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

Countee Cullen, "Sonnet to a Scornful Lady" (1927)

Sonnet to a Scornful Lady

(To Ruth Marie)

LIKE some grim gladiator who has fought
Men loving life as lustily as he,
And with red wounds and blood has dearly bought
A forced reprieve from those who came to see
Him die; a suppliant on gory knees
Like him, lean with my passion’s hunger, I
Lay bare the bruises of my heart, with these
Imploring, “Love me, lady, or I die.”

But unlike him I hear no populace
Enamoured of a brave bout, crying, “Grace!”
Scorn rules your eyes as silence does your mouth;
No golden sceptre raises me from where
I kneel unfavored finding you still fair
Though both your regal thumbs are pointed south.