Harlem Renaissance Poetry I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes, 1932 I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. Tomorrow, I'll be at the table When company comes. Nobody'll dare Say to me, "Eat in the kitchen," Then. Besides, They'll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed-- I, too, am America. If We Must Die by Claude McKay, 1919 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 show us brave, And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! 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! The Lynching by Claude McKay, 1920 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. Strange Fruit By Abel Meeropol, 1937 Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. Pastoral scene of the gallant South, The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh, And the sudden smell of burning flesh! Here is the fruit for the crows to pluck, For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop. *In 1937, Abel Meeropol, a Jewish teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, saw a photograph of a lynching. Disturbed by the image, he wrote the poem “Strange Fruit,” which he subsequently set to music. It became famous when Billie Holiday began singing it in 1939. In 1999, Time Magazine named it the Best Song of the Century. Heritage by Countee Cullen, 1925 For Harold Jackman What is Africa to me: Copper sun or scarlet sea, Jungle star or jungle track, Africa? A book one thumbs Strong bronzed men, or regal black Listlessly, till slumber comes. Women from whose loins I sprang Unremembered are her bats When the birds of Eden sang? Circling through the night, her cats One three centuries removed Crouching in the river reeds, From the scenes his fathers loved, Stalking gentle flesh that feeds Spicy grove, cinnamon tree, By the river brink; no more What is Africa to me? Does the bugle-throated roar Cry that monarch claws have leapt So I lie, who all day long From the scabbards where they slept. Want no sound except the song Silver snakes that once a year Sung by wild barbaric birds Doff the lovely coats you wear, Goading massive jungle herds, Seek no covert in your fear Juggernauts of flesh that pass Lest a mortal eye should see Trampling tall defiant grass What's your nakedness to me? Where young forest lovers lie, Here no leprous flowers rear Plighting troth beneath the sky. Fierce corollas in the air; So I lie, who always hear, Here no bodies sleek and wet, Though I cram against my ear Dripping mingled rain and sweat, Both my thumbs, and keep them there, Tread the savage measures of Great drums throbbing through the air. So I lie, whose fount of pride, Jungle boys and girls in love. Dear distress, and joy allied, What is last year's snow to me, Is my somber flesh and skin, Last year's anything? The tree With the dark blood dammed within Budding yearly must forget Like great pulsing tides of wine How its past arose or set-- That, I fear, must burst the fine Bough and blossom, flower, fruit, Channels of the chafing net Even what shy bird with mute Where they surge and foam and fret. Wonder at her travail there, Meekly labored 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 Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Night or day, no slight release So I make an idle boast; From the unremittent beat Jesus of the twice-turned cheek, Made by cruel padded feet Lamb of God, although I speak Walking through my body's street. With my mouth thus, in my heart Up and down they go, and back, Do I play a double part. Treading out a jungle track. Ever at Thy glowing altar So I lie, who never quite Must my heart grow sick and falter, Safely sleep from rain at night-- Wishing He I served were black, I can never rest at all Thinking then it would not lack When the rain begins to fall; Precedent of pain to guide it, Like a soul gone mad with pain Let who would or might deride it; I must match its weird refrain; Surely then this flesh would know Ever must I twist and squirm, Yours had borne a kindred woe. Writhing like a baited worm, Lord, I fashion dark gods, too, While its primal measures drip Daring even to give You Through my body, crying, "Strip! Dark despairing features where, Doff this new exuberance. Crowned with dark rebellious hair, Come and dance the Lover's Dance!" Patience wavers just so much as In an old remembered way Mortal grief compels, while touches Rain works on me night and day. Quick and hot, of anger, rise To smitten cheek and weary eyes. Quaint, outlandish heathen gods Lord, forgive me if my need Black men fashion out of rods, Sometimes shapes a human creed. Clay, and brittle bits of stone, All day long and all night through, In a likeness like their own, One thing only must I do: My conversion came high-priced; Quench my pride and cool my blood, I belong to Jesus Christ, Lest I perish in the flood, Preacher of Humility; Lest a hidden ember set Heathen gods are naught to me. Timber that I thought was wet Burning like the dryest fax, 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 civilized.
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