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The Creation
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A Collection of Short Poems by African-American Poets and Authors

This assortment of shorter poems and sonnets includes:
"And What Shall You Say?" by Joseph S. Cotter, Jr.
"The Glory of the Day Was in Her Face" by James Weldon Johnson
"If We Must Die" by Claude McKay
"The Lynching" by Claude McKay
"Negro Woman" by Lewis Alexander
"Nocturne Varial" by Lewis Alexander
"Sonnet" by Alice Dunbar-Nelson
"Sympathy" by Paul Laurence Dunbar
"Time to Die" by Ray Garfield Dandridge
"To the White Fiends" by Claude McKay
"We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar
"Zalka Peetruza" by Ray Garfield Dandridge



To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Potential uses for the free books, stories and prose we offer
* Discovering classic African-American poetry.
* Rediscovering an old favorite book, poem or story.
* Bibliophiles expanding their collection of public domain ebooks at no cost.
* Teachers trying to locate a free online copy of a classic poem or short story for use in the classroom.


NOTE: We try to present these classic poetic works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

Warning: Be aware that some of this classic African-American literature contains language and/or themes that may be offensive to many readers.


"And What Shall You Say?" by Joseph Seaman Cotter, Jr.

AND WHAT SHALL YOU SAY?

BY JOSEPH S. COTTER, JR.


Brother, come!
And let us go unto our God.
And when we stand before Him
I shall say--
"Lord, I do not hate,
I am hated.
I scourge no one,
I am scourged.
I covet no lands,
My lands are coveted.
I mock no peoples,
My people are mocked."
And, brother, what shall you say?


"The Glory of the Day Was in Her Face" by James Weldon Johnson

THE GLORY OF THE DAY WAS IN HER FACE

BY JAMES WELDON JOHNSON


The glory of the day was in her face,
The beauty of the night was in her eyes.
And over all her loveliness, the grace
Of Morning blushing in the early skies.

And in her voice, the calling of the dove;
Like music of a sweet, melodious part.
And in her smile, the breaking light of love;
And all the gentle virtues in her heart.

And now the glorious day, the beauteous night,
The birds that signal to their mates at dawn,
To my dull ears, to my tear-blinded sight
Are one with all the dead, since she is gone.


"If We Must Die" by Claude McKay

IF WE MUST DIE

BY CLAUDE McKAY


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, O 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!
O 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

THE LYNCHING

BY CLAUDE McKAY


His spirit in smoke ascended to high heaven.
His father, by the crudest 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.


"Negro Woman" by Lewis Alexander

NEGRO WOMAN

BY LEWIS ALEXANDER


The sky hangs heavy tonight
Like the hair of a Negro woman.
The scars of the moon are curved
Like the wrinkles on the brow of a Negro woman.

The stars twinkle tonight
Like the glaze in a Negro woman's eyes,
Drinking the tears set flowing by an aging hurt
Gnawing at her heart.

The earth trembles tonight
Like the quiver of a Negro woman's eye-lids cupping tears.


"Nocturne Varial" by Lewis Alexander

NOCTURNE VARIAL

BY LEWIS ALEXANDER


I came as a shadow,
I stand now a light;
The depth of my darkness
Transfigures your night.

My soul is a nocturne
Each note is a star;
The light will not blind you
So look where you are.

The radiance is soothing.
There's warmth in the light.
I came as a shadow,
To dazzle your night!


"Sonnet" by Alice Dunbar Nelson

SONNET

BY ALICE DUNBAR NELSON


I had no thought of violets of late,
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
In wistful April days, when lovers mate
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.
The thought of violets meant florists' shops,
And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;
And garish lights, and mincing little fops
And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine.
So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed,
I had forgot wide fields, and clear brown streams;
The perfect loveliness that God has made,--
Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.
And now--unwittingly, you've made me dream
Of violets, and my soul's forgotten gleam.


"Sympathy" by Paul Laurence Dunbar

SYMPATHY

BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR


I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals--
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting--
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,--
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings--
I know why the caged bird sings!


"Time to Die" by Ray Garfield Dandridge
0
TIME TO DIE

BY RAY G. DANDRIDGE


Black brother, think you life so sweet
That you would live at any price?
Does mere existence balance with
The weight of your great sacrifice?
Or can it be you fear the grave
Enough to live and die a slave?
O Brother! be it better said,
When you are gone and tears are shed,
That your death was the stepping stone
Your children's children cross'd upon.
Men have died that men might live:
Look every foeman in the eye!
If necessary, your life give
For something, ere in vain you die.


"To the White Fiends" by Claude McKay
1
TO THE WHITE FIENDS

BY CLAUDE McKAY


Think you I am not fiend and savage too?
Think you I could not arm me with a gun
And shoot down ten of you for every one
Of my black brothers murdered, burnt by you?
Be not deceived, for every deed you do
I could match--out-match: am I not Africa's son,
Black of that black land where black deeds are done?
But the Almighty from the darkness drew
My soul and said: Even thou shalt be a light
Awhile to burn on the benighted earth,
Thy dusky face I set among the white
For thee to prove thyself of highest worth;
Before the world is swallowed up in night,
To show thy little lamp: go forth, go forth!


"We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar
2
WE WEAR THE MASK

BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR


We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!


"Zalka Peetruza" by Ray Garfield Dandridge
3
ZALKA PEETRUZA

Who Was Christened Lucy Jane

BY RAY G. DANDRIDGE


She danced, near nude, to tom-tom beat,
With swaying arms and flying feet,
'Mid swirling spangles, gauze and lace,
Her all was dancing--save her face.

A conscience, dumb to brooding fears,
Companioned hearing deaf to cheers;
A body, marshalled by the will,
Kept dancing while a heart stood still:

And eyes obsessed with vacant stare,
Looked over heads to empty air,
As though they sought to find therein
Redemption for a maiden sin.

'Twas thus, amid force driven grace,
We found the lost look on her face;
And then, to us, did it occur
That, though we saw--we saw not her.



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