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[Index to poems in the collection by James Weldon Johnson]

. The Word of an Engineer

    "SHE'S built of steel
    From deck to keel,
    And bolted strong and tight;
    In scorn she'll sail
    The fiercest gale,
    And pierce the darkest night.

    "The builder's art
    Has proved each part
    Throughout her breadth and length;
    Deep in the hulk,
    Of her mighty bulk,
    Ten thousand Titans' strength."

    The tempest howls,
    The Ice Wolf prowls,
    The winds they shift and veer,
    But calm I sleep,
    And faith I keep
    In the word of an engineer.

    Along the trail
    Of the slender rail
    The train, like a nightmare, flies
    And dashes on
    Through the black-mouthed yawn
    Where the cavernous tunnel lies.

    Over the ridge,
    Across the bridge,
    Swung twixt the sky and hell,
    On an iron thread
    Spun from the head
    Of the man in a draughtsman's cell.

    And so we ride
    Over land and tide,
    Without a thought of fear--
    Man never had
    The faith in God
    That he has in an engineer!

    James Weldon Johnson

. The White Witch

    O, BROTHERS mine, take care! Take care!
    The great white witch rides out to-night,
    Trust not your prowess nor your strength;
    Your only safety lies in flight;
    For in her glance there is a snare,
    And in her smile there is a blight.

    The great white witch you have not seen?
    Then, younger brothers mine, forsooth,
    Like nursery children you have looked
    For ancient hag and snaggled tooth;
    But no, not so; the witch appears
    In all the glowing charms of youth.

    Her lips are like carnations red,
    Her face like new-born lilies fair,
    Her eyes like ocean waters blue,
    She moves with subtle grace and air,
    And all about her head there floats
    The golden glory of her hair.

    But though she always thus appears
    In form of youth and mood of mirth,
    Unnumbered centuries are hers,
    The infant planets saw her birth;
    The child of throbbing Life is she,
    Twin sister to the greedy earth.

    And back behind those smiling lips,
    And down within those laughing eyes,
    And underneath the soft caress
    Of hand and voice and purring sighs,
    The shadow of the panther lurks,
    The spirit of the vampire lies.

    For I have seen the great white witch,
    And she has led me to her lair,
    And I have kissed her red, red lips
    And cruel face so white and fair;
    Around me she has twined her arms,
    And bound me with her yellow hair.

    I felt those red lips burn and sear
    My body like a living coal;
    Obeyed the power of those eyes
    As the needle trembles to the pole;
    And did not care although I felt
    The strength go ebbing from my soul.

    Oh! she has seen your strong young limbs,
    And heard your laughter loud and gay,
    And in your voices she has caught
    The echo of a far-off day,
    When man was closer to the earth;
    And she has marked you for her prey.

    She feels the old Antaean strength
    In you, the great dynamic beat
    Of primal passions, and she sees
    In you the last besieged retreat
    Of love relentless, lusty, fierce,
    Love pain-ecstatic, cruel-sweet.

    O, brothers mine, take care! Take care!
    The great white witch rides out to-night.
    O, younger brothers mine, beware!
    Look not upon her beauty bright;
    For in her glance there is a snare,
    And in her smile there is a blight.

    James Weldon Johnson

. I Hear the Stars Still Singing

    I HEAR the stars still singing
    To the beautiful, silent night,
    As they speed with noiseless winging
    Their ever westward flight.
    I hear the waves still falling
    On the stretch of lonely shore,
    But the sound of a sweet voice calling
    I shall hear, alas! no more.

    James Weldon Johnson

. The Young Warrior

    MOTHER, shed no mournful tears,
    But gird me on my sword;
    And give no utterance to thy fears,
    But bless me with thy word.

    The lines are drawn! The fight is on!
    A cause is to be won!
    Mother, look not so white and wan;
    Give Godspeed to thy son.

    Now let thine eyes my way pursue
    Where'er my footsteps fare;
    And when they lead beyond thy view,
    Send after me a prayer.

    But pray not to defend from harm,
    Nor danger to dispel;
    Pray, rather, that with steadfast arm
    I fight the battle well.

    Pray, mother of mine, that I always keep
    My heart and purpose strong,
    My sword unsullied and ready to leap
    Unsheathed against the wrong.

    James Weldon Johnson

. Fifty Years

    1863 - 1913
    O BROTHERS mine, to-day we stand
       Where half a century sweeps our ken,
    Since God, through Lincoln's ready hand,
       Struck off our bonds and made us men.

    Just fifty years--a winter's day--
       As runs the history of a race;
    Yet, as we look back o'er the way,
       How distant seems our starting place!

    Look farther back! Three centuries!
       To where a naked, shivering score,
    Snatched from their haunts across the seas,
       Stood, wild-eyed, on Virginia's shore.

    Far, far the way that we have trod,
       From heathen kraals and jungle dens,
    To freedmen, freemen, sons of God,
       Americans and Citizens.

    A part of His unknown design,
       We've lived within a mighty age;
    And we have helped to write a line
       On history's most wondrous page.

    A few black bondmen strewn along
       The borders of our eastern coast,
    Now grown a race, ten million strong,
       An upward, onward marching host.

    Then let us here erect a stone,
       To mark the place, to mark the time;
    A witness to God's mercies shown,
       A pledge to hold this day sublime.

    And let that stone an altar be,
       Whereon thanksgivings we may lay,
    Where we, in deep humility,
       For faith and strength renewed may pray.

    With open hearts ask from above
       New zeal, new courage and new pow'rs,
    That we may grow more worthy of
       This country and this land of ours.

    For never let the thought arise
       That we are here on sufferance bare;
    Outcasts, asylumed 'neath these skies,
       And aliens without part or share.

    This land is ours by right of birth,
       This land is ours by right of toil;
    We helped to turn its virgin earth,
       Our sweat is in its fruitful soil.

    Where once the tangled forest stood,--
       Where flourished once rank weed and thorn,--
    Behold the path-traced, peaceful wood,
       The cotton white, the yellow corn.

    To gain these fruits that have been earned,
       To hold these fields that have been won,
    Our arms have strained, our backs have burned,
       Bent bare beneath a ruthless sun.

    That Banner which is now the type
       Of victory on field and flood--
    Remember, its first crimson stripe
       Was dyed by Attucks' willing blood.

    And never yet has come the cry--
       When that fair flag has been assailed--
    For men to do, for men to die,
       That have we faltered or have failed.

    We've helped to bear it, rent and torn,
       Through many a hot-breath'd battle breeze;
    Held in our hands, it has been borne
       And planted far across the seas.

    And never yet--O haughty Land,
       Let us, at least, for this be praised--
    Has one black, treason-guided hand
       Ever against that flag been raised.

    Then should we speak but servile words,
       Or shall we hang our heads in shame?
    Stand back of new-come foreign hordes,
       And fear our heritage to claim?

    No! stand erect and without fear,
       And for our foes let this suffice--
    We've bought a rightful sonship here,
       And we have more than paid the price.

    And yet, my brothers, well I know
       The tethered feet, the pinioned wings,
    The spirit bowed beneath the blow,
       The heart grown faint from wounds and stings;

    The staggering force of brutish might,
       That strikes and leaves us stunned and dazed;
    The long, vain waiting through the night
       To hear some voice for justice raised.

    Full well I know the hour when hope
       Sinks dead, and 'round us everywhere
    Hangs stifling darkness, and we grope
       With hands uplifted in despair.

    Courage! Look out, beyond, and see
       The far horizon's beckoning span!
    Faith in your God-known destiny!
       We are a part of some great plan.

    Because the tongues of Garrison
       And Phillips now are cold in death,
    Think you their work can be undone?
       Or quenched the fires lit by their breath?

    Think you that John Brown's spirit stops?
       That Lovejoy was but idly slain?
    Or do you think those precious drops
       From Lincoln's heart were shed in vain?

    That for which millions prayed and sighed,
       That for which tens of thousands fought,
    For which so many freely died,
       God cannot let it come to naught.

    James Weldon Johnson

. To America

    HOW would you have us, as we are?
    Or sinking 'neath the load we bear?
    Our eyes fixed forward on a star?
    Or gazing empty at despair?

    Rising or falling? Men or things?
    With dragging pace or footsteps fleet?
    Strong, willing sinews in your wings?
    Or tightening chains about your feet?

    James Weldon Johnson

. O Southland!

    O SOUTHLAND! O Southland!
       Have you not heard the call,
    The trumpet blown, the word made known
       To the nations, one and all?
    The watchword, the hope-word,
       Salvation's present plan?
    A gospel new, for all--for you:
       Man shall be saved by man.

    O Southland! O Southland!
       Do you not hear to-day
    The mighty beat of onward feet,
       And know you not their way?
    'Tis forward, 'tis upward,
       On to the fair white arch
    Of Freedom's dome, and there is room
       For each man who would march.

    O Southland, fair Southland!
       Then why do you still cling
    To an idle age and a musty page,
       To a dead and useless thing?
    'Tis springtime! 'Tis work-time!
       The world is young again!
    And God's above, and God is love,
       And men are only men.

    O Southland! my Southland!
       O birthland! do not shirk
    The toilsome task, nor respite ask,
       But gird you for the work.
    Remember, remember
       That weakness stalks in pride;
    That he is strong who helps along
       The faint one at his side.

    James Weldon Johnson

. Father, Father Abraham

    On the Anniversary of Lincoln's Birth

    FATHER, Father Abraham,
       To-day look on us from above;
    On us, the offspring of thy faith,
       The children of thy Christ-like love.

    For that which we have humbly wrought,
       Give us to-day thy kindly smile;
    Wherein we've failed or fallen short,
       Bear with us, Father, yet awhile.

    Father, Father Abraham,
       To-day we lift our hearts to thee,
    Filled with the thought of what great price
       Was paid, that we might ransomed be.

    To-day we consecrate ourselves
       Anew in hand and heart and brain,
    To send this judgment down the years:
       The ransom was not paid in vain.

    James Weldon Johnson

. Mother Night

    ETERNITIES before the first-born day,
       Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,
       Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,
    A brooding mother over chaos lay.
    And whirling suns shall blaze and then decay,
       Shall run their fiery courses and then claim
       The haven of the darkness whence they came;
    Back to Nirvanic peace shall grope their way.

    So when my feeble sun of life burns out,
       And sounded is the hour for my long sleep,
       I shall, full weary of the feverish light,
    Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt,
       And heavy-lidded, I shall softly creep
       Into the quiet bosom of the Night.

    James Weldon Johnson

. Sonnet

    From the Spanish of Placido

    ENOUGH of love! Let break its every hold!
       Ended my youthful folly! for I know
       That, like the dazzling, glister-shedding snow,
    Celia, thou art beautiful, but cold.
    I do not find in thee that warmth which glows,
       Which, all these dreary days, my heart has sought,
       That warmth without which love is lifeless, naught
    More than a painted fruit, a waxen rose.

    Such love as thine, scarce can it bear love's name,
       Deaf to the pleading notes of his sweet lyre,
    A frank, impulsive heart I wish to claim,
       A heart that blindly follows its desire.
    I wish to embrace a woman full of flame,
       I want to kiss a woman made of fire.

    James Weldon Johnson

. Before a Painting

    I KNEW not who had wrought with skill so fine
       What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
       He had created life and love and heart
    On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
    Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
       Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
       Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
    But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

    And over me the sense of beauty fell,
       As music over a raptured listener to
          The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
    Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
       There falls the aureate glory filtered through
          The windows in some old cathedral dim.

    James Weldon Johnson

. The Dancing Girl

    from Down by the Carib Sea

    DO YOU know what it is to dance?
    Perhaps, you do know, in a fashion;
    But by dancing I mean,
    Not what's generally seen,
    But dancing of fire and passion,
    Of fire and delirious passion.

    With a dusky-haired senorita,
    Her dark, misty eyes near your own,
    And her scarlet-red mouth,
    Like a rose of the south,
    The reddest that ever was grown,
    So close that you catch
    Her quick-panting breath
    As across your own face it is blown,
    With a sigh, and a moan.
    Ah! that is dancing,
    As here by the Carib it's known.

    Now, whirling and twirling
    Like furies we go;
    Now, soft and caressing
    And sinuously slow;
    With an undulating motion,
    Like waves on a breeze-kissed ocean:--
    And the scarlet-red mouth
    Is nearer your own,
    And the dark, misty eyes
    Still softer have grown.

    Ah! that is dancing, that is loving,
    As here by the Carib they're known.

    James Weldon Johnson

. Sunset in the Tropics

    from Down by the Carib Sea

    A SILVER flash from the sinking sun,
    Then a shot of crimson across the sky
    That, bursting, lets a thousand colors fly
    And riot among the clouds; they run,
    Deepening in purple, flaming in gold,
    Changing, and opening fold after fold,
    Then fading through all of the tints of the rose into gray,
    Till, taking quick fright at the coming night,
    They rush out down the west,
    In hurried quest
    Of the fleeing day.

    Now above where the tardiest color flares a moment yet,
    One point of light, now two, now three are set
    To form the starry stairs,--
    And, in her fire-fly crown,
    Queen Night, on velvet slippered feet, comes softly down.

    James Weldon Johnson

. Ghosts of the Old Year

    THE snow has ceased its fluttering flight,
    The wind sunk to a whisper light,
    An ominous stillness fills the night,
       A pause--a hush.
    At last, a sound that breaks the spell,
    Loud, clanging mouthings of a bell,
    That through the silence peal and swell,
       And roll, and rush.

    What does this brazen tongue declare,
    That falling on the midnight air
    Brings to my heart a sense of care
       Akin to fright?
    'Tis telling that the year is dead,
    The New Year come, the Old Year fled,
    Another leaf before me spread
       On which to write.

    It tells the deeds that were not done,
    It tells of races never run,
    Of victories that were not won,
       Barriers unleaped.
    It tells of many a squandered day,
    Of slighted gems and treasured clay,
    Of precious stores not laid away,
       Of fields unreaped.

    And so the years go swiftly by,
    Each, coming, brings ambitions high,
    And each, departing, leaves a sigh
       Linked to the past.
    Large resolutions, little deeds;
    Thus, filled with aims unreached, life speeds
    Until the blotted record reads,
       "Failure!" at last.

    James Weldon Johnson

. The Gift to Sing

    SOMETIMES the mist overhangs my path,
    And blackening clouds about me cling;
    But, oh, I have a magic way
    To turn the gloom to cheerful day--
       I softly sing.

    And if the way grows darker still,
    Shadowed by Sorrow's somber wing,
    With glad defiance in my throat,
    I pierce the darkness with a note,
       And sing, and sing.

    I brood not over the broken past,
    Nor dread whatever time may bring;
    No nights are dark, no days are long,
    While in my heart there swells a song,
       And I can sing.

    James Weldon Johnson

. Morning, Noon and Night

    WHEN morning shows her first faint flush,
    I think of the tender blush
    That crept so gently to your cheek
    When first my love I dared to speak;
    How, in your glance, a dawning ray
    Gave promise of love's perfect day.

    When, in the ardent breath of noon,
    The roses with passion swoon;
    There steals upon me from the air
    The scent that lurked within your hair;
    I touch your hand, I clasp your form--
    Again your lips are close and warm.

    When comes the night with beauteous skies,
    I think of your tear-dimmed eyes,
    Their mute entreaty that I stay,
    Although your lips sent me away;
    And then falls memory's bitter blight,
    And dark--so dark becomes the night.

    James Weldon Johnson

. Lift Every Voice and Sing

    LIFT every voice and sing
    Till earth and heaven ring,
    Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
    Let our rejoicing rise
    High as the listening skies,
    Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
    Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
    Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.
    Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
    Let us march on till victory is won.

    Stony the road we trod,
    Bitter the chastening rod,
    Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
    Yet with a steady beat
    Have not our weary feet
    Come to a place for which our fathers sighed?
    We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
    We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
    Out from the gloomy past,
    Till now we stand at last
    Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

    God of our weary years,
    God of our silent tears,
    Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
    Thou who hast by Thy might
    Led us into light,
    Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
    Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
    Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee,
    Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
    May we forever stand.
    True to our God,
    True to our native land.

    James Weldon Johnson

. O Black and Unknown Bards

    O BLACK and unknown bards of long ago,
    How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
    How, in your darkness, did you come to know
    The power and beauty of the minstrel's lyre?
    Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
    Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
    Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
    Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

    Heart of what slave poured out such melody
    As "Steal Away to Jesus"? On its strains
    His spirit must have nightly floated free,
    Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
    Who heard great "Jordan roll"? Whose starward eye
    Saw chariot "Swing low"? And who was he
    That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
    "Nobody Knows de Trouble I See"?

    What merely living clod, what captive thing,
    Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
    And find within its deadened heart to sing
    These songs of sorrow, love, and faith, and hope?
    How did it catch that subtle undertone,
    That note of music heard not with the ears?
    How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
    Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears?

    Not that great German master in his dream
    Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
    At the creation, ever heard a theme
    Nobler than "Go Down, Moses." Mark its bars,
    How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir
    The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
    Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
    That helped make history when Time was young.

    There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,
    That from degraded rest and servile toil
    The fiery spirit of the seer should call
    These simple children of the sun and soil.
    O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
    You--you alone, of all the long, long line
    Of those who've sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
    Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.

    You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;
    No chant of bloody war, no exulting paean
    Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings
    You touched in chord with music empyrean.
    You sang far better than you knew; the songs
    That for your listeners' hungry hearts sufficed
    Still live--but more than this to you belongs;
    You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.

    James Weldon Johnson

[Index to poems in the collection by James Weldon Johnson]


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