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

Gwendolyn B. Bennett, "To Usward" (1924)

Dedicated to all Negro Youth known and unknown who have a song to sing, a story to tell or a vision for the sons of earth. Especially dedicated to Jessie Fauset upon the event of her novel, "There is Confusion." 

Let us be still
As ginger jars are still 
Upon a Chinese shelf.
And let us be contained
By entities of Self. . . . 
Not still with lethargy and sloth,
But quiet with the pushing of our growth.
Not self-contained with smug identity 
But conscious of the strength in entity. 

If any have a song to sing
That's different from the rest,
 Oh let them sing
Before the urgency of Youth's behest! 
For some of us have songs to sing
Of jungle heat and fires,
And some of us are solemn grown
 With pitiful desires,
And there are those who feel the pull 
Of seas beneath the skies, 
And some there be who want to croon
 Of Negro lullabies.
We claim no part with racial dearth; 
We want to sing the songs of birth! 
And so we stand like ginger jars
Like ginger jars bound round
With dust and age;
Like jars of ginger we are sealed
 By nature's heritage.
But let us break the seal of years
With pungent thrusts of song,
For there is joy in long-dried tears
For whetted passions of a throng!

Published in The Crisis, May 1924
Also published in Opportunity, May 1924

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