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

Harsh World That Lashest Me (For Walter White) by Countee Cullen

Harsh World that lashest me each day,
   Dub me not that cowardly because
I seem to find no sudden way
   To throttle you or clip your claws.
No force compels me to the wound
   Whereof my body bears the scar;
Although my feet are on the ground,
   Doubt not my eyes are on a star.

You cannot keep me captive, World,
   Entrammeled, chained, spit on, spurned.
More free than all your flags unfurled,
   I give my body to be burned.
I mount my cross because I will,
   I drink the hemlock which you give
For wine which you withhold—-and still,
   Because I will not die, I live.

I live because an ember in
   Me smoulders to regain its fire,
Because what is and what has been
   Not yet have conquered my desire.
I live to prove the groping clod
   Is surely more than simple dust;
I live to see the breath of God
   Beatify the carnal crust.

But when I will, World, I can go,
   Though triple bronze should wall me round,
Slip past your guard as swift as snow,
   Translated without pain or sound.
Within myself is lodged the key
   To that vast room of couches laid
For those too proud to live and see
   Their dreams of light eclipsed in shade.

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