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

Fenton Johnson, "Prelude" (1914)


'Tis twilight dim; the musing dreamer sits
Before his hearth, the sunset on his brow,
And thus he ponders ere the birth of dusk.
Some love the land where grew the laurel tree,
The home of Gods and stern faced warriors,
The altar Nature built and Art preserves;
And long to hear heroic note from Pan.
Such deem their love the freeborn English note,
And others love the freeborn English note,
The music of the songs the lusty sang
In Mermaid Tavern and the Old Boar's Head,
The gift of Shakespeare and the heritage
Of Tennyson, the child romance hath nursed.
And yet some say to me, "O Man of Dusk,
Give us thy songs in broken Afric tongue, —
The music of the peasant in the South —
The native strain alone is poetry.
Be thou as Burns or Dunbar was,
Be thou as Lowell in his adobe home;
The humble peasant is the truest bard."
'Tis not in classic mould or English flame,
Or lilting song from crudest peasant tongue
The soul that seeks the beauty of a truth
Can gaze upon the ever gleaming light
That flickers on the summit Poesy.
But 'tis in living and the wonder Life
We find the soul of Beauty is a God;
The vision is the thing, and not the word.
Then come with me where Life and Soul hath met;
And hear the mother-croon of far-away,
The dying note of Georgia lullaby.

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