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

Benjamin Griffith Brawley, "The Peon's Child" (1905)


     Out in the acres underneath the sun, 
 The full-blown cotton, after months of rain, 
 Breaks from the boll and longs to kiss the ground. 
 Wearied with pain and blinded by the dust, 
 A child plods slowly down the long white rows, 
 A sack hung on his back, and in his eyes 
 The press and greed of ages and the world, 
 But evermore within his heart a hope, 
 And on his lips a trill and snatch of song. 

     What knows this child of how to give and take, 
 Of syntax or of places on the map? 
 What does he think of Isaac Newton's law; 
 What does he care for Shakspere and the light? 
 How can he measure in the after-years 
 The scale of justice or be held for sin? 
 Around him in God's glory and the light
 A passionate bird hurls its defiant soul 
 Forth to the clouds in mocking of the blue; 
 But what is this to him whom in the years 
 A long, long wilderness of white awaits? 
 Around him sings the silence of the dawn, 
 Above him all the symphonies of heaven; 
 But what to him the glory or the gleam, 
 What means the music of the spheres to him? 

     Ye men who own the cotton-fields and plains, 
 Who run the whirring factories and the mills, 
 Weaving your wealth of heart-strings and of tears, 
 What is the heritage ye give this child? 
 What will ye say in that hereafter day, 
 When far beyond the working of the world, 
 Within the circuit of a righteous judge, 
 He greets you in the thunder-clouds of heaven?

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