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

H. Cordelia Ray, "In Memoriam (Frederick Douglass)" (1910)

In Memoriam.

(Frederick Douglass)

One whose majestic presence ever here,
Was as an inspiration held so dear,
Will greet us nevermore upon the earth.
The funeral bells have rung; there was no dearth
Of sorrow as the solemn cortege passed;
But ours is a grief that will outlast
The civic splendor. Say, among all men,
Who was this hero that they buried then,
With saddest plaint and sorrow-stricken face?
Ay! 'twas a princely leader of his race!
And for a leader well equipped was he;
Nature had given him most regally
E'en of her choicest gifts. What matter then
That he in chains was held, what matter when
He could uplift himself to noblest heights.

E'en with his native greatness, neither slights
Nor wrongs could harm him; and a solemn wrath
Burned in his soul. He well saw duty's path;
His days heroic purposes did know,
And could he then his chosen work forego?

Born to a fate most wretched, most forlorn!
A slave! alas! of benefits all shorn
Upon his entrance into life, what lot
More destitute of hope! Yet e'en that blot
Could not suffice to dim the glowing page
He leaves to History; for he could wage
Against oppression's deadliest blows a war
That knew no ending, until nevermore
Should any man be called a bondman. Ay!
Such was a conflict for which one could die.

Panting for freedom early, he did dare
To throw aside his shackles, for the air
Of slavery is poison unto men
Moulded as Douglass was; they suffer, then
Manhood asserts itself; they are too brave,
Such souls as his, to die content a slave.
So being free, one path alone he trod,
To bring to liberty--sweet boon from God--
His deeply injured race; his tireless zeal
Was consecrated to the bondman's weal.

He thought of children sobbing round the knees
Of hopeless mothers, where the summer breeze
Blew o'er the dank savannas. What of woe
In their sad story that he did not know!
He was a valiant leader in a cause
Than none less noble, though the nation's laws
Did seem to spurn it; and his matchless speech
To Britain's sea-girt island shores did reach.
Our Cicero, and yet our warrior knight,
Striving to show mankind might is not right!

He saw the slave uplifted from the dust,
A freeman! Loyal to the sacred trust
He gave himself in youth, with voice and pen,
He had been to the end. And now again
The grandest efforts of that brain and heart
In ev'ry human sorrow bore a part.
His regnant intellect, his dignity,
Did make him honored among all to be;
And public trusts his country gladly gave
Unto this princely leader, born a slave!

Shall the race falter in its courage now
That the great chief is fallen? Shall it bow
Tamely to aught of injury? Ah, nay!
For daring souls are needed e'en to-day.
Let his example be a shining light,
Leading through duty's paths to some far height
Of undreamed victory. All honored be
The silv'ry head of him we no more see!
Children unborn will venerate his name,
And History keep spotless his fair fame.

The Romans wove bright leafy crowns for those
Who saved a life in battle with their foes;
And shall not we as rare a chaplet weave
To that great master-soul for whom we grieve?
Yea! Since not always on the battle-field
Are the best vict'ries won; for they who yield
Themselves to conquer in a losing cause,
Because 'tis right in God's eternal laws,
Do noblest battle; therefore fitly we
Upon their brows a victor's crown would see.

Yes! our great chief has fallen as might fall
Some veteran warrior, answering the call
Of duty. With the old serenity,
His heart still strung with tender sympathy,

He passed beyond our ken; he'll come no more
To give us stately greeting as of yore.
We cannot fail to miss him. When we stand
In sudden helplessness, as through the land
Rings echo of some wrong he could not brook,
Then vainly for our leader will we look.

But courage! no great influence can die.
While he is doing grander work on high,
Shall not his deeds an inspiration be
To us left in life's struggle? May not we
Do aught to emulate him whom we mourn?
We are a people now, no more forlorn
And hopeless. We must gather courage then,
Rememb'ring that he stood man among men.
So let us give, now he has journeyed hence,
To our great chieftain's memory, reverence!

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