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

James Weldon Johnson, "The White Witch" (1915)

O BROTHERS mine, take care! Take care!    
The great white witch rides out to-night.    
Trust not your prowess nor your strength,    
Your only safety lies in flight;    
For in her glance there is a snare,            
And in her smile there is a blight.    
The great white witch you have not seen?    
Then, younger brothers mine, forsooth,    
Like nursery children you have looked    
For ancient hag and snaggle-tooth;            
But no, not so; the witch appears    
In all the glowing charms of youth.    
Her lips are like carnations, red,    
Her face like new-born lilies, fair,    
Her eyes like ocean waters, blue,            
She moves with subtle grace and air,    
And all about her head there floats    
The golden glory of her hair.    
But though she always thus appears    
In form of youth and mood of mirth,            
Unnumbered centuries are hers,    
The infant planets saw her birth;    
The child of throbbing Life is she,    
Twin sister to the greedy earth.    
And back behind those smiling lips,            
And down within those laughing eyes,    
And underneath the soft caress    
Of hand and voice and purring sighs,    
The shadow of the panther lurks,    
The spirit of the vampire lies.            
For I have seen the great white witch,    
And she has led me to her lair,    
And I have kissed her red, red lips    
And cruel face so white and fair;    
Around me she has twined her arms,            
And bound me with her yellow hair.    
I felt those red lips burn and sear    
My body like a living coal;    
Obeyed the power of those eyes    
As the needle trembles to the pole;            
And did not care although I felt    
The strength go ebbing from my soul.    
Oh! she has seen your strong young limbs,    
And heard your laughter loud and gay,    
And in your voices she has caught            
The echo of a far-off day,    
When man was closer to the earth;    
And she has marked you for her prey.    
She feels the old Antaean strength    
In you, the great dynamic beat            
Of primal passions, and she sees    
In you the last besieged retreat    
Of love relentless, lusty, fierce,    
Love pain-ecstatic, cruel-sweet.    
O, brothers mine, take care! Take care!            
The great white witch rides out to-night.    
O, younger brothers mine, beware!    
Look not upon her beauty bright;    
For in her glance there is a snare,    
And in her smile there is a blight.            
First Published in The Crisis, March 1915.
Also appears in The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922)

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