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

Esther A. Yates “Fettered Liberty” (1915)

To come so near, and yet not touch the goal!
   To sight!
Its gleaming bars, like some pale pilgrim soul 
      Hails light,
   After the weary night.
To feel the unbounded joy! My efforts crowned
   At last!

Then strive to leap, and find my feet are bound,
      And fast;
   My short-lived freedom past!
To see my fond hopes crumble as do things In dreams; 
My skin a burden that should serve as wings!
      It seems 
   The earth with passion teems!

To live with the books, to teach my eager brain
      To act,
And every noble power and gift to train 
      With tact–
   Then meet this time-worn fact:

That prejudicial bars rise everywhere.
      My race,
My barrier. For this my soul must bear
   And opposition face. 

How long shall I restrain the hot life-tide
      Whose flow
With just resentment surges? Must I bide 
      This blow?
And this? And this? And fearful hide?
      And cringing terror show?

Or shall I let the prejudice of  years 
      Go by,
With outward passivness, and inward tears,
      And die? 
Or leave unsatisfied my tears,
      Nor even question why?

And this is freedom? This is liberty?
      The place
Where justice reigns? “Home of the brave and and free”?
      Look! Trace
The deepened furrows of servility 
      Upon a burdened race!

Jehovah, burn into our faith’s weak ray
      Thy might.
We crave but half a chance to blaze a way 
      To light,
   To dawn, from racial night.

God of a trampled race! We must, we dare
      Be free!
Free, that we may be men! We leave our fare 
      With thee. 
If only in the battles wear and tear,
Thou’ll lead our host through fog or noon-day glare
      To freedom! Liberty!

Published in The Crisis, December 1915
Re-typed by Christian Farrior 

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