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

Countee Cullen, "Lines to our Elders" (1926)

Lines to Our Elders
(First Published as "Lines to Certain of One's Elders" in Opportunity, June 1926. Republished as "Lines to Our Elders" in Caroling Dusk)

(To Melanie)

YOU too listless to examine
If in pestilence or famine
Death lurk least, a hungry gamin
Gnawing on you like a beaver
On a root, while you trifle
Time away nodding in the sun,
Careless how the shadows crawl
Surely up your crumbling wall,
Heedless of the Thief’s footfall,
Death’s whose nimble fingers rifle
Your heartbeats one by weary one,—
Here’s the difference in our dying:
You go dawdling, we go flying.
Here’s a thought flung out to plague you:
Ours the pleasure if we’d liever
Burn completely with the fever
Than go ambling with the ague.

Published in Opportunity, June 1926
Also published in Caroling Dusk, 1926
Won fourth prize in Opportunity Poetry Competition

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