Harlem Renaissance Poetry by 41QbARN


									                        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.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

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.
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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