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

James Weldon Johnson, "Fragment" (1917)


    The hand of Fate cannot be stayed,
    The course of Fate cannot be steered,
    By all the gods that man has made,
    Nor all the devils he has feared,
    Not by the prayers that might be prayed
    In all the temples he has reared.

    See! In your very midst there dwell
    Ten thousand thousand blacks, a wedge
    Forged in the furnaces of hell,
    And sharpened to a cruel edge
    By wrong and by injustice fell,
    And driven by hatred as a sledge.

    A wedge so slender at the start--
    Just twenty slaves in shackles bound--
    And yet, which split the land apart
    With shrieks of war and battle sound,
    Which pierced the nation's very heart,
    And still lies cankering in the wound.

    Not all the glory of your pride,
    Preserved in story and in song,
    Can from the judging future hide,
    Through all the coming ages long,
    That though you bravely fought and died,
    You fought and died for what was wrong.

    'Tis fixed--for them that violate
    The eternal laws, naught shall avail
    Till they their error expiate;
    Nor shall their unborn children fail
    To pay the full required weight
    Into God's great, unerring scale.

    Think not repentance can redeem,
    That sin his wages can withdraw;
    No, think as well to change the scheme
    Of worlds that move in reverent awe;
    Forgiveness is an idle dream,
    God is not love, no, God is law.

Published in Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917)

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