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

Colonel Charles Young, "A Latter-Day Eden" (1902)

(This poem was written by Captain Young especially for THE COLORED>
AMERICAN MAGAZINE, just before he sailed for the Philippines ]

It was a twentieth century eden, mine ;
A modern Adam, I; and for my Eve ,
God gave a winsome woman with senses fine
Who deemed the cloth -of-life of golden weave.
'Mid trees whereon hung riches, pleasur, glory,
Again thro ' eden's garden went we twain,
Care -free and gay as when in ancient story
The first fair Eve with Adam led the train
Of all the living down the vernal vales,
And threaded sun-flecked shadowed paths of paradise;
Or rested at the noon in those sweet - scented bowers
In trustful love, while drinking from each other's eyes
Mutual content and joy and happiness for hours .

The feast with plenty flower -crowned,
   Sweet music's most enchanting strain,
Dance with her deft and measured round ,
      And lays
         Of poet-praise
Were ours: and counted not as vain .
   Ah, eden days indeed ! days of delight
   That melted into golden mist at night !
We drank from selfish satisfaction's cup,
         Content , and toyed
With life's ideals . Drank the dregs (ah, sorry sup!)
         O fsin and cloyed.

Riches, success, soft ease , and luxury
Were our cup-bearers round our bounteous board ,
Disguised devil -gods, who from the tree
Of life made their wit-stealing wine and poured
For us a heaven-forbidden draught and smiled
While merriment amused and sense beguiled .

Then fled the joy, alack ! that filled the heart!
Saddened companions, see, we sit apart!
Oh, day of wrath ! alas, the fateful hour!
O'er all our eden blew a blighting wind
Stifling and sickening spirit , bird and flower ;
Sapping our souls , for we had sinned!—had sinned!
Dark sorrow's dismal night enwrapped us round,
Our once calm bosoms were despair's abode:
No balm for the soul's healing could be found!

Close by our bower the wraiths of unrest rode,
Unbridled fears were loosed , remorse was calling
From the dim distance ne'er-agains appalling .
I knew that naught in me with this fell state could cope,
So led my sickened love into the house of hope.

         And there ---ah, there:
         Gloom and despair!
   Clad in th' habiliments of woe,
      How helpless hope is lying,
   Her lamp of life is burning low,
      Her attendant sisters dying :
   Faith fainting , finds , alas ! too late
      Friendship's best bonds are interest,
   And gray -robed death she doth await,
      His coming deems a welcome guest.

   Love lifts her eyes to heaven in prayer
      While her brightest stars are paling ;
   But a gleam of blessing finds she there
      The earth's a place of wailing;
   "Tho' the arms that clasped her yesterday
      When all the world was green and bright
   Are loosed and gone for aye -for aye ,
      Slinking away beneath the night .

Then pointed love aloft, her eyes in sorrowing gaze,
We heard an angel -voice from out a golden haze,
Say soft in accents soothing , gracious , kind ---
Delicious as sweet -scented south-land wind:
"Ah , man ! ah, woman ! for each wasted year
May you atone, God says !-But 'tis not here.
Forth from your eden ! Leave illusion land,
Go to the struggling poor , weep round the bier ,
The lowly lift and dry misfortune's tear !
Of every race, each is your brother man:
Try what your loving ministrations can.
Encourage him, remove oppression's heel ,
And with each daily doing learn to feel .
Work , man ! work, woman , without recompense ,
Nor expectant of reward or grateful sense!
Work for the land's uplifting , for the right :
For work alone leads back again to light.
God's law for restoration , earthly neighbor ,
Of thy soul - joy again from grief is LABOR!

Published in Colored American Magazine, January-February 1902

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