Could Malice smite him whom the gods had crowned?
If, like the meadow-lark, your flight was low
Your flooded lyrics half the hilltops drowned;
A wide world heard you, and it loved you so
It stilled its heart to list the strains you sang,
And o’er your happy songs its plaudits rang.
O’er all my song the image of a face
Lieth, like shadow on the wild sweet flowers.
The dream, the ecstasy that prompts my powers;
The golden lyre’s delights bring little grace
To bless the singer of a lowly race.
Long hath this mocked me: aye in marvelous hours,
When Hera’s gardens gleamed, or Cynthia’s bowers,
Or Hope’s red pylons, in their far, hushed place!
But I shall dig me deeper to the gold;
Fetch water, dripping, over desert miles,
From clear Nyanzas and mysterious Niles
Of love; and sing, nor one kind act withhold.
So shall men know me, and remember long,
Nor my dark face dishonor any song.
Ever and ever anon,
After the black storm, the eternal, beauteous bow!
Brother, to rosy-painted mists that arch beyond,
Blithely I go.
My brows men laureled and my lyre
Twined with immortal ivy for one little rippling song;
My “House of Golden Leaves” they praised and “passionate fire”—
But, Friend, the way is long!
Onward and onward, up! away!
Though Fear flaunt all his banners in my face,
And my feet stumble, lo! the Orphean Day!
Forward by God’s grace!
These signs are still before me: “Fear,”
“Danger,” “Unprecedented,” and I hear black “No”
Still thundering, and “Churl.” Good Friend, I rest me here—
Then to the glittering bow!
Loometh and cometh Hate in wrath,
Mailed Wrong, swart Servitude and Shame with bitter rue,
Nathless a Negro poet’s feet must tread the path
The winged god knew.
Thus, my true Brother, dream-led, I
Forefend the anathema, following the span.
I hold my head as proudly high
As any man.
One does such work as one will not,
And well each knows the right;
Though the white storm howls, or the sun is hot,
The black must serve the white.
And it’s, oh, for the white man’s softening flesh,
While the black man’s muscles grow!
Well I know which grows the mightier,
I know; full well I know.
The white man seeks the soft, fat place,
And he moves and he works by rule.
Ingenious grows the humbler race
In Oppression’s prodding school.
And it’s, oh, for a white man gone to seed,
While the Negro struggles so!
And I know which race develops most,
I know; yes, well I know.