Category Archives: poet

Rita Dove

Black History Month Day 10.

To appreciate the poem, it’s necessary to be familiar with the story of Persephone and her mother, Demeter. In case you have forgotten, here is the myth of Persephone. The poem can be read as a piece of parental advice from a mother to her daughter. It is a scorching commentary on the society in which an innocent girl exploring the world on her own looking for “One narcissus among the ordinary” (something exceptional) should be punished severely for her quest.

Persephone, Falling
By Rita Dove (1952-)

One narcissus among the ordinary beautiful
flowers, one unlike all the others! She pulled,
Read the complete poem here.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Black History Month Day 9.

Gwendolyn Brooks is the 20th-century black poet of the post-slavery era. Her poetry deals with the struggles of the ordinary people in the community. She is widely known for her often-quoted poem “We Real Cool.” “The Mother” is a heart-wrenching poem of the void that was never filled with the lives of children because they were or had to be aborted.

The Mother
By Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
Abortions will not let you forget.
Read the complete poem here.

Audre Lorde

Black History Month Day 8.

Audre Lorde is a monumental foremother for women poets. Her phenomenal work on the issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, and ability is inspiring. Here is a favorite poem about the spirit that speaks despite all the issues mentioned earlier.

A Litany for Survival
By Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
Read the complete poem.

Lucille Clifton

Black History Month Day 7.

Black American history could not be told without understanding Middle Passage Slave Trade. I wanted to introduce the poem “Slaveships” by Lucille Clifton (1936-2010). Since this poem is not in public domain, here is a much older poem on the same topic.

The Slave Ships
By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

“ALL ready?” cried the captain;
“Ay, ay!” the seamen said;
“Heave up the worthless lubbers, –
The dying and the dead.”
Up from the slave-ship’s prison
Fierce, bearded heads were thrust
“Now let the sharks look to it, –
Toss up the dead ones first!”
Corpse after corpse came up, –
Death had been busy there;
Where every blow is mercy,
Why should the spoiler spare?
Corpse after corpse they cast
Sullenly from the ship,
Yet bloody with the traces
Of fetter-link and whip.
Gloomily stood the captain,
With his arms upon his breast,
With his cold brow sternly knotted,
And his iron lip compressed.
“Are all the dead dogs over?”
Growled through that matted lip;
“The blind ones are no better,
Let’s lighten the good ship.”
Hark! from the ship’s dark bosom,
The very sounds of hell!
The ringing clank of iron,
The maniac’s short, sharp yell!
The hoarse, low curse, throat-stified;
The starving infant’s moan,
The horror of a breaking heart
Poured through a mother’s groan.
Up from that loathsome prison
The stricken blind ones came:
Below, had all been darkness,
Above, was still the same.
Yet the holy breath of heaven
Was sweetly breathing there,
And the heated brow of fever
Cooled in the soft sea air.
“Overboard with them, shipmates!”
Cutlass and dirk were plied;
Fettered and blind, one after one,
Plunged down the vessel’s side.
The sabre smote above,.
Beneath, the lean shark lay,
Waiting with wide and bloody jaw
His quick and human prey.
God of the earth! what cries
Rang upward unto thee?
Voices of agony and blood,
From ship-deck and from sea.
The last dull plunge was heard,
The last wave caught its stain,
And the unsated shark looked up
For human hearts in vain.
Champion of those who groan beneath
Oppression’s iron hand:
In view of penury, hate, and death,
I see thee fearless stand.
Still bearing up thy lofty brow,
In the steadfast strength of truth,
In manhood sealing well the vow
And promise of thy youth.
Go on, for thou hast chosen well;
On in the strength of God!
Long as one human heart shall swell
Beneath the tyrant’s rod.
Speak in a slumbering nation’s ear,
As thou hast ever spoken,
Until the dead in sin shall hear,
The fetter’s link be broken!
I love thee with a brother’s love,
I feel my pulses thrill,
To mark thy Spirit soar above
The cloud of human ill.
My heart hath leaped to answer thine,
And echo back thy words,
As leaps the warrior’s at the shine
And flash of kindred swords!
They tell me thou art rash and vain,
A searcher after fame;
That thou art striving but to gain
A long-enduring name;
That thou hast nerved the Afric’s hand
And steeled the Afric’s heart,
To shake aloft his vengeful brand,
And rend his chain apart.
Have I not known thee well, and read
Thy mighty purpose long?
And watched the trials which have made
Thy human spirit strong?
And shall the slanderer’s demon breath
Avail with one like me,
To dim the sunshine of my faith
And earnest trust in thee?
Go on, the dagger’s point may glare
Amid thy pathway’s gloom;
The fate which sternly threatens there
Is glorious martyrdom!
Then onward with a martyr’s zeal;
And wait thy sure reward
When man to man no more shall kneel,
And God alone be Lord.
Ho! thou who seekest late and long
A License from the Holy Book
For brutal lust and fiendish wrong,
Man of the Pulpit, look!
Lift up those cold and atheist eyes,
This ripe fruit of thy teaching see;
And tell us how to heaven will rise
The incense of this sacrifice —
This blossom of the gallows tree!
Search out for slavery’s hour of need
Some fitting text of sacred writ;
Give heaven the credit of deed
Which shames the nether pit.
Kneel, smooth blasphemer, unto Him
Whose truth is on thy lips a lie;
Ask that His bright winged cherubim
May bend around that scaffold grim
To guard and bless and sanctify.
O champion of the people’s cause!
Suspend thy loud and vain rebuke
Of foreign wrong and Old World’s laws,
Man of the Senate, look!
Was this the promise of the free,
The great hope of our early time,
That slavery’s poison vine should be
Upborne by Freedom’s prayer-nursed tree
O’erclustered with such fruits of crime?
Send out the summons East and West,
And South and North, let all be there
Where he who pitied the oppressed
Swings out in sun and air.
Let not a Democratic hand
The grisly hangman’s task refuse;
There let each loyal patriot stand,
Awaiting slavery’s command,
To twist the rope and draw the noose!


This poem is in public domain.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Black History Month Day 6.

Sympathy
By Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
xxxWhen the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
xxxWhen the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats its wing
xxxTill its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
xxxAnd a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
xxxWhen his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
xxxBut a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!


This poem is in Public Domain.

Langston Hughes

Black History Month Day 4.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
By Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

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

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were 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
xxxwent down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
xxxbosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


This poem is in public domain.

Alice Moore-Dunbar Nelson

Black History Month Day 3.

I Sit and Sew
By Alice Moore-Dunbar Nelson

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 tred 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?


This poem is in Public Domain.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Black History Month Day 2.

Bury Me in a Free Land
By Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Make me 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 on 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 seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mother’s 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 can 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.


This poem is in Public Domain.

Phillis Wheatley

Black History Month Day 1.

On Being Brought from Africa to America
By Phillis Wheatley

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

***

This poem is in Public Domain.