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

Ethyl Lewis, "The Optimist" (1920)

Oppressed? Ah well, the devil, you say!
Well--weeping can only last for a day;
The blackest cloud is all bright inside--
What's in with the flood goes out with the tide.

Scorned and laughted at? That matters not--
He who laughs last has the best of the lot;
The first shall be last and the last shall be first--
He who gives drink, tomorrow may thirst.

You're suffering now, dark clouds enshroud--
But yours is the suffering of which one is proud;
For out of the hell and hard of it all,
Salvation will come, as the light came to Saul.

The war has been killing your men, yousay;
Despaire has been eating your heart away--
It would be all right if you didn't know
That the country you loved despised you so.

Never mind, children, be patient awhile,
And carry your load with a nod and a smile,
For out of the hell and the hard of it all,
Time is sure to bring sweetest honey--not gall.

Out of the hell and the hard of it all,
A bright star shall rise that never shall fall:
A God-fearing race--proud, noble, and true,
Giving good for the evil which they always knew.

Before whom all nations shall come and bow down
And place at its feet the world's sceptre and crown.
The scorners will then know 'What fools mortals be!'
And the laughers can no more find heart for their glee.

So dry your wet pillow and lift your bowed head
And show to the world that hope is not dead!
Be patient! Wait! See what yet may befall,
Out of the hell and the hard of it all.

Published in The Crisis, January 1920
Also excerpted in Robert Kerlin, Negro Poets and their Poems, 1923 (Chapter 2)

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