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

Charles Frederick White, "The Negro Volunteer" (1899)


[Written for the National Standard-Enterprise, Springfield, Illinois.]

He volunteered his life and health
To go to cruel war—
Increasing thus his country's wealth
In soldier boys afar—
To fight the battles of a land
Which does not him protect
And, though great danger was at hand,
He did not e'en object.
He went, it seemed, to certain death
By bullet, sword or scourge,
Where dry, hot trade winds blow their breath
And rains the land submerge.
He knew well when he left his home—
Though home it did not seem,—
In Cuba's far off wilds to roam,
That death raged there supreme;
That Spanish treachery and hate,
That fever's dreaded ills,
That rain and heat and heavy weight
While on the march or drills,
Awaited him his fate to seal,
His life-blood's wall to break,
To laugh in scorn when he should reel
And fall, no more to wake.
Though monsters such did him confront
And threaten him with death,
His bravery they could not daunt,
But made him fear the less.
Of such brave hearts as he does own
A land might well be proud,
Enforce the laws, protect his home,
His all, from lawless crowd.
The bird doth soar in lofty space,
The fish doth swim the sea,
The beast doth field and forest pace,
The Negro—where hath he?
The bird at night flies to her nest,
The beast's home is his lair,
The fish in quiet nook doth rest,
The Negro must despair
Because, alas, he hath no home,
No place to lay his head
That he can truly call his own;
Nor e'en when he is dead
Doth his lone grave remembrance gain,
In hearts, save of his kind;
Nor is it marked by tomb of fame,
Nor wreathed with flower nor vine.

June 1899.

Published in Please of the Negro Solder: And a Hundred Other Poems, 1908

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