African American Poetry (1870-1926): A Digital Anthology

Alberry A Whitman, Poems in "An Anthology of Verse by American Negroes" (1924)

To the Student

Who flees the regions of the lower mind,
Where these distempers breathe on every wind:
Infectious dogmatisms, noxious hate,
Old snarly spleen, and troublesome debate,
Dull bigotry, and stupid ignorance,
Proud egotism, empty arrogance,
And famous hollowness, and brilliant woe—
And would to knowledge's high places go,
Must first in humble prayer approach the Throne
Of the Almighty Mind, and there make known
The purposes that swell an honest heart;
Then on the path before him, meekly start:
Asking of others who have been that way,
What of the country, and what of the day?
Being certain ever to give earnest heed
To where the steps of hoar experience lead.
Mark him who ventures these means to despise,
And tho' his works in gloomy grandeur rise,
Awe strike all earth, and threaten e'en the skies;
Yea, "tho' he flourish like a green bay tree,"
His life will a stupendous [ stupeduous ] failure be.
Tis vain to soar aloft on borrowed wing,
Or drink success from favor's flowing spring.
Let him who journeys upward, learn the way,
By toiling step by step, and day by day.
Each hardship mounted, easier makes the next,
And leaves his pathway by one less perplext.
Lo! where yon dreamer looks on glory's hill,
Hopes to ascend without the manly will,
Bends round and round some open pass to try
With easy access, and ascend on high;
Waits for some helper till the day is past,
And night o'ertakes a sycophant at last.
But honest courage, see with manful strides,
Walks on and enters at the steepest sides,
Climbs long and slowly up his rugged path,
Awaits no aid, relies on what he hath,
Grows independent as his way proceeds,
As progress roughens, less the distance heeds,
Till lo! the utmost hights his footsteps meet,
With fames and fortunes lying at his feet.
Then Kings delight to honor Glory's son,
And loud applauses in his footsteps run.
Then mankind crave the favor of his eyes,
And heap his lasting tributes to the skies.


Ye Bards of England

England, cannot thy shores boast bards as great,
And hearts as good as ever blest a State?
When arts were rude and literature was young,
And language faltered with an uncouth tongue;
When science trembled on her little hight,
And poor religion blundered on in night;
When song on Rome's vast tomb, or carved in Greek,
Like epitaphs with marble lips did speak,
Thy Chaucer singing with the Nightingales,
Poured forth his heart in Canterbury tales,
With rude shell scooped from English pure, and led
The age that raised the muses from the dead.
And gentle Thompson, to thy mem'ry dear,
Awake his lyre and sang the rolling year.
The dropping shower the wild flower scented mead,
The sober herds that in the noon shade feed,
The fragrant field, the green and shady wood,
The winding glen, and rocky solitude,
The smiles of Spring and frowns of Winter gray,
Alike employed his pure and gentle lay.
The wrath of gods, and armies dread suspense,
Celestial shouts and shock of arms immense,
In all his song ne'er move us to alarm,
But earth's pure sounds and sights allure and charm.
To Missolonghi's chief of singers too,
Unhappy Byron is a tribute due.
A wounded spirit, mournful and yet mad,
A genius proud, defiant, gentle, sad.
'Twas he whose Harold won his Nation's heart,
And whose Reviewers made her fair cheeks smart;
Whose uncurbed Juan hung her head for shame,
And whose Mazzeppa won unrivaled fame.
Earth had no bound for him. Where'er he strode
His restless genius found no fit abode.
The wing'd storm and the lightning tongued Jungfrau,
Unfathomable Ocean, and the awe
Of Alpine shades, the avalanche's groan,
The war-rocked empire and the falling throne,
Were toys his genius played with. Britain, then
Urn Byron's dust—a prodigy of men.
But Shakspeare, the inimitable boast
Of everybody and of every coast;
The man, whose universal fitness meets
Response in every heart of flesh that beats,
No tongue can tell him. One must feel his hand
And see him in his plays, to understand.
All thought to him intuitively's known,
The prate of clowns, and wisdoms of the throne,
The sophist's puzzles and the doctor's rules,
The skill of warriors and the cant of fools.
When Shakespeare wrote, the tragic muse saw heights,
Before nor since ne'er tempted in her flights.

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