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

Eva A. Jessye, "The Singer" (1923)


Because his speech was blunt and manner plain
Untaught in subtle phrases of the wise,
Because the years of slavery and pain
Ne’er dimmed the light of faith within his eyes;
Because of ebon skin and humble pride,
The world with hatred thrust the youth aside.

But fragrance wafts from every trodden flower,
And through our grief we rise to nobler things,
Within the heart in sorrow’s darkest hour
A well of sweetness there unbidden springs;
Despised of men, discarded and alone—
The world of nature claimed him as her own.

She taught him truths that liberate the soul
From bonds more galling than the slaver’s chain—
That manly natures, lily-wise, unfold
Amid the mire of hatred void of stain;
Thus in his manhood, clean, superbly strong,
To him was born the priceless gift of song.

The glory of the sun, the hush of morn,
Whisperings of tree-top faintly stirred,
The desert silence, wilderness forlorn,
Far ocean depths, the tender lilt of bird;
Of hope, despair, he sang, his melody
The endless theme of life’s brief symphony.

And nations marveled at the minstrel lad,
Who swayed emotions as his fancy led;
With him they wept, were melancholy, sad;
“’Tis but a cunning jest of Fate,” they said;
They did not dream in selfish sphere apart
That song is but the essence of the heart.

Appears in Robert Kerlin, Ed. Negro Poets and Their Poems (1923)

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