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 Front Matter
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Title: PS 591 N4 B53 1958
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00103341/00001
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Title: PS 591 N4 B53 1958
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Bibliographic ID: UF00103341
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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
    Front Matter
        Page ii
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
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        Page 33
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        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
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        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
    Back Cover
        Page 46
Full Text


0 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?

This collection of poetry is not meant as a cross-
section of the writing of Negro poets, but an
historical reflection of the position of the Negro
people in America and examples of their mordancy,
wit and imaginative power as natural endowments,
deepened by adversity and sharpened by their
parallel existence and evolution in White America.
It includes Negro folk poetry which we know other-
wise under the song categories of spirituals, work
songs and blues. This selection was originally made
for a poetry recital, similarly entitled and presented
by the Company of Nine in association with the
English Stage Society at the Royal Court Theatre,
London, in September 1958.

\^{r1 !N-r^ ) ^A;r r


I'm Gonna Tell God all my Troubles

I'm gonna tell God all my troubles
When I get home
I'm gonna tell God all my troubles
When I get home
I'm gonna tell Him all my troubles
I'm gonna tell Him all my troubles
I'm gonna tell God all my troubles
When I get home.

I'm gonna tell Him the road was rocky
When I get home
I'm gonna tell Him the road was rocky
When I get home
I'm gonna tell God the road was rocky
I'm gonna tell God the road was rocky
I'm gonna tell God the road was rocky
When I get home.

I'm gonna tell Him I had hard trials
When I get home
I'm gonna tell Him I had hard trials
When I get home
I'm gonna tell God I had hard trials
I'm gonna tell God I had hard trials
I'm gonna tell God I had hard trials
When I get home.

Who'll be a Witness for my Lord ?

My soul is a witness for my Lord,
My soul is a witness for my Lords

You read the Bible an' you understand'
Methuselah was de oldes' man
He lived nine-hundred and sixty-nine
He died an' went to heaven, Lord,
In-a due time.


Methuselah was a witness for my Lord
Methuselah was a witness for my Lord.

You read in de Bible an' you understand'
Samson was the strongest man;
Samson went out at-a one time
An' he killed about a thousand of de Philistine.
Delilah fooled Samson, dis-a we know,
For de Holy Bible tells us so,
She shaved off his head jus' as clean as yo' han'
An' his strength became the same as any natch'al man.

O, Samson was a witness for my Lord,
O, Samson was a witness for my Lord.

Daniel was a Hebrew child,
He went to pray to his God awhile
De kind at once for Daniel did sen',
An' he put him right down in de lion's den;
God sent his angels de lions for to keep,
An' Daniel laid down an' went to sleep.

Now Daniel was a witness for my Lord,
Now Daniel was a witness for my Lord.

0, who'll be a witness for my Lord ?
0, who'll be a witness for my Lord ?
My soul is a witness for my Lord,
My soul is a witness for my Lord.

I Know Moonlight

I know moonlight
I know starlight
I lay 'dis body down.

I walk in the moonlight
I walk in the starlight
I lay 'dis body down.

I lay in the grave
I stretch out my arms
I lay 'dis body down.

I go to judgement
In the evening of the day
I lay 'dis body down.

Free at Last

Free at last, free at last,
I thank God I'm free at last.
Free at last, free at last,
I thank God I'm free at last.

Way down yonder in the grave-yard walk,
I thank God I'm free at last!
Me and my Jesus (are) going to meet and talk.
I thank God I'm free at last.

Free at last, free at last,
I thank God I'm free at last.
On my knees when the light passed by,
Thought my soul would arise and fly.

Free at last, free at last,
I thank God I'm free at last.
Some of these mornings bright and fair
I'll meet my Jesus in the midst of the air.

Free at last, free at last,
Hallelujah, I'm free at last!
Free at last, free at last,
I thank God I'm free at last!

Follow the Drinking Gourd

Follow, follow, follow,
Follow the drinking' gourd!
Follow the drinking' gourd!
For the old man is a-waitin' for to carry you to freedom,
If you follow the drinking' gourd.

When the sun comes back and the first quail calls,
Follow the drinking' gourd!
For the old man is a-waitin' for to carry you to freedom,
If you follow the drinking' gourd.

The river ends between two hills
Follow the drifkin' gourd!
There's another river on the other side,
If you follow the drinking' gourd.

The river bank makes a very good road;
The dead trees show you the way;
Left foot, peg-foot, travelling on
Follow the drinking' gourd.

Where the great big river meets the little river,
Follow the drinking' gourd!
For the sailor-boy's a-waitin' for to carry you to freedom,
If you follow the drinking' gourd.


Take this Hammer

Take this hammer, (huh) carry it to the captain, (huh)
tell him I'm gone, (huh) tell him I'm gone. (huh)

If he asks you (huh) was I running, (huh)
tell him I was flying, (huh) tell him I was flying. (huh)

If he asks you (huh) was I laughing, (huh)
tell him I was crying, (huh) tell him I was crying. (huh)

I don't want no (huh) cornbread and molasses, (huh)
they hurt my pride, (huh) they hurt my pride. (huh)

I don't want no (huh) cold iron shackles (huh)
around my legs, (huh) around my legs. (huh)

Take this hammer, (huh) carry it to the captain, (huh)
I'm going home, (huh) I'm going home. (huh)

We Raise the Wheat

We raise the wheat
They give us corn
We bake the bread
They give us the crust
We sift the meal
They give us the husk
We peel the meat
They give us the skin
And that's the way
They take us in
We skim the pot
They give us the liquor
And say that's good enough for nigger.

NIGGER : Used almost exclusively in the denigrating sense by white
people, it is metamorphosed into "nigra" or "nigrah" in the
deep South. To a Negro ear it is the insult direct and fighting
word in a white mouth, though the Negro may use it slyly and
playfully and even affectionately among his own people. The
European custom of referring to all dark-skinned people as
"niggers" may carry less venom but remains highly offensive to
American Negroes and requires some painful adjustment
when, for instance, the word is a corporate adjective as in
"nigger-brown". In America the outrage and pride of the
Negro led to the adoption of the journalistic convention of a
capital "N" for "Negro" in spite of the fact that, strictly
speaking, Negro is a colour and not a race. The tacit accept-
ance of this convention is an indication of the militancy
against the oral forms of condescension and derogation.

My 01' Missus

My ol' Missus promise me,
When she died, she'd set me free.
She lived so long dat her head got bald
And she give out'n de notion a dyin' at all.

FRANCES HARPER (1825-1911)
Bury Me in Free Land

Make a grave where'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.

I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave,
his shadow above my silent tomb
would make it a place of fearful gloom.

I could not rest if I heard the tread
of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
and the mother's shriek of wild despair
rise like a curse to the trembling air.

I could not sleep if I saw the lash
drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
and I saw her babes torn from her breast,
like trembling doves from their parent nest.

I'd shudder and start if I heard the bay
of bloodhounds crying their human prey,
and I heard the captive plead in vain
as they bound afresh the galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mothers' arms
bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
my eye would flash with a mournful flame,
my death-paled cheek grow red with shame.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
can rob no man of his dearest right;
my rest shall be calm in any grave
where none shall call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
to arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
all that my yearning spirit craves,
is bury me not in a land of slaves.

At the Closed Gates 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!


The Creation
(A Negro sermon)

And God stepped out on space
And he looked around and said
"I'm lonely-
"I'll make me a world."

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnight
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said, "That's good"!

Then God reached out and took the light in His hands,
And God rolled the light around in His hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun

God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said, "That's good"!

Then God himself stepped down-
And the sun was on His right hand,
And the moon on His left;
The stars were clustered about His head,
And the earth was under His feet.
And God walked, and where He trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then He stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And He spat out the seven seas ;
He batted His eyes, and the lightning flashed;
He clapped His hands, and the thunders rolled;
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his fingers to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,

And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around His shoulders.

Then God raised His arm and He waved His hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And He said, "Bring forth! Bring forth!"
And quicker than God could drop His hand
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said, "That's good!"

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that He had made.
He looked at His sun
And He looked at His moon,
And He looked at His little stars;
He looked on His world
With all its living things,
And God said, "I'm lonely still."

Then God sat down
On the side of a hill where He could think ;
By a deep, wide river He sat down;
With His head in His hands,
God thought and thought,
Till He thought, "I'll make me a man!"

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled Him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,

Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till He shaped it in His own image ;

Then into it He blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen.

0 Black and Unknown Bards

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 ?

Heart of what slave poured out such melody
As "Steal away to Jesus" ? On its strains
His spirit must have nightly floated free,
Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
Who heard great "Jordan roll" ? Whose starward eye
Saw chariot "swing low" ? And who was he
That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
"Nobody knows de trouble I see" ?

What merely living clod, what captive thing,
Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
And find within its deadened heart to sing
These songs of sorrow, love and faith, and hope ?
How did it catch that subtle undertone
That note in music heard not with the ears ?
How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.

Not that great German master in his dream
Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
At the creation, ever heard a theme
Nobler than "Go down, Moses" Mark its bars

How like a mighty trumpet call they stir
The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
That helped make history when Time was young.

There is a wide, wide wonder in it all
That from degraded rest and servile toil
The fiery spirit of the sheer should call
These simple children of the sun and soil.
O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
You-you alone, of all the long, long line
Of those who've sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.


When Malindy Sings

G'way an' quit dat noise, Miss Lucy-
Put dat music book away ;
What's de use to keep on trying' ?
Ef you practise twell you're gray,
You can't sta't no notes a-flyin'
Lak de ones dat rants and rings
F'om de kitchen to de big woods
When Malindy sings.

You ain't got de nachel o'gans
Fu' to make de soun' come right,
You ain't got de tu'ns an' twistin's
Fu' to make it sweet an' light.
Tell you one thing now, Miss Lucy,
An' I'm tellin' you fu' true,
When hit comes to raal right singin',
'Tain't no easy thing to do.

Easy enoughh fu' folks to hollah,
Lookin' at de lines an' dots,
When dey ain't no one kin sense it,
An' de chune comes in, in spots;

But fu' real melojous music,
Dat jes' strikes yo' hea't an' clings,
Jes' you stan' an' listen wif me
When Malindy sings.

Ain't you nevah hyeahd Malindy ?
Blessed soul, tek up de cross!
Look hyeah, ain't you jokin', honey ?
Well, you don't know whut you los',
Y'ought to hyeah dat gal a-wa'blin',
Robins, la'ks, an' all dem things,
Heish dey moufs an' hides dey faces
When Malindy sings.

Fiddlin' man jes' stop his fiddlin',
Lay his fiddle on de she'f;
Mockin'-birds quit trying' to whistle,
'Cause he jes' so shamed hisse'f.
Folks a-playin' on de banjo
Draps dey fingahs on de strings-
Bless yo' soul-fu'gits to move 'em
When Malindy sings.

She jes' spreads huh mouf and hollahs,
"Come to Jesus", twell you hyeah
Sinnahs tremblin' steps and voices,
Timid-lak a-drawin' neah;
Den she tu'ns to "Rock of Ages",
Simply to de cross she clings
An' you fin' yo' teahs a-drappin'
When Malindy sings.

Who dat says dat humble praises
Wif de Master nevah counts ?
Heish yo' mouf, I hyeah dat music,
Ez hit rises up an' mounts-
Floatin' by de hills an' valleys,
Way above dis buryin' sod,
Ez hit makes its way in glory
To de very gates of God!

Oh, hit's sweetah dan de music
Of an dedicated band;

An' hit's dearah dan de battle's
Song o' triumph in de lan'.
It seems holier dan evening'
When de solemn chu'ch bell rings,
Ez I sit an' ca'mly listen
When Malindy sings.

Towsah, stop dat ba'kin, hyeah me!
Mandy, mek dat chile keep still;
Don't you hyeah de echoes calling'
F'om de valley to de hill ?
Let me listen, I can hyeah it,
Th'oo de bresh of angels' wings
Sof' an' sweet, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
SEz Malindy sings.

CLAUDE McKAY (1889-1954)
If we must Die

If we must die-let it not be like hogs
hunted and penned in an unglorious 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 honour us though dead!
Oh, kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
though far outnumbered, let us show us 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!

On seeing two Brown Boys in a Catholic Church

It is fitting that you be here,
little brown boys
with Christ-like eyes
and curling hair.

Look you on yonder crucifix
where He hangs nailed and pierced
with head hung low
and eyes all blind with blood that drips
from a thorny crown...
Look you well,
you shall know this thing.

Judas' kiss shall burn your cheek
and you will be denied
by your Peter-

And Gethsemane ...
You shall know full well ...
Gethsemane ...

You, too, will suffer under Pontius Pilate
and feel the rugged cut of rough-hewn cross
upon your surging shoulder-

They will spit in your face
and laugh...
They will nail you up twixt thieves
and gamble for your garments.

And in this you will exceed God
for on this earth
you shall know Hell-

0 little brown boys
with Christ-like eyes
and curling hair,
it is fitting that you be here.


Memphis Blues

Nineveh, Tyre
not much lef'
of either one.

All dese cities
ashes and rust,
de win' sings sperrichals
through deir dus' ...
Was another Memphis
'mongst de olden days,
done been destroyed
in many ways ...
Dis here Memphis
it may go :
floods may drown it;
tornado blow;
Mississippi wash it
down to sea-
like de other Memphis in


Watcha gonna do when Memphis on fire,
Memphis on fire, Mistah Preachin' Man ?
Gonna pray to Jesus and nebber tire,
gonna pray to Jesus, loud as I can,
gonna pray to Jesus, oh, my Lawd!

Watcha gonna do when de tall flames roar,
tall flames roar, Mistah Lovin' Man ?
Gonna love my brownskin better'n before-
gonna love my baby lak a do right man,
gonna love my brown baby, oh, my Lawd!

Watcha gonna do when Memphis falls down,
Memphis falls down, Mistah Music Man ?
Gonna plunk on dat box as long as it soun',
Gonna plunk dat box fo' to beat de ban',
gonna tickle dem ivories, oh, my Lawd!

Watcha gonna do in de hurricane,
In de hurricane, Mistah Workin' Man ?
Gonna put dem buildings up again,
gonna put em up dis time to stan',
gonna put a wicked wheelbarrow, oh, my Lawd!

Watcha gonna do when Memphis near gone,
Memphis near gone, Mistah Drinkin' Man ?
Gonna grab a pint bottle of Mountain Corn,
gonna keep de stopper in my han',
Gonna get a mean jag on, oh, my Lawd!

Watcha gonna do when de flood roll fas',
flood roll fas', Mistah Gamblin' Man ?
Gonna pick up my dice fo' one las' pass-
gonna fade my way to de lucky lan',
gonna throw my las' seven-oh, my Lawd!

Memphis go
by flood or flame;
nigger won't worry
all de same-
Memphis go
Memphis come back
ain't no skin
off de nigger's back.
All dese cities
Ashes, rust...
de win' sing sperrichals
through deir dus'.

Slim Greer

Listen to the tale
Of Ole Slim Greer,
Waitines' devil
Waitin' here;

Talkines' guy
An' biggest liar,
With always a new lie
On the fire.

Tells a tale
Of Arkansaw
That keeps the kitchen
In a roar;

Tells in a long-drawled
Careless tone,
As solemn as a Baptist
Parson's moan;

How he in Arkansaw
Passed for white
An' he no lighter
Than a dark midnight.

Found a nice white woman
At a dance,
Thought he was from Spain
Or else from France;

Nobody suspicioned
Old Slim Greer's race
But a Hill Billy, always
Roun' the place,

Who called one day
On the trustful dame
An' found Slim comfy
When he came.

The whites lef' the parlour
All to Slim,
Which didn't cut
No ice with him,

An' he started a tinklin'
Some mo'nful blues,
An' a-pattin' the time
With No. 14 shoes.

The cracker listened
An' then he spat
An' said, "No white man
Could play like that ..."

The white jane ordered
The tattler out;
Then, female-like,
Began to doubt,

Crept into the parlour
Soft as you please,
Where Slim was agitatin'
The ivories.

Heard Slim's music-
An' then, hot damn!
Shouted sharp-"Nigger!"
An' Slim said, "Ma'am ?"

She screamed and the crackers
Swarmed up soon,
But found only echoes
Of his tune;

'Cause Slim had sold out
With lightning' speed ;
"Hope I may die, sir-
Yes, indeed ..


The Weary Blues

Droning a drowsy, syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway ...
He did a lazy sway ...
To the tune of those weary blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool
Sweet blues!
Coming from a black man's soul.
O blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tune
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan-

"Ain't got nobody in all this world,
Ain't got nobody but ma self.
I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
An' put ma troubles on the shelf."
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more-
"I got the Weary Blues
And I can't be satisfied,
Got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied-
I ain't happy no' mo'
And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.

Mother to Son

Well, son, I'll tell you :
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor-
But all the time
I's been a-climbin' on,
And reaching' landin's,
And turning' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you find it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now-
For I's still goin', honey,
I's still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.



Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round,
Mister, cause I want to ride ?
Down South where I came from
White and coloured
Can't sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There's a Jim Crow car.
On the bus we're put in the back-
But there ain't no back
To a merry-go-round!
Where's the horse
For a kid that's black ?

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers :
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than
the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawn was young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers :
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like rivers.

When Sue Wears Red

When Susanna Jones wears red
Her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.



Come with a blast of trumpets,

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.

Blow trumpets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like pain.

Sweet silver trumpets,

Ballad of a Man that's Gone

No money to bury him; the relief gave fourty-four
The undertaker said, "You'll need sixty more
For a first-class funeral-a hearse and two cars,
And maybe his buddies'll bring some flowers".
His wife took a paper and went around
Everybody that gave something, she put them down.
She raked up a hundred for her man that was dead,
His buddies brought flowers-a funeral was had.
A preacher preached-he charged five
To bless him dead and praise him alive.
Now that he's buried, God rest his soul.
Reckon there's no charge for graveyard mould.
I wonder what makes a funeral so high ?
A poor man ain't got no business to die!

Lenox Avenue Mural


What happens to a dream deferred ?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun ?
Or fester like a sore-
and then run ?

Does it stink like rotten meat ?
Or crust and sugar over-
like a syrupy sweet ?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode ?

Good morning

I said to my baby,
baby, take it slow,
I can't, she said, I can't!
I got to go!

There's a certain
amount of travelling
in a dream deferred.

Lulu said to Leonard,
I want a diamond ring.
Leonard said to Lulu,
You won't get a goddam thing!

A certain
amount of nothing
in a dream deferred.

Daddy, daddy, daddy,
all I want is you.
You can have me, baby-
but my lovin' days is through.

A certain
amount of impotence
in a dream deferred.

Three parties
on my party line-
but that third party.
Lord, ain't mine!


There's liable
to be confusion
in a dream deferred.

From river to river,
uptown and down,
there's liable to be confusion
when a dream gets kicked around.

Comment on curb

You talk like
they don't kick
dreams around

I expect they do-
but I'm talking about
Harlem to you!

Dear Mama,
Time I pay rent and get my food and laundry I don't have
much left but here is five dollars for you to show you I still
appreciate you. My girl-friend send her love and say she hopes
to lay eyes on you sometime in life. Mama, it has been raining
cats and dogs up here. Well, that is all so I will close.
Your son baby,
respectably as ever,


Between two rivers,
North of the park,
like darker rivers
the streets are dark.

Black and white,
gold and brown-
pie of a town.

Dream within a dream,
our dream deferred.

Good morning, daddy!

Ain't you heard ?

Your Songs

When first you sang a song to me
With laughter shining from your eyes,
You trolled your music liltingly
With cadences of glad surprise.

In after years I heard you croon
In measures delicately slow
Of trees turned silver by the moon
And nocturnes sprites and lovers know.

And now I cannot hear you sing,
But love still holds your melody
For silence is a sounding thing
To one who listens hungrily.

To a Dark Girl

I love you for your brownness
And the rounded darkness of your breast.
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eye-lids rest.

Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk,
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.

Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow's mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

COUNTEE CULLEN (1903-1945)

Once riding in old Baltimore
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger".

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

From the Dark Tower

We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute,
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap ;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made eternally to weep.

The night whose sable breast relieves the stark
White stars is no less lovely, being dark;
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonising seeds.


What is Africa to me :
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong, bronzed men, or regal black


Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang ?
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?

So I lie, who all day long
Want no sound except the song
Sung by wild barbaric birds
Goading massive jungle herds,
Juggernauts of flesh that pass
Trampling tall defiant grass
Where young forest lovers lie,
Plighting troth beneath the sky.
So I lie, who always hear,
Though I cram against my ear
Both my thumbs, and keep them there,
Great drums throbbing through the air.
So I lie, whose fount of pride,
Dear distress, and joy allied,
Is my sombre flesh and skin,
With the dark blood dammed within
Like great pulsing tides of wine
That, I fear, must burst the fine
Channels of the chafing net
Where they surge and foam and fret.

Africa ? A book one thumbs
Listlessly, till slumber comes.
Unremembered are her bats
Circling through the night, her cats
Crouching in the river reeds,
Stalking gentle flesh that feeds
By the river brink; no more
Does the bugle-throated roar
Cry that monarch claws have leapt
From the scabbards where they slept.

Silver snakes that once a year
Doff the lovely coats you wear,
Seek no covert in your fear
Lest a mortal eye should see;

What's your nakedness to me ?
Here no leprous flowers rear
Fierce corollas in the air ;
Here no bodies sleek and wet,
Dripping mingled rain and sweat,
Tread the savage measures of
Jungle girls and boys in love.
What is last year's snow to me,
Last year's anything ? The tree
Budding yearly must forget
How its past arose or set-
Bough and blossom, flower, fruit,
Even what shy bird with mute
Wonder at her travail there,
Meekly laboured in its hair.
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me ?

So I lie, who find no peace
Night or day, no slight release
From the unremittent beat
Made by cruel padded feet
Walking through my body's street.
Up and down they go, and back,
Treading out a jungle track.
So I lie, who never quite
Safely sleep from rain at night-
I can never rest at all
When the rain begins to fall;
Like a soul gone mad with pain
I must match its weird refrain;
Ever must I twist and squirm,
Writhing like a baited worm,
While its primal measures drip
Through my body, crying, "Strip!
Doff this new exuberance.
Come and dance the Lover's Dance!"
In an old remembered way
Rain works on me night and day.

Quaint, outlandish heathen gods
Black men fashion out qf rods,

Clay, and brittle bits of stone,
In a likeness like their own,
My conversion came high-priced;
I belong to Jesus Christ,
Preacher of humility;
Heathen gods are naught to me.

Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
So I make an idle boast;
Jesus of the twice-turned cheek,
Lamb of God, although I speak
With my mouth thus, in my heart
Do I play a double part.
Ever at Thy glowing altar
Must my heart grow sick and falter,
Wishing He I served were black,
Thinking then it would not lack
Precedent of pain to guide it,
Let who would or might deride it;
Surely then this flesh would know
Yours had borne a kindred woe.
Lord, I fashion dark gods, too.
Daring even to give You
Dark despairing features where,
Crowned with dark rebellious hair,
Patience wavers just as much as
Mortal grief compels, while touches
Quick and hot, of anger, rise
To smitten cheek and weary eyes.
Lord forgive me if my need
Sometimes shapes a human creed.

All day long and all night through,
One thing only must I do :
Quench my pride and cool my blood,
Lest I perish in the flood.
Lest a hidden ember set
Timber that I thought was wet
Burning like the dryestflax,
Melting like the merest wax,
Lest the grave restore its dead.
Not yet has my heart or head
In the least way realized
They and I are civilised.


Epitaph fqr a Lady I Know

She even thinks that up in heaven
her class lies late and snores,
while poor black cherubs rise at seven
to do celestial chores.

To John Keats, Poet, at Springtime

I cannot hold my peace, John Keats;
There never was a spring like this;
It is an echo, that repeats
My last year's song and next year's bliss.
I know, in spite of all men say
Of Beauty, you have felt her most.
Yea, even in your grave her way
Is laid. Poor troubled, lyric ghost,
Spring never was so fair and dear
As Beauty makes her seem this year.

I cannot hold my peace, John Keats,
I am as helpless in the toil
Of Spring as any lamb that bleats
To feel the solid earth recoil
Beneath his puny legs. Spring beats
Her tocsin call to those who love her,
And lo! the dogwood petals cover
Her breast with drifts of snow, and sleek
White gulls fly screaming to her, and hover
About her shoulders, and kiss her cheek,
While white and purple lilacs muster
A strength that bears them to a cluster
Of colour and odour ; for her sake
All things that slept are now awake.

And you and I, shall we lie still,
John Keats, while Beauty summons us ?
Somehow I feel your sensitive will
Is pulsing up some tremulous
Sap road of a maple tree, whose leaves
Grow music as they grow, since your
Wild voice is in them, a harp that grieves
For life that opens death's dark door.

Though dust, your fingers still can push
The Vision Splendid to a birth,
Though now they work as grass in the hush
Of the night on the broad sweet page of the earth.

"John Keats is dead," they say, but I
Who hear your full insistent cry
In bud and blossom, leaf and tree,
Know John Keats still writes poetry.
And while my head is earthward bowed
To read new life sprung from your shroud,
Folks seeing me must think it strange
That merely spring should so derange
My mind. They do not know that you,
John Keats, keep revel with me too.

Yet do I Marvel

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing :
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!



O' de wurl' ain't flat,
An' de wurl' ain't roun',
H'it's one long strip
Hangin' up an' down-
Jes' Souf an' Norf;
Jes' Norf an' Souf.

Talkin' 'bout sailing' 'round de wurl'-
Huh! I'd be so dizzy my head 'ud twurl.
If dis heah earf wuz jes' a ball
You no the people all 'ud fall.

O' de wurl' ain't flat,
An' de wurl' ain't roun',
H'it's one long strip
Hangin' up an' down-
Jes' Souf an' Norf;
Jes' Norf an' Souf.

Talking' 'bout the City whut Saint John saw-
Chile you ought go to Saginaw;
A nigger's chance is "finest kind",
An' pretty gals ain't hard to find.

Huh! de wurl' ain't flat,
An' de wurl' ain't roun',
Jes' one long strip
Hangin' up an' down.
Since Norf is up,
An' Souf is down,
An' Hebben is up,
I'm upward boun'.


Carry Me Back

Carry me back to old Virginia
Magnolia blossoms fill the air,
carry me back to old Virginia
the only way you'll get me there.

No Images

She does not know
Her beauty,
She thinks her brown body
Has no glory.

If she could dance
Under palm trees
And see her image in the river
She would know.

But there are no palm trees
On the street,
And dish water gives back no images.

Lame Man and the Blind Man

Lame man said to the blind man,
"Hope you're doing well."
Blind man said to the lame man,
"Can't you see me catching hell ?"

Blind man said to the lame man,
"How's things with you ?"
Lame man leading the blind man,
"I'm catching hell, too."

Blind man playing his old guitar.
"Somebody gimme a dime-
Tired o' singing the blues
For nothing all the time!"

Lame man said to the blind man,
"Can't I sing some bass ?"
Blind man said to the lame man,
"Open up your face!"

Lame man and the blind man
Sang a too-sad song :
"Tain't right to be so far down!
It's wrong! Sure is wrong!"

Blind man said to the lame man,
"Do I feel rain or snow ?"
Lame man said to the blind man,
"Rain! Let's go!"


on the face of the moon
am I.
A dark shadow in the light.
A silhouette am I
on the face of the moon
lacking colour
or vivid brightness
but defined all the clearer
I am dark,
black on the face of the moon.
A shadow am I
growing in the light,
not understood as in the day,
but more easily seen
I am a shadow in the light.

Runagate Runagate


And it's fare you well, fare you well
I'm on my way to Canaan, fare you well.

O freedom mythic North

like some rock-crystal far-off Bible city

Runs falls rises stumbles on
from darkness into darkness and the darkness
thicketed with shapes of fear and the hound behind
and the hunters behind and the night cold and the night long
and the river to cross and blackness ahead keep on
and doubt ahead when shall I reach that somewhere
that tomorrow and if they find me if they overtake me
die fighting keep on never turn back

Runagate nigger Runagate

Many thousands rise and go,
many thousands done crossed over.

Some go weeping and some rejoicing,
some in coffins and some in carriages,
some in silk, most in shackles.
Rise and go or fare you well.
Blind and halt and tired and lonely,
hunched and straight and proud and humble

Come along, brother, or fare you well.

No more auction-block for me,
no more driver's lash for me.

Rise and go

Runagate Runagate

If you catch a Sambo disguised as a dandy,
if you catch a Mandy mincing like a lady,
notify subscriber and claim reward;
but it's only fair to warn you :

They will run underground when you try to catch them,
plunge into quicksands, whirlpools, mazes,
they will turn to scorpions when you try to catch them,
salamanders, nettles; they will turn to fire.

And before I'll be a slave
I'll be buried in my grave.

North Star and bonanza gold
I'm bound for the freedom, freedom-bound
and oh Susanna don't you cry for me

And it is now she comes,
summoned by their need :





Harriet Tubman,
whipscarred woman of earth, risen out of bondage,
risen from their anguish and their power
for to be a calling, for to be a shining.

Mean to be free.

Emerges from unnatural shadow,
accomplice of that host whose crime
is the opening of a door, the lighting of a lamp,
the whispering of a name;

Is stategist of stars and ghostly silences.

Walks that panthergloom of trauma and decay
with pistol and disguises,
equal to all the gothic role requires :

Hairbreadth escape by iceblock, hidden stair,
hand-to-hand encounters with the hooded stalkers,
despair and panic and betrayal.

Mean to be free.

Wanted : the negress Harriet Tubman,*
alias The General, alias Conductor, alias Moses :
stealer of slaves, in league
with the bigots Alcott and Emerson, Hussey and Haviland,
with the traitors Garrison, Still, Thoreau,
the troublemakers Loguen, Douglass, Coffin, old John Brown :


Godgazing Ezekiel, oh tell me do you see
mailed Jehovah coming to deliver me ?

Dead or Alive

Come ride this train. Mean to be free.

*HARRIET TUBMAN: Outstanding Negro "Conductor" on the
Underground Railway, said to have gone South 19 times and
helped over 300 slaves to escape. (note cont.)

BIGOTS AND TRAITORS : Journalists, sociologists and abolitionists
who enrolled against slavery in the middle of the 19th century.
LOGUEN : Ex-slave, wrote of his experiences.
DOUGLASS: Ex-slave, educator, newspaper editor and, finally,
Minister to Haiti.
COFFIN : Levi Coffin, Quaker, known as President of the Under-
ground Railway.
JOHN BROWN : Head of insurrection to free slaves, attempted to
seize Federal arsenal to arm his uprising in 1859.

PAUL VESEY (1913-)

A Moment Please

When I gaze at the sun
I walked to the subway booth
for change for a dime.
and know that this great earth
Two adolescent girls stood there
alive with eagerness to know
is but a fragment from it thrown
all in their new found world
there was for them to know
in heat and flame a billion years ago.
they looked at me and brightly asked
"Are you Arabian ?"
that then this world was lifeless
I smile and cautiously
-for one grows cautious-shook me head
as, a billion hence
"Egyptian ?"
it shall again be,
Again I smiled and shook my head
and walked away.
what moment is it that I am betrayed,
I've gone but seven paces now
oppressed, cast down,
and from behind comes swift the sneer
or warm with love or triumph ?
"Or Nigger ?"


A moment, please
I What is it that to fury I am roused ?
for still it takes a moment
What meaning for me
and now
in this homeless clan
I'll turn
the dupe of space
and smile
the toy of time ?
and nod my head.

OWEN DODSON (1914- )


Wake up, boy, and tell me how you died :
What sense was alert last,
SWhat immediate intuition about us
You clutched like a bullet when your nails
Dug red in your yellow palm
And that map the fortunetellers read
(this line for money, this for love)
Childish again and smeared.

The Mississippi drank itself one night,
the bridge from which you hung threw its arms up,
folded into mud like an old obscene accordion,
the crowd dispersed
counted on its fingers one by one.

Wake up, boy, I go to death tomorrow,
Tell me what road you took,
What hour in the day is luckiest,
Did your Adam's apple explode ?
Who sewed stitches in your angry heart ?
0 wake...
I here give up my soul.
Wake up ...
And deliver love to mud for everlasting evermore.


Wake ...
I here give up all nature including grass,
The second crocus, the cotton stem with the dry head.
Wake up, wake, I go ...
Must I here give you up, my friend,
To wander where I wander to barbed wire crossed at intervals
like Evil stars ?

Save me!
Tell me the acrostic, the cross, the crown or the fire ...
O wake up, wake!

RAY DUREM (1915-)

I Know I'm not sufficiently Obscure

I know I'm not sufficiently obscure
to please the critics-nor devious enough,
Imagery escapes me.
I cannot find those mild and gracious words
to clothe the carnage.
Blood is blood and murder's murder.
What's a lavender word for lynch ?
Come, you pale poets, wan, refined and dreamy :
here is a black woman working out her guts
in a white man's kitchen
for little money and no glory.
How should I tell that story ?
There is a black boy, blacker still from death,
face down in the cold Korean mud.
Come on with your effervescent jive
explain to him why he ain't alive.
Reword our specific discontent
into some plaintive melody,
a little whine, a little whimper,
not too much-and no rebellion!
God, no! Rebellion's much too corny.
You deal with finer feelings,
very subtle-an autumn leaf
hanging from a tree-I see a body!











When I was a child I knew red miners
dressed raggedly and wearing carbide lamps.
I saw them come down red hills to their camps
dyed with red dust from old Ishkooda mines.
Night after night I met them on the roads,
or on the streets in town I caught their glance;
the swing of dinner buckets in their hands,
and grumbling undermining all their words.

I also lived in low cotton country
where moonlight hovered over ripe hay stacks,
or stumps of trees, and croppers' rotting shacks
with famine, terror, flood, and plague near by;
where sentiment and hatred still held sway
and only bitter land was washed away.

For My People

For my people everywhere singing their slave songs repeatedly :
their dirges and their ditties and their blues and jubilees,
praying their prayers nightly to an unknown god, bending
their knees humbly to an unseen power;

For my people lending their strength to the years, to the gone
years and the now years and the maybe years, washing
ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending hoeing plowing
digging planting pruning patching dragging along never
gaining never reaping never knowing and never under-

For my playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama
backyards playing baptizing and preaching and doctor and
jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking and
playhouse and concert and store and hair and Miss Choomby
and company;

For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn to
know the reasons why and the answers to and the people

who and the places where and the days when, in memory of
the bitter hours when we discovered we were black and poor
and small and different and nobody cared and nobody
wondered and nobody understood;

For the boys and girls who grew up in spite of these things to be
man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and play and
drink their wine and religion and success, to marry their
playmates and bear children and then die of consumption
and anemia and lynching;

For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago, and Lenox
Avenue in New York and Rampart Street in New Orleans,
lost disinherited dispossessed and happy people filling the
cabarets and taverns and other people's pockets needing
bread and shoes and milk and land and money and some-
thing-something all our own;

For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time being
lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when burdened,
drinking when hopeless, tied and shackled and tangled
among ourselves by the unseen creatures who tower over us
omnisciently and laugh;

For my people blundering and groping and floundering in the
dark of churches and schools and clubs and societies,
associations and councils and committees and conventions,
distressed and disturbed and deceived and devoured by
money-hungry glory craving leeches, preyed on by facile
force of state and fad and novelty, by false prophet and holy

For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people, all
the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless


Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody
peace be written in the sky, Let a second generation full of
courage issue forth; let a people loving freedom come to
growth. Let a beauty full of healing and, a strength of final
clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our bloods. Let
the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a
race of men now rise and take control.

Southern Song

I want my body bathed again by southern suns, my soul
reclaimed again from southern lands. I want to rest again
in southern fields, in grass and hay and clover blossom:
to lay my hands again upon the clay baked by a southern
sun, to touch the rain-soaked earth and smell the smell of
the soil.

I want my rest unbroken in the fields of southern earth; free-
dom to watch the corn wave silver in the sun and mark the
splashing of a brook, a pond with ducks and frogs and
count the clouds.

I want no mobs to wrench me from my southern rest; no forms
to take me in the night and burn my shack and make for me
a nightmare full of oil and flame.

I want my careless song to strike no minor key; no fiend to
stand between my body's southern song-the fusion of the
South, my body's song and me.

Dark Blood

There were bizarre beginnings in old lands for the making of
me. There were sugar sands and islands of fern and pearl, palm
jungles and stretches of a never-ending sea.

There were the wooing nights of tropical lands and the cool
discretion of flowering plains between the stalwart hills. They
nurtured my coming with wanderlust. I sucked fevers of adven-
ture through my veins with my mother's milk.

Someday I shall go to the tropical land of my birth, to the
coasts of continents and the tiny wharves of island shores.
I shall roam the Balkans and the hot lanes of Africa and Asia.
I shall stand on mountain tops and gaze on fertile homes below.

And when I return to Mobile I shall go by the way of
Panama and Bocas del Toro to the littered streets and the
one-room shacks of my old poverty, and blazing suns of other
lands may struggle then to reconcile the pride and pain in me.


The Sonnet-Ballad

O mother, mother, where is happiness ?
They took my lover's tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won't be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I know
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate-and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, "Yes".
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness ?

Old Laughter

The men and women long ago
In Africa, in Africa,
Knew all there was of joy to know,
In sunny Africa
The spices flew from tree to tree.
The spices trifled in the air
That carelessly
Fondled the twisted hair.

The men and women richly sang
In lands of gold and green and red.
The bells of merriment richly sang.

But richness is long dead,
Old laughter chilled, old music done
In bright, bewildered Africa.

Creole Girl

When you dance,
Do you think of Spain-
Purple skirts and clipping castanets,
Creole girl ?

When you laugh,
Do you think of France-
Golden wine and mincing minuets,
Creole girl ?

When you sing,
Do you think of young America-
Grey guns and battling bayonets,
Creole girl ?

When you cry,
Do you think of Africa-
Blue nights and casual canzonets,
Creole girl ?

CREOLE : A descendant of French or Spanish settlers in Louisiana
and the Gulf States, preserving their characteristic speech and
culture-usually part Negro.





FRANCES HARPER, Liberator, Vol. 34, 1864. JAMES D. CORROTHERS,
The Book of American Negro Poetry, edited by James Weldon
Johnson, Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York, 1931. PAUL L.
DUNBAR, Dodd, Mead and Co., 1907. CLAUDE MCKAY, Harlem
Shadows, Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York, 1922. LANGSTON
HUGHES, The Weary Blues, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1929,
and Montage of a Dream Deferred, Holt, New York, 1951.
COUNTEE CULLEN, On These I Stand, and Copper Sun, Harper
and Brothers, New York, 1947. MARGARET WALKER, For My
People, Yale University Press, 1942. LESLIE M. COLLINS, Exile,
PAUL VESEY, Ivory Tusks, Heidelberg Rothe, 1957, and to

especially to

ERIC WALROND and DR. ROSEY POOL for selecting the poems,
and to GORDON HEATH for arranging them and producing the

Woodcut on cover by LEE PAYANT.

Printed by Headley Brothers Ltd xog Kingsway London WC2 and Ashford Kent



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