African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

"A Picture" by Olivia Ward Bush-Banks (1900)

First published in Colored American Magazine (1900)


I drew a picture long ago —
A picture of a sullen sea;
A picture that I value now
Because it clears Life’s mystery.

My sea was dark and full of gloom;
I painted rocks of sombre hue.
My sky alone bespoke of light,
And that I painted palest blue.

But e’en across my sky of blue
Stretched troubled clouds of sodden gray,
Through which the sun shone weak and dim,
With only here and there a ray.

Around my rocks the yellow foam
Seemed surging, moaning in despair
As if the waves, their fury spent,
Left naught but desolation there.

Three crafts with fluttering sails I drew,
And one sailed near the rocks of gray,
The other on its westward course,
Went speeding out of danger’s way.

The other still outdistanced them
Where sky and water seemed to meet.
I painted that with sails full set,
And then my picture was complete.

My life was like the sullen sea,
Misfortune’s woes, my rocks of gray;
The crafts portrayed Life’s changing scenes,
The clouded sky Life’s troubled Day

I long to paint that picture o’er,
Without the rocks of sombre hue;
Without the troubled clouds of gray,
I’ll paint the sky of brightest blue.

My sea shall lay in calm repose,
No hint of surging, moaning sigh.
My crafts, unhindered by the rocks,
Shall speed in joyous swiftness by.

But this will be when brightest hours
Of hope and cheer are given me.
I’ll paint this picture when Life’s sun
Shines clear upon Prosperity.

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