Today I am posting two African-American poems I love.
My poetic tastes are definitely Old-School, so at least you have been warned.
Poetry can be rap, yes, – but this is not exactly Public Enemy…
The earlier poem first:
Phillis Wheatley (1753–1784) was a Senegalese ex-slave who became a well-known American poet during the Colonial period. D. Randall’s The Black Poets [published by Bantam in 1971] includes a section of this poem, but until today, I had never read the whole work. It makes my reverence for Phillis Wheatley grow even more. She sounds a lot like Barlow and Freneau here. Perhaps they were influenced by her. If you like this poem, read her other 2 poems in the Americana page above. She was politically incorrect enough to write a poem praising King George III in 1768, although her sympathies aligned with the patriot cause later on. I could care less about her politics – her words are still speaking Truth and Life two centuries after she wrote them. Do you think the same will be said of those strident race-baiting poets (Think Nikki Giovanni) of the militant 60’s and 70’s?
To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth,
Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom’s charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appeared the Goddess long desired,
Sick at the view, she languished and expired;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredressed complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t’ enslave the land.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatched from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steeled was that son and by no misery moved
That from a father seized his babe beloved:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favors to renew,
Since in thy power, as in thy will before,
To soothe the griefs, which thou didst once deplore.
May heavenly race the sacred sanction give
To all thy worts, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot’s name,
But to conduct to heavens refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th’ ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.
The second poem is by Jean Toomer (1894–1967):
The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue
The setting sun, too indolent to hold
A lengthened tournament for flashing gold,
Passively darkens for night’s barbecue,
A feast of moon and men and barking hounds,
An orgy for some genius of the South
With blood-hot eyes and cane-lipped scented mouth,
Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.
The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop,
And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill,
Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill
Their early promise of a bumper crop.
Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile
Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low
Where only chips and stumps are left to show
The solid proof of former domicile.
Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,
Race memories of king and caravan,
High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man,
Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp.
Their voices rise… the pine trees are guitars,
Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain . .
Their voices rise… the chorus of the cane
Is caroling a vesper to the stars…
O singers, resinous and soft your songs
Above the sacred whisper of the pines,
Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines,
Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs.
Of course a common thread in many of these poetic works is the eternal truth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the myriad promises of His glorious Gospel. I hope you discern them clearly in these poems.