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

James Weldon Johnson, "Before a Painting" (1917)


    I knew not who had wrought with skill so fine
      What I beheld; nor by what laws of art
      He had created life and love and heart
    On canvas, from mere color, curve and line.
    Silent I stood and made no move or sign;
      Not with the crowd, but reverently apart;
      Nor felt the power my rooted limbs to start,
    But mutely gazed upon that face divine.

    And over me the sense of beauty fell,
      As music over a raptured listener to
        The deep-voiced organ breathing out a hymn;
    Or as on one who kneels, his beads to tell,
      There falls the aureate glory filtered through
          The windows in some old cathedral dim.

Published in Fifty Years and Other Poems, 1917