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

James D. Corrothers, "The Snapping of the Bow" (1901)

I dreamed a dream, and, in my dream, I heard
One wail at midnight by a convent's walls.
And, as he wailed, he clutched the stars, and shook
The pillars of the firmament of God,
And rolled the thunders of Olympus down
On men; and they besought their holy ones
To plead with him ---lest he might spoil the world.

   His face was bronze; his limbs were bronze but steel;
His mane was blacker than the Steeds of Night.
And his great eyes flashed warnings from beneath
A citadel where daring thoughts abode.
A comely youth---why needed he to weep?

     Alas! upon his brow he wore the brand
Of degradation, and upon his neck
A circlet galling as a crime!--And from
The cursed thing a chain of hate e'er bound
Him where he stood. His hands were manacled;
His limbs wore thongs that cut the flesh agape,
Until, for the pure pain, he writhed and wept,---
As weeps a conquered god-the prisoner of Despair!

He flung himself upon his knees, and burst into a prayer:
      "O God, and hast
Thou made me for these miseries? I feel
Myself a man ---I have the spirit and
The hopes of one. O, why, then, must I strive
And fail?---No lake is clearer than my soul;
No ship is prouder; none more tempest tost.
'Tis true my brow is dark; but, in the night,
My spirit walks the stars, and lightly spurns.
Its kinship to this world!---Lord, I have tried;
The burden of the failure rests with thee."
So fell he tranced.

      But, on the plain there rose
A phantom of the silent sphinx---the grim,
Spell-casting thought of some deep master dead.
And lo! beside its ancient, crumbling base,
Napoleon, fresh from mighty deeds of war,
Halted his band, and spoke in tones of awe.—
All this I saw, and dreamed that yet---aye, yet!—
The race might rise that built the awful thing
That holds its secret still in Egypt's sands.

Published in Colored American Magazine, May 1901

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