep.

    I’m grateful for the rainy days:
      ’Tis only then my fancy plays,
    And mem’ry wanders back and strays
      O’er paths I loved so dear.
    The lightning’s flash, the thunder’s peal
      Convinces me that God is real;
    And it’s a wondrous thing to feel
      That he is really near.

Of the manifold and immense significance of poetry as a form of
spiritual expression the Negro American has lately become profoundly
aware, as this presentation must amply reveal. Not only the industrial
arts are the objects of his ambition, according to the far-looking
doctrine of Tuskegee, but as well those arts which are born of and
express the spiritual traits of mankind, the fine arts--music, painting,
sculpture, dramatics, and poetry. In them all the Negro is winning
distinction. In consequence it would seem that there must dawn upon us,
shaped by the poems of this collection, a new vision of the Negro and a
new appreciation of his spiritual qualities, his human character. A
profounder human sympathy with a greatly hampered, handicapped, and
humiliated people must also ensue from such considerations as these
poems will induce. One of the poets here represented cries out, as if
from a calvary, “We come slow-struggling up the hills of Hell.” Another,
in milder but not less appealing tone, cries: “We climb the slopes of
life with throbbing hearts.”

This appeal, expressed or implicit throughout the entire range of
present-day Negro verse, an appeal sometimes angrily, sometimes
plaintively uttered, an appeal to mankind for fundamental justice and
for human fellowship on the broad basis of kinship of spirit, may
fittingly be the final note of this anthology:

_We climb the slopes of life with throbbing hearts._



INDEX OF AUTHORS INDEX OF AUTHORS, WITH BIOGRAPHICAL AND
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTES


     ALLEN, J. MORD.--Born, Montgomery, Ala., March 26, 1875. Schooling
     ceased in the middle of high-school. Since seventeen years of age a
     boiler-maker. Home, St. Louis, Mo. Authorship: _Rhymes, Tales and
     Rhymed Tales_, Crane and Company, Topeka, Kas., 1906. 48-50,
     223-226.

     ALLEN, WINSTON.--230.

     BAILEY, WILLIAM EDGAR.--Born, Salisbury, Mo. Educated in the
     Salisbury public schools. Authorship: _The Firstling_, 1914. 65-67,
     213-214.

     BELL, JAMES MADISON.--Born, Gallipolis, Ohio, 1826. Educated in
     night schools after reaching manhood. Prominent anti-slavery
     orator, friend of John Browne. _Poetical Works_, with biography by
     Bishop B. W. Arnett, 1901. 32-37.

     BRAITHWAITE, WILLIAM STANLEY.--Born, Boston, Mass., 1878. Mainly
     self-educated. His three books of original verse are: _Lyrics of
     Life and Love_, 1904; _The House of Falling Leaves_, 1908; _Sandy
     Star and Willie Gee_, 1922. In _Who’s Who_. 105-109, 263.

     BURRELL, BENJAMIN EBENEZER.--Born, Manchester Mountains, Jamaica,
     1892. Descended from Mandingo kings on his father’s side, and on
     his mother’s from Cromantees and Scotch. Contributor to _The
     Crusader_ and other magazines. 249-250.

     CARMICHAEL, WAVERLEY TURNER.--Born, Snow Hill, Ala. Educated in
     the Snow Hill Institute and Harvard Summer School. Authorship:
     _From the Heart of a Folk_, The Cornhill Company, Boston, 1918. 53,
     219-220.

     CLIFFORD, CARRIE W.--Born, Chillicothe, Ohio. Educated at Columbus,
     O. Has done much editorial and club work. Authorship: _The Widening
     Light_, Walter Reid Co., Boston, 1922. 240.

     CONNER, CHARLES H.--Born, Grafton, N. Y., 1864. Father, a slave who
     found freedom by way of the underground railway. Mainly
     self-educated. Worker in the ship-yards, Philadelphia. Authorship:
     _The Enchanted Valley_, published by himself, 1016 S. Cleveland
     Ave., Philadelphia, 1917; contributor to magazines. 209-213.

     CORBETT, MAURICE NATHANIEL.--Born, Yanceyville, N. C., 1859.
     Educated in the common schools and Shaw University. Served in North
     Carolina Legislature. Delegate to numerous political conventions.
     Clerk in Census Bureau, then in the Government Printing Office,
     Washington, D. C., until stricken with paralysis in 1919.
     Authorship: _The Harp of Ethiopia_, Nashville, 1914. This is an
     epic poem of about 7,500 rhymed lines, narrating the entire history
     of the Negro in America. It is a noteworthy undertaking.

     CORROTHERS, JAMES DAVID.--Born, Michigan, 1869. Educated at
     Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., and at Bennett College,
     Greensboro, N. C., Minister of the Zion Methodist Episcopal Church.
     Died, 1919. Books: _Selected Poems_, 1907; _The Dream and the
     Song_, 1914. 37, 85-89.

     COTTER, JOSEPH SEAMON, JR.--Born, Louisville, Ky., 1895. Died,
     1919. Books: _The Band of Gideon_, Cornhill Company, 1918; another
     volume of poems now in press. 67-68, 70, 80-84.

     COTTER, JOSEPH SEAMON, SR.--Born, Bardstown, Ky., 1861. Educated in
     Louisville night school (10 months). Now school principal in
     Louisville, member of many societies, author of several books: _A
     Rhyming_, 1895; _Links of Friendship_, 1898; _Caleb, the
     Degenerate_, 1903; _A White Song and a Black One_, 1909; _Negro
     Tales_, 1912. In _Who’s Who_. 52, 70-80, 220-221, 248-249.

     DANDRIDGE, RAYMOND GARFIELD.--Born, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1882.
     Educated in Cincinnati grammar and high schools. First devoted to
     drawing and painting until paralytic stroke, 1911. Authorship: _The
     Poet and Other Poems_, Cincinnati, 1920. 54, 169-173, 221-223.

     DETT, R. NATHANIEL.--Born of Virginia parents at Drummondsville,
     Ontario, Canada, October 11, 1882; studied in various colleges and
     conservatories in Canada and the United States. Director of music
     at Lane College, Mississippi, Lincoln Institute, Missouri, and at
     Hampton Institute, Virginia, his present position. 214-217.

     DUBOIS, W. E. BURGHARDT.--Born, Great Barrington, Mass., 1868.
     Education: Fisk University, A. B.; Harvard, A. B., A. M., and Ph.
     D.; Berlin. Professor of economics and history in Atlanta
     University, 1896-1910. Now editor of _The Crisis_, New York, Books:
     _The Souls of Black Folk_, 1903; _Darkwater_, 1919, and numerous
     others. In _Who’s Who_. 201-205.

     DUNBAR, PAUL LAURENCE.--1872-1906. 37, 38-48.

     DUNBAR-NELSON, ALICE RUTH MOORE (née).--Born, New Orleans, 1875.
     Education: in New Orleans public schools and Straight University,
     and later in several northern universities. Taught in New Orleans,
     Washington, and Brooklyn, and other cities. Married Paul Laurence
     Dunbar, 1898. At present Managing Editor of Philadelphia and
     Wilmington _Advocate_. Books: _Violets and Other Tales_, New
     Orleans, 1894; _The Goodness of St. Rocque_, Dodd, Mead & Co.,
     1899; _Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence_, 1913; _The Dunbar Speaker
     and Entertainer_, 1920. Contributor to numerous magazines. 144-148.

     DUNGEE, ROSCOE RILEY.--58.

     ESTE, CHARLES H.--57.

     FAUSET, MISS JESSIE.--Born, Philadelphia. Education: A. B.,
     Cornell, Phi Beta Kappa; A. M., University of Pennsylvania; student
     of the Guilde Internationale, Paris. Interpreter of the Second
     Pan-African Congress. Literary Editor of _The Crisis_. 160-162.

     FENNER, JOHN J., JR.--245.

     FISHER, LELAND MILTON.--Born, Humboldt, Tenn., 1875. Died, under
     thirty years of age, at Evansville, Ind., where he edited a
     newspaper. Left behind an unpublished volume of poems. 189-190.

     FLEMING, MRS. SARAH LEE BROWN.--_Clouds and Sunshine_, The Cornhill
     Company, Boston, 1920.

     FRENCH, JAMES EDGAR.--Born in Kentucky, studied for the ministry,
     died young. 253-254.

     GRIMKÉ, MISS ANGELINA WELD.--Born, Boston, Mass., 1880. Educated in
     various schools of several states, including the Girls’ Latin
     School of Boston and the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics. Now
     teacher of English in the Dunbar High School, Washington, D. C.
     Authorship: _Rachel_, a prose drama, Cornhill Co., Boston, 1921;
     poems and short stories uncollected. 152-156.

     GRIMKÉ, MRS. CHARLOTTE FORTEN.--Born, Philadelphia, 1837 (née
     Forten). Educated in the Normal School at Salem, Mass. She was a
     contributor to various magazines, including _The Atlantic Monthly_
     and _The New England Magazine_. Poems uncollected. 155-156.

     HAMMON, JUPITER.--Born, c. 1720. “The first member of the Negro
     race to write and publish poetry in this country.” Extant poems:
     _An Evening Thought_, 1760; _An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley_,
     1778; _A Poem for Children with Thoughts on Death_, 1782; _The Kind
     Master and the Dutiful Servant_ (date unknown.) These are included
     in Oscar Wegelin’s _Jupiter Hammon, American Negro Poet_, New York,
     1915. 20-21, 23.

     HAMMOND, MRS. J. W.--Home, Omaha, Neb. Occupation: Trained nurse.
     142-144.

     HARPER, MRS. FRANCES ELLEN WATKINS (née).--Born, Baltimore, Md., of
     free parents, 1825. Died, Philadelphia, 1911. Educated in a school
     in Baltimore for free colored children, and by her uncle, William
     Watkins. Married Fenton Harper, 1860. From about 1851 devoted
     herself to the cause of freedom for the slaves. Authorship: _Poems
     on Miscellaneous Subjects_, Philadelphia, 1857; _Poems_,
     Philadelphia, 1900. 26-32.

     HARRIS, LEON R.--Born, Cambridge, Ohio, 1886. First years spent in
     an orphanage, where he got the rudiments of education. Then was
     farmed out in Kentucky. Running off, he made his way to Berea
     College and later to Tuskegee, getting two or three terms at each.
     Now editor of the Richmond (Indiana) Blade. Authorship: numerous
     short stories in magazines; _The Steel Makers and Other War Poems_
     (pamphlet), 1918. 63-64, 180-184.

     HAWKINS, WALTER EVERETTE.--Born, Warrenton, N. C., 1886. Educated
     in public schools. Since 1913 in the city post-office of Washington
     D. C. Authorship: _Chords and Discords_, Richard G. Badger, Boston,
     1920. 62, 119, 126, 234-235, 240.

     HILL, LESLIE PINCKNEY.--Born, Lynchburg, Va., 1880. B. A. and M. A.
     of Harvard. Teacher at Tuskegee; formerly principal of Manassas
     (Va.) Industrial School; now principal of Cheyney (Pa.) State
     Normal School. Authorship: _The Wings of Oppression_, The Stratford
     Company, Boston, 1921. 52, 131-138.

     HORTON, GEORGE M.--Born, North Carolina. Authorship: _Poems by a
     Slave_, 1829. _Poetical Works_, 1845. Several volumes from 1829 to
     1865. 25.

     HUGHES, JAMES C.--187-189.

     HUGHES, LANGSTON.--Born, Joplin, Mo., February 1, 1902. Ancestry,
     Negro and Indian; grand-nephew of Congressman John M. Langston.
     Education: High School, Cleveland, O., one year at Columbia
     University; traveled in Mexico and Central America. Contributor to
     magazines. Home, Jones’s Point, N. Y. Contributor to _The Crisis_.
     199-201.

     JAMISON, ROSCOE C.--Born, Winchester, Tenn., 1886; died at Phœnix,
     Ariz., 1918. Educated at Fisk University. Authorship: _Negro
     Soldiers and Other Poems_, William F. McNeil, South St. Joseph,
     Mo., 1918. 191-195.

     JESSYE, MISS EVA ALBERTA.--Born, Coffeyville, Kan., 1897. Educated
     in the public schools of several western states; graduated from
     Western University, 1914. Director of music in Morgan College,
     Baltimore, 1919. Now teacher of piano, Muskogee, Okla. 68-69,
     139-142.

     JOHNSON, ADOLPHUS.--_The Silver Chord_, Philadelphia, 1915.
     104-105.

     JOHNSON, CHARLES BERTRAM.--Born, Callao, Mo., 1880. Educated at
     Western College, Macon, Mo.; two summers at Lincoln Institute;
     correspondence courses, and a term in the University of Chicago.
     Educator and preacher. Authorship: _Wind Whisperings_ (a pamphlet),
     1900; _The Mantle of Dunbar and Other Poems_ (a pamphlet), 1918;
     _Songs of My People_, 1918. Home, Moberly, Mo. 52, 63, 95-99.

     JOHNSON, FENTON.--Born, Chicago, 1888. Educated in the public
     schools and University of Chicago. Authorship: _A Little Dreaming_,
     Chicago, 1914; _Visions of the Dusk_, New York, 1915. _Songs of the
     Soil_, New York, 1916. Editor of _The Favorite Magazine_, Chicago.
     64-65, 99-103.

     JOHNSON, MRS. GEORGIA DOUGLAS.--Born, Atlanta, Ga. Educated at
     Atlanta University, and in music at Oberlin. Home, Washington, D.
     C. Books: _The Heart of a Woman_, the Cornhill Co., Boston, 1918;
     _Bronze_, B. J. Brimmer Co., Boston, 1922. 61, 148-152, 232-233,
     249.

     JOHNSON, JAMES WELDON.--Born, Jacksonville, Fla., 1871. Educated at
     Atlanta and Columbia Universities. United States consul in
     Venezuela and Nicaragua. Author of numerous works. Original verse:
     _Fifty Years and Other Poems_, the Cornhill Company, Boston, 1917.
     In _Who’s Who_. 54, 90-95, 226-227, 235-236.

     JOHNSON, MRS. MAE SMITH (née).--Born, Alexandria, Va., 1890. Now
     Secretary at the Good Samaritan Orphanage, Newark, N. J.
     Contributor of verse to papers and magazines. The grandmother of
     the poet escaped from slavery in Virginia. She lived to be
     ninety-two years old. 57, 251-252.

     JONES, EDWARD SMYTHE.--Authorship: _The Sylvan Cabin and Other
     Verse_, Sherman, French & Co., Boston, 1911. 163-169.

     JONES, JOSHUA HENRY, JR.--Born, Orangeburg, S. C., 1876. Educated
     Central High School, Columbus, O., Ohio State University, Yale, and
     Brown. Has served on the editorial staffs of the Providence _News_,
     The Worcester _Evening Post_, Boston _Daily Advertiser_ and Boston
     _Post_. At present he is on the staff of the Boston _Telegram_.
     Authorship: _The Heart of the World_, the Stratford Company,
     Boston, 1919; _Poems of the Four Seas_, the Cornhill Company,
     Boston, 1921. 113-119, 234, 256-257.

     JONES, TILFORD.--231-232.

     JORDAN, W. CLARENCE.--190-191.

     JORDAN, WINIFRED VIRGINIA.--Contributor to _The Crisis_. 56.

     LEE, MARY EFFIE.--Contributor to _The Crisis_. 56.

     LEWIS, CORINNE E.--Student in the Dunbar High School, Washington,
     D. C. 255.

     LEWIS, ETHYL.--60-61.

     MCCLELLAN, GEORGE MARION.--Born, Belfast, Tenn., 1860. Educated at
     Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., of which he became financial
     agent. Later, principal of the Paul Dunbar School, Louisville, Ky.
     Authorship: _The Path of Dreams_, John P. Morton, Louisville, Ky.,
     1916. 55, 173-179, 246-247.

     MCKAY, CLAUDE.--Born, Jamaica, 1889. Has resided in the United
     States ten or eleven years. Till lately on the editorial staff of
     the _Liberator_. Books: _Constab Ballads_, London, 1912; _Spring
     in New Hampshire_, London, 1920. 126-131, 241-242, 244.

     MARGETSON, GEORGE REGINALD.--Born, 1877, at St. Kitts, B. W. I.
     109-111.

     MEANS, STERLING M.--Authorship: _The Deserted Cabin and Other
     Poems_, A. B. Caldwell, publisher, Atlanta, 1915. 222-223.

     MILLER, KELLY.--Born, Winsboro, S. C., 1863. Educated at Howard and
     Johns Hopkins Universities. Degrees: A. M. and LL. D. Professor and
     dean in Howard University. Books: _Race Adjustment_, 1904; _Out of
     the House of Bondage_, Neale Publishing Co., New York, 1914. In
     _Who’s Who_. 206-209.

     MOORE, WILLIAM.--Contributor to _The Favorite Magazine_. 111-112.

     RAY, H. CORDELIA.--Authorship: _Poems_, The Grafton Press, New
     York, 1910. 257-260.

     RAZAFKERIEFO, ANDREA.--Born, Washington, D. C., 1895, of
     Afro-American mother and Madagascaran father. Educated only in
     public elementary school. Regular verse contributor to _The
     Crusader_ and _The Negro World_. 197-198, 247-248, 263-264.

     REASON, CHARLES L.--Born in New York in 1818. Professor at New York
     Central College in New York and head of the Institute for Colored
     Youth in Philadelphia. Authorship: _Freedom_, New York, 1847.
     23-24.

     RILEY, EDWIN GARNETT.--Contributor to many newspapers and
     magazines. 262.

     SEXTON, WILL.--Contributor to magazines. 197, 233-234.

     SHACKELFORD, OTIS.--Educated at Lincoln Institute, Jefferson City,
     Mo. Authorship: _Seeking the Best_ (prose and verse). The verse
     part of this volume contains a poem of some 500 lines entitled
     “Bits of History in Verse, or A Dream of Freedom Realized,” modeled
     on _Hiawatha_.

     SHACKELFORD, THEODORE HENRY.--Born, Windsor Canada, 1888.
     Grandparents were slaves in southern states. At twelve years of age
     had had only three terms of school. At twenty-one entered the
     Industrial Training School, Downington, Pa., and graduated four
     years later. Studied a while at the Philadelphia Art Museum.
     Authorship: _My Country and Other Poems_, Philadelphia, 1918. Died,
     Jamaica, N. Y., February 5, 1923. 228.

     SPENCER, MRS. ANNE.--Born, Bramwell, W. Va., 1882. Educated at the
     Virginia Seminary, Lynchburg, Va. Contributor to _The Crisis_.
     156-159.

     UNDERHILL, IRVIN W.--Born, Port Clinton, Pa., May 1, 1868. In
     boyhood, with irregular schooling, assisted his father, who was
     captain of a canal boat. At the age of 37 suddenly lost his sight.
     Author of _Daddy’s Love and Other Poems_, Philadelphia. Home,
     Philadelphia. 184-187.

     WATKINS, LUCIAN B.--Born, Chesterfield, Virginia, 1879. Educated in
     public schools of Chesterfield, and at the Virginia Normal and
     Industrial Institute, Petersburg. First teacher, then soldier.
     Books: _Voices of Solitude_, 1907, Donohue & Co., Chicago;
     _Whispering Winds_, in manuscript. Died, 1921. 59, 236-239,
     252-253.

     WATSON, ADELINE CARTER.--232.

     WHEATLEY, PHILLIS.--Born in Africa, 1753. Brought as a slave to
     Boston, where she died in 1784. Many editions of her poems in her
     lifetime. _Poems and Letters_, New York, 1916. 23-24.

     WIGGINS, LIDA KECK.--Authorship: _The Life and Works of Paul
     Laurence Dunbar_, J. L. Nichols & Company, Naperville, Ill. 41.

     WHITMAN, ALBERY A.--Born in Kentucky in 1857. Began life as a
     Methodist minister. Authorship: _The Rape of Florida_, _Not a Man
     and Yet a Man_, and _Twasnita’s Seminoles_. 32, 35-36.

     WILLIAMSON, D. T.--260-261.

     WILSON, CHARLES P.--Born in Iowa of Kentucky parents, 1885. Printer
     and theatrical performer. 179-180.



INDEX OF TITLES


          PAGE

    Apology for Wayward Jim.--James C. Hughes, 188

    Ask Me Why I Love You.--W. E. Hawkins, 125

    A Song.--Roscoe C. Jamison, 193

    As the Old Year Passed.--William Moore, 112

    At the Closed Gate of Justice.--J. D. Corrothers, 88

    At the Carnival.--Mrs. Anne Spencer, 158

    At Niagara.--R. Nathaniel Dett, 216

    At the Spring Dawn.--Miss Angelina W. Grimké, 154

    Autumn Sadness.--W. S. Braithwaite, 108


    Band of Gideon, The.--Joseph S. Cotter, Jr., 83

    Black Mammy, The.--J. W. Johnson, 236

    Black Violinist, The.--Winston Allen, 230

    Bomb Thrower, The.--Will Sexton, 197

    Boy and the Ideal, The.--Joseph S. Cotter, Sr., 74

    Brothers.--J. H. Jones, Jr., 118


    Castles in the Air.--Roscoe C. Jamison, 193

    Christmas Cheer.--Miss Corinne E. Lewis, 255

    Chicken in the Bread Tray.--_Folk Song_, 15

    Compensation.--Joseph S. Cotter, Jr., 82

    Counting Out.--J. Mord Allen, 48

    Credo.--W. E. Hawkins, 119


    Dawn.--Miss Angelina W. Grimké, 153

    Daybreak.--G. M. McClellan, 246

    Death of Justice, The.--W. E. Hawkins, 123

    De Innah Part.--R. G. Dandridge, 221

    Don’t-Care Negro, The.--Joseph S. Cotter, Sr., 220

    Dream and the Song, The.--J. D. Corrothers, 85

    Dreams of the Dreamer, The.--Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson, 148

    Dunbar.--J. D. Corrothers, 37

    Dunbar and Cotter.--J. E. French, 253


    Easter Message, An.--Mrs. Carrie W. Clifford, 240

    Ebon Maid.--L. B. Watkins, 252

    Edict, The.--Roscoe C. Jamison, 194

    El Beso.--Miss Angelina W. Grimké, 154

    Ere Sleep Comes Down to Soothe the Weary Eyes.--Paul Laurence Dunbar, 41

    Eternity.--R. G. Dandridge, 172

    Expectancy.--William Moore, 112


    Facts.--R. G. Dandridge, 172

    Fattening Frogs for Snakes.--_Folk Song_, 117

    Feet of Judas, The.--G. M. McClellan, 177

    Flag of the Free.--E. W. Jones, 167

    For You Sweetheart.--L. M. Fisher, 189

    Foscati.--W. S. Braithwaite, 108


    Goodbye, Old Year.--J. H. Jones, Jr., 256


    Harlem Dancer, The.--Claude McKay, 128

    Heart of the World, The.--J. H. Jones, Jr., 117

    Hero of the Road.--W. E. Hawkins, 122

    Hills of Sewanee, The.--G. M. McClellan, 176

    Hopelessness.--Roscoe C. Jamison, 195


    If We Must Die.--Claude McKay, 241

    In Bondage.--Claude McKay, 129

    In Memory of Katie Reynolds.--G. M. McClellan, 178

    In Spite of Death.--W. E. Hawkins, 62

    In the Heart of a Rose.--G. M. McClellan, 54

    I Played on David’s Harp.--Fenton Johnson, 65

    I See and Am Satisfied.--Kelly Miller, 207

    I Sit and Sew.--Mrs. Alice Dunbar-Nelson, 145

    It’s All Through Life.--W. T. Carmichael, 53

    It’s a Long Way.--W. S. Braithwaite, 106

    I’ve Loved and Lost.--L. B. Watkins, 237


    Juba.--_Folk Song_, 16


    Life.--Paul Laurence Dunbar, 43

    Life of the Spirit, The.--Charles H. Conner, 210

    Light of Victory.--George Reginald Margetson, 110

    Lights at Carney’s Point, The.--Mrs. Alice Dunbar-Nelson, 146

    Litany of Atlanta, A.--W. E. B. DuBois, 202

    Loneliness.--Miss Winifred Virginia Jordan, 56

    Lynching, The.--Claude McKay, 128


    Mammy’s Baby Scared.--W. T. Carmichael, 219

    Mater Dolorosa.--L. P. Hill, 134

    Message to the Modern Pharaohs.--L. B. Watkins, 239

    Months, The.--Miss H. Cordelia Ray, 257

    Mother, The.--Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson, 249

    My Lady’s Lips.--J. W. Johnson, 226

    My People.--C. B. Johnson, 95

    Mulatto’s Song, The.--Fenton Johnson, 101

    Mulatto to His Critics, The.--Joseph S. Cotter, Jr., 67


    Nation’s Greatness, A.--Edwin G. Riley, 262

    Negro, The.--Langston Hughes, 200

    Negro, The.--Claude McKay, 244

    Negro Child, The.--Joseph S. Cotter, Sr., 248

    Negro Church, The.--Andrea Razafkeriefo, 198

    Negro Woman, The.--Andrea Razafkeriefo, 247

    Negro Singer, The.--J. D. Corrothers, 89

    New Day, The.--Fenton Johnson, 102

    New Negro, The.--Will Sexton, 197

    New Negro, The.--L. B. Watkins, 236


    Octoroon, The.--Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson, 151

    Ode to Ethiopia.--Paul Laurence Dunbar, 44

    Oh, My Way and Thy Way.--Joseph S. Cotter, Sr., 81

    Old Plantation Grave, The.--S. M. Means, 222

    Ole Deserted Cabin, De.--S. M. Means, 223

    Old Friends.--C. B. Johnson, 97

    Old Jim Crow.--Anonymous, 231

    Optimist, The.--Mrs. J. W. Hammond, 143

    Oriflamme.--Miss Jessie Fauset, 162

    O Southland.--J. W. Johnson, 92


    Peace.--Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson, 61

    Plaint of the Factory Child, The.--Fenton Johnson, 101

    Poet, The.--R. G. Dandridge, 170

    Prayer of the Race That God Made Black, A.--L. B. Watkins, 59

    Psalm of the Uplift, The.--J. Mord Allen, 50

    Puppet-Player, The.--Miss Angelina W. Grimké, 153


    Rain Song, A.--C. B. Johnson, 99

    Rainy Days.--Andrea Razafkeriefo, 263

    Rain Music.--Joseph S. Cotter, Jr., 81

    Rise! Young Negro--Rise!--John J. Fenner, Jr., 245


    Sandy Star.--W. S. Braithwaite, 106

    Self-Determination.--L. P. Hill, 137

    She Hugged Me.--_Folk Song_, 17

    Singer, The.--Miss Eva A. Jessye, 69

    Slump, The.--W. E. Bailey, 65

    Smothered Fires.--Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson, 150

    Somebody’s Child.--Charles P. Wilson, 179

    So Much.--C. B. Johnson, 98

    Soul and Star.--C. B. Johnson, 96

    Southern Love Song, A.--J. H. Jones, Jr., 115

    Spring in New Hampshire.--Claude McKay, 127

    Spring with the Teacher.--Miss Eva A. Jessye, 139

    Steel Makers, The.--Leon R. Harris, 182

    Sunset.--Miss Mary Effie Lee, 56


    Thanking God.--W. S. Braithwaite, 109

    Thanksgiving.--W. S. Braithwaite, 262

    The Flowers Take the Tears.--Joseph S. Cotter, Sr., 76

    The Glory of the Day Was in Her Face.--J. W. Johnson, 226

    These Are My People.--Fenton Johnson, 100

    Threshing Floor, The.--Joseph S. Cotter, Sr., 75

    Time to Die.--R. G. Dandridge, 171

    To----.--R. G. Dandridge, 171

    To a Negro Mother.--Ben E. Burrell, 249

    To America.--J. W. Johnson, 53

    To a Caged Canary....--L. P. Hill, 136

    To a Nobly-Gifted Singer.--L. P. Hill, 137

    To a Rosebud.--Miss Eva A. Jessye, 141

    To a Wild Rose.--W. E. Bailey, 213

    To Hollyhocks.--G. M. McClellan, 176

    To My Grandmother.--Mrs. Mae Smith Johnson, 251

    To My Lost Child.--Will Sexton, 233

    To My Neighbor Boy.--Mrs. J. W. Hammond, 143

    To My Son.--Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson, 232

    To Keep the Memory of Charlotte Forten Grimké.--Miss
         Angelina W. Grimké, 155

    To Our Boys.--Irvin W. Underhill, 185

    Truth.--Mrs. Frances E. W. Harper, 28

    Turn Out the Light.--J. H. Jones, Jr., 114


    Vashti.--Mrs. Frances E. W. Harper, 30

    Victim of Microbes, A.--J. Mord Allen, 224

    Violets.--Mrs. Alice Dunbar-Nelson, 55


    Want of You, The.--Miss Angelina W. Grimké, 154

    We Wear the Mask.--Paul Laurence Dunbar, 47

    What Is the Negro Doing?--W. Clarence Jordan, 190

    What Need Have I for Memory?--Mrs. Georgia Douglas Johnson, 149

    While April Breezes Blow.--D. T. Williamson, 260

    Winter Twilight, A.--Miss Angelina W. Grimké, 153

    With the Lark.--Paul Laurence Dunbar, 46


    Young Warrior, The.--J. W. Johnson, 94


    Zalka Peetruza.--R. G. Dandridge, 180


FOOTNOTES:

[1] Happily a great number of these, about three hundred and fifty,
accompanied by an essay setting forth their nature, origin, and
elements, are now made accessible in _Negro Folk Rhymes_, by Thomas W.
Talley, of Fisk University; the Macmillan Company, publishers, 1922.

[2] We are enabled to give the following poems by the kind permission
of Dodd, Mead and Company, the publishers of Dunbar’s works.

[3] _The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer_, containing the best prose and
poetic selections by and about the Negro Race, with programs arranged
for special entertainments. Edited by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson. J. L.
Nichols & Co., Naperville, Ill.

[4] _Bronze_ has now been published. See Index of Authors.

[5] _A Short History of the American Negro._ By Benjamin Brawley. The
Macmillan Company.

[6] Published by Harcourt, Brace & Company, by whose kind permission I
use this selection.





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