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

Countee Cullen, "Two Thoughts of Death" (1927)

Two Thoughts of Death


WHEN I am dead, it will not be
Much matter of concern to me
Who folds my hands, or combs my hair,
Or, pitying their sightless stare,
Draws down the blinds across my eyes.
I shall not have the least surmise
Which of the many loves I had
Weeps most the passing of her lad.
Not what these give, nor what they keep,
Shall gladden or disturb my sleep,
If only one who never guessed
How every tremor in her breast
Reverberated in my own.
In that last hour come and bend down
To kiss my long-expectant mouth
Still curved, in death, to meet her mouth.


I am content to play the martyr,
To wear the dunce cap here at school;
For every tear I shed I’ll barter
To Death; I’ll be no more a fool
When that pale rider reaches down
His hand to me. He’ll beat a crown
From all the aches my shoulders bore,
And I shall lord one regal hour
Illumined in all things before
His sickle spears another flower.
While still his shears snarl through my thread,
Dismembering it strand by strand,
While I hang poised between the dead
And quick, into omniscience fanned,
My mind shall glow with one rich spark
Before it ends in endless dark.
These straining eyes, clairvoyant then,
Shall probe beneath the calloused husk
That hides the better selves of men.
And as my day throbs into dusk,
This heart the world has made to bleed,
While all its red stream deathward flows,
Shall comprehend just why the seed
Must agonize to be the rose.