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

E. Lucien Waithe, "Hymn to America" (1925)

America I sing to you
A hymn of love mixed with my tears,
A hymn made up of thoughts that spring
From many, many cruel years.

I love you my America
Who would not want to call me yours ;
With all the wrongs that hemmed me in
I stood up to defend your doors.

Before I knew time, place, or scene,
My mother kept before my view
Your emblem lighted with the stars,
Which I still saw there as I grew.

And when I saw out in the bay
Shining above all other glare
The light that burns throughout the night,
I smiled and said I need not fear.

I thought it then a light to love,
To liberty and every good ;
But that was false — a light to hell
I found it soon after I stood

Upon the hill where Life took me
To view the things that are as rare,
To feel the teeth of poverty
And pull at opportunity's bar.

I had high hopes, bright dreams were mine,
A future roseate as the light
That limns the shadows of the hills
Against the sky as dawn grows bright.

Too soon hate's dark eclipse hid all
The brightness of this day of hope;
And your weak pride narrowed and bound
My every effort, every scope.

But still America I lived
Scourged by the jeers, the taunts, the scorn ;
Why should some men inherit love
And some to such strong hate be born ?

America I pay with love
For all the hate you give to me;
I take your jagged-edge cup and drink
The drug of dark hate fearlessly.

I know it can but drug the sense.
And hold ambition to the earth ;
For hate can never conquer me,
Nor wrong rob me of all my mirth.

I shall still cry, shall laugh and play
Until some larger heart should come
To light yours into flames of love
That burn for all and not for some.

And still a dream is in my soul
In which I see you handing me
A golden star of membership
In this great world's fraternity.

Then from the ruins of much wrong,
Within the shining shop of right
I'll forge for you a tower wherefrom
Shall gleam earth's purest brightest light.

Then all the nations of this world
Shall look to you and call you great ;
Because your light shall shine afar
When one large love replaces hate. 

Published in The Messenger, August 1925

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