When I Have Passed Away

When I have passed away and am forgotten,
And no one living can recall my face,
When under alien sod my bones lie rotten
With not a tree or stone to mark the place;

Perchance a pensive youth, with passion burning,
For olden verse that smacks of love and wine,
The musty pages of old volumes turning,
May light upon a little song of mine,

And he may softly hum the tune and wonder
Who wrote the verses in the long ago;
Or he may sit him down awhile to ponder
Upon the sample words that touch him so.

Exhortation: Summer, 1919

Through the pregnant universe rumbles life’s
            terrific thunder,
And Earth’s bowels quake with terror; strange
            and terrible storms break,
Lightning-torches flame the heavens, kindling
            souls of me, thereunder:
Africa! Long ages sleeping, O my motherland,
            awake!

In the East the clouds glow crimson with the new
            dawn that is breaking,
And its golden glory fills the western skies.
O my brothers and my sisters, wake! Arise!
For the new birth rends the old earth and the
            very dead are waking,
Ghosts are turned flesh, throwing off the grave’s
            disguise,
And the foolish, even children, are made wise;
For the big earth groans in travail for the strong,
            new world in making─
O my brothers, dreaming for dim centuries,
Wake from sleeping; to the East turn, turn
            your eyes!

Oh the night is sweet for sleeping, but the shining
            day’s for working;
Sons of the seductive night, for your children’s
            children’s sake,
From the deep primeval forests where the crouching
            leopard’s lurking
Lift your heavy-lidded eyes, Ethiopia! Awake!

In the East the clouds glow crimson with the new
            dawn that is breaking,
And its golden glory fills the western skies.
O my brothers and my sisters, wake! Arise!
For the new birth rends the old earth and the
            very dead are waking,
Ghosts are turned flesh, throwing off the grave’s disguise,
And the foolish, even children, are made wise;
For the big earth groans in travail for the strong,
            new world in making─
O my brothers, dreaming for long centuries,
Wake from sleeping; to the East turn, turn
            your eyes!

December, 1919

Last night I heard your voice, mother,
The words you sang to me
When I, a little barefoot boy,
Knelt down against your knee.

And tears gushed from my heart, mother,
And passed beyond its wall,
But though the fountain reached my throat
The drops refused to fall.

‘Tis ten years since you died, mother,
Just ten dark years of pain,
And oh, I only wish that I
Could weep just once again.

The Lynching

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.

French Leave

No servile little fear shall daunt my will
This morning. I have courage steeled to say
I will be lazy, conqueringly still,
I will not lose the hours in toil this day.
The roaring world without, careless of souls,
Shall leave me to my placid dream of rest,
My four walls shield me from its shouting ghouls,
And all its hates have fled my quiet breast.
And I will loll here resting, wide awake,
Dead to the world of work, the world of love,
I laze contented just for dreaming’s sake
With not the slightest urge to think or move.
How tired unto death, how tired I was!
Now for a day I put my burdens by,
And like a child amidst the meadow grass
Under the southern sun, I languid lie
And feel the bed about me kindly deep,
My strength ooze gently from my hollow bones,
My worried brain drift aimlessly to sleep,
Like softening to a song of tuneful tones.

The Night Fire

No engines shrieking rescue storm the night,
And hose and hydrant cannot here avail;
The flames laugh high and fling their challenging light,
And clouds turn gray and black from silver-pale.
The fire leaps out and licks the ancient walls,
And the big building bends and twists and groans.
A bar drops from its place; a rafter falls
Burning the flowers. The wind in frenzy moans.
The watchers gaze, held wondering by the fire,
The dwellers cry their sorrow to the crowd,
The flames beyond themselves rise higher, higher,
To lose their glory in the frowning cloud,
Yielding at length the last reluctant breath.
And where life lay asleep broods darkly death.

Birds of Prey

Their shadow dims the sunshine of our day,
As they go lumbering across the sky,
Squawking in joy of feeling safe on high,
Beating their heavy wings of owlish gray.
They scare the singing birds of earth away
As, greed-impelled, they circle threateningly,
Watching the toilers with malignant eye,
From their exclusive haven – birds of prey.
They swoop down for the spoil in certain might,
And fasten in our bleeding flesh their claws.
They beat us to surrender weak with fright,
And tugging and tearing without let or pause,
They flap their hideous wings in grim delight,
And stuff our gory hearts into their maws.

My Mother

My Mother

I

Reg wished me to go with him to the field,
I paused because I did not want to go;
But in her quiet way she made me yield
Reluctantly, for she was breathing low.
Her hand she slowly lifted from her lap
And, smiling sadly in the old sweet way,
She pointed to the nail where hung my cap.
Her eyes said: I shall last another day.
But scarcely had we reached the distant play,
When o’er the hills we heard a faint bell ringing;
A boy came running up with frightened face;
We knew the fatal news that he was bringing.
I heard him listlessly, without a moan,
Although the only one I loved was gone.

II

The dawn departs, the morning is begun,
The trades come whispering from off the seas,
The fields of corn are golden in the sun,
The dark-brown tassels fluttering in the breeze;
The bell is sounding and the children pass,
Frog-leaping, skipping, shouting, laughing shrill,
Down the red road, over the pasture-grass,
Up to the school-house crumbling on the hill.
The older folk are at their peaceful toil,
Some pulling up the weeds, some plucking corn,
And others breaking up the sun-baked soil.
Float, faintly-scented breeze, at early morn
Over the earth where mortals sow and reap─
Beneath its breast my mother lies asleep.

Rest in Peace

No more for you the city’s thorny ways,
The ugly corners of the Negro belt;
The miseries and pains of these harsh days
By you will never, never again be felt.

No more, if still you wander, will you meet
With nights of unabating bitterness;
They cannot reach you in your safe retreat,
The city’s hate, the city’s prejudice!

‘Twas sudden—but your menial task is done,
The dawn now breaks on you, the dark is over,
The sea is crossed, the longed-for port is won;
Farewell, oh, fare you well! my friend and
lover.