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

James D. Corrothers, "The Gift of the Greatest God" (1901)

It was in the magic city, in Apollo's temple there,—
'Mid scenes of brilliant splendor , and enchanting beauty rare;
'Mid domes and spires and minarets ; lakes, groves, and flowers and streams ,
And music sweet as singing in the City of Our Dreams!
Thus set, Apollo's temple stood , as fair to mortal eyes
As the palace of Aladdin in a land of paradise!
And in its walls the president a levee held that day,
To greet a grateful people o'er whose hearts his love held sway .

Crowned by the law's majestic power , and guarded by its might ,
The president stood smiling on the people , left and right ;
And giving, with a stately grace, a friendly clasp of hand
To any who might reach him -tho ' the humblest in the land .
To a mighty organ's pealings , the procession moved along—
Merchant and sturdy toiler mingling in the countless throng ;
Proud dames and merry working girls- high, low; the young and fair
The black and white , and many born in other lands were there .

But, look you! Yonder comes Czolgosz, the strippling , with bound hand ,
To strike , with serpent's venom, the chief ruler of the land!
He has planned the deed with cunning , and will execute it soon----
Write, with inky black of Hades, “Murder " on the sky of noon!
He would bathe the thrones of earth in blood -abolish law and love ;
Thwart commerce ; ruin church and home-tear God from Heaven above ;
Give lust free rein and crime a throne -set shame and terror free,
And light, with burning homes , the mad, red hell of Anarchy !

The president had stopped to kiss a pretty little child ,
And pat its head ; then on the throng again he looked and smiled ;
Now came the baby's mother ; next , Parker, the Negro , there ;-
And when Czolgosz , and---two quick shots rang sharply on the air.
You know the story: How the wounded president sank down ;
And how brave Parker leaped and bore the assassin to the ground .
I read it all, and, tho ' my tears fell ere I ceased to read,
My heart beat higher as it told of Parker's noble deed!

That night I dreamed the scene again : Anon methought a change
Transfigured all ---The moonlight filled the room with beauty strange ,
While ,thro ' an open doorway , surged the people ,wave on wave ,
To greet the ebon hero who had done a deed so brave .
From every section of the land the grateful people came
To load this mighty Son of Ham with trophies of his fame .
And from far distant countries, in my dream it seemed to me,
Came king and czar and emperor this fearless man to see .

This was not all : Methought the shades of the immortal dead
In shadow forms , moved softly with the concourse , haply led
By pity for the struggling Race of Man to lend their aid.
In this dread hour . They came in robes of light and mist arrayed :
There Moses , Plato , Shakespeare, Burns, John Brown and Douglass stood,
August of mien , and grand of brow, in beauteous brotherhood ,-
Some with the light of ages garlanded, but all aglow
With holy glory , looming grand and god -like here below .

"What shall we give this Negro," cried the populace , as one-
"How fittingly reward him for the deed that he hath done ? "
Answered Kaiser William quickly , " In the Rhine -land , such as he
Are knighted ; honored ; landed ; loved and feted royally !"
Quoth Edward-—“ In old England , wrong is wrong and right is right ;
And, were he there, we'd treat him like a Briton- black or white!"
Then the Czar said : “To my Russia let this noble black be sent ,
Where to Pouskin, our black poet, we have reared a monument ."

Then Douglass said to Plato : "What said I of my race?
Said I not the world judged wrongly, when it judged by hue of face ?
Aye ! there are more noble in my race than there 'er were knaves or brutes ,
And they, like trees uncultured , may not yield their choicest fruits ."
"Thou 't right," said Plato, nobly ; "he hath proved himself a man!----
Diogenes would name him so, could he his features scan ."
And Moses said : "Amen! Amen!---I am made only men,
As Burns hath sung ." And John Brown said : "I'd die for such again!"

"What shall thy gift be, Parker?" asked a man with blanching cheek .
A Negro mother with her babe cried : "Speak ! In God's name , speak !"
Then Parker said : “O, hear me ! This is my request I make ;
And grant it, not for me alone ; but for my people's sake .
Set us free to go as workers in the wide fields of the Lord !
We ask no special favors ; labor brings its own reward !
Strike the social chains from off us ; let us be as men 'mongst men—
And we'll do you deeds as noble as are writ with human pen!

"We do not ask for seats around the white man's fireside ,
But for opportunities to work in fields to us denied—
A chance to toil with willing hands at work God made us for,
And not to do that which we hate, with self and God at war !
We want to live as free men ; not as half slaves 'mong the free,
With free men's rights and homes in this fair Land of Liberty !
'Tis not to enter white men's homes, but to enjoy our own
In the land for which our fathers died-the only we have known!”

A consternation fell upon the throng , both young and old ,
As Parker's voice rang thro ' the hall in accents loud and bold .
And 't was declared impossible to grant request so rash .
"You tried to save our Chief, " one said. "What will you take in cash?"
But Parker said : "Can it not be?" And Plato cried , "For shame!"
And Moses rent his robes , and wailed : " It offendeth God's high name!"
And Douglass wept, and John Brown's face grew stern, as wroth with man,

As he heard his people cry : "Alas ! we can't; and who - who can?”
But , at that moment, in the door , a wondrous form appeared ,
And , as he clove the parting throng , the Immortals softly cheered .
"It is the dauntless future," Plato cried , "the Mightiest!---
Who loveth mortals , and is , of Immortals , first and best !"
The future stood majestic . Calm his brow was ; in his speech
The awe and music of the waves that kiss the pebbly beach ;
His face leonine , but fair ; and he spake , as the room grew still ,
"Tho ' ye think ye may not do so much, I can, I swear , and---will!"

Published in Colored American Magazine, December 1901


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