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

Joseph S. Cotter, Jr. "Band of Gideon: and Other Poems" (Full text) (1918)

The BAND of GIDEON And Other Lyrics 

Published in 



Introduction ix 
The Band of Gideon 3 
The Mulatto to His Critics 5 
A Prayer 6 
The Deserter 7 
Is This the Price of Love? 8 
Ego 9 
Dreams 10 
Then I Would Love You 11 
I'm A-waiting and A-watching 12 
And What Shall You Sat? 13 
Is It Because I Am Black? 14 
O Little David, Play on Your Harp 15 
Sonnet to Negro Soldiers 17 
Sonnet 18 
Sonnet 19 
Memories 20 
Love 21 
Inconstancy 22 
An April Day 23 
Supplication 24 
The Goal 25 
Remembrance 26 
November 27 
To Florence 28 
Compensation 29


Nearly twenty years ago there came to my door a Negro of fine standing in the community, with the manuscript of a play which he desired me to read. That manuscript, whatever its faults, had the fundamental quality of sincerity — a quality that is not always present in work that often finds its way to a far wider audience. The writer of that play was Joseph S. Cotter, and now in this volume, written by Joseph S. Cotter, Jr., his son, there is displayed the talent for verse-writing that I found in the father; a talent which has, however, in this instance, been hampered by sad ill health. For the verses of this volume were nearly all written on a sick bed, by a boy whose twenty-two years have been far from filled with the ineffable boon of strong health. But to the, public the interest these verses will have, apart from their merit and the gallant spirit in which they are written, lies in this: The Negro race, which has always been able to ease its heart with melody and folk-song, is beginning to look upon words also as a medium of giving expression to its deeper and finer emotions. Paul Lawrence Dunbar and James Weldon Johnson are perhaps the most distinguished of those who have entered the field of poetry, but perhaps if health is restored to Joseph S. Cotter, Jr., he also may later find himself ranking with these two of his pre- decessors. At least all sympathizers with the Negro race will hope this may be so, and will give an interested attention to this small but earnest sheaf of songs. 

Cale Young Rice. Louisville, June, 1918.



The band of Gideon roam the sky, 
The howling wind is their war-cry, 
The thunder's roll is their trump's peal, 
And the lightning's flash their vengeful steel. 
Each black cloud 
Is a fiery steed. 
And they cry aloud 
With each strong deed,
"The sword of the Lord and Gideon." 
And men below rear temples high 
And mock their God with reasons why, 
And live in arrogance, sin and shame, 
And rape their souls for the world's good name. 
Each black cloud 
Is a fiery steed. 
And they cry aloud 
With each strong deed,
"The sword of the Lord and Gideon." 
The band of Gideon roam the sky 
And view the earth with baleful eye; 
In holy wrath they scourge the land 
With earth-quake, storm and burning brand. 
Each black cloud 
Is a fiery steed.

And they cry aloud 
With each strong deed,
“The Sword of the Lord and Gideon.” 
The lightnings flash and the thunders roll, 
And “Lord have mercy on my soul,” 
Cry men as they fall on the stricken sod, 
In agony searching for their God. 
Each black cloud 
Is a fiery steed. 
And they cry aloud 
With each strong deed,
“The sword of the Lord and Gideon.” 
And men repent and then forget 
That heavenly wrath they ever met, 
The band of Gideon yet will come 
And strike their tongues of blasphemy dumb. 
Each black cloud Is a fiery steed. 
And they cry aloud 
With each strong deed,
“The sword of the Lord and Gideon.”

 Ashamed of my race? 
And of what race am I? 
I am many in one. 
Thru my veins there flows the blood 
Of Red Man, Black Man, Briton, Celt and Scot, 
In warring clash and tumultuous riot. 
I welcome all, But love the blood of the kindly race 
That swarthes my skin, crinkles my hair, 
And puts sweet music into my soul.

 As I lie in bed, 
Flat on my back; 
There passes across my ceiling 
An endless panorama of things — 
Quick steps of gay-voiced children, 
Adolescence in its wondering silences, 
Maid and man on moonlit summer's eve, 
Women in the holy glow of Motherhood, 
Old men gazing silently thru the twilight 
Into the beyond. 
O God, give me words to make my dream-children live.


I know not why or whence he came 
Or how he chanced to go; 
I only know he brought me love 
And going, left me woe. 
I do not ask that he turn back, 
Nor seek where he may rove; 
For where woe rules can never be 
The dwelling place of love. 
For love went out the door of hope, 
And on and on has fled; 
Caring no more to dwell within 
The house where faith is dead.

 Never again the sight of her? 
Never her winsome smile 
Shall light the path of my journeying 
O'er many a weary mile? 
Never again shall her soft voice come 
To cheer me all the while? 
O Thou, who hearest from above, 
Tell me, is this the price of love? 
Never again the touch of her lips? 
Never her dark, brown eyes 
Shall shine on me with the dancing joy 
Of stars in the summer skies? 
Never again shall my song be aught 
Save minor chords of sighs? 
O Thou, who hearest from above, 
Tell me, is this the price of love?


Day passeth day in sunshine or shadow, 
Night unto night each cycle is told; 
Sun, moon and stars in whirling and glamour, 
All unto all the creation unfold. 
What of the strivings, what of the gropings, 
Out from the darkness into the light? 
What of the weepings, what of the grievings 
Now from the day to a passionless night? 
Stars of the stars, heavens of the heavens, 
Rising or falling or pausing a span, 
Each to the great "I am" replying, 
E'en as the crystal, even as man. 
Chant of the worlds from aeon to aeon, 
Song of the soul from dust unto dust, 
Dream of the clods that, upward and starward, 
Rise to the call of the primal "Thou must." 
Space beyond space, eternity's vision, 
Chaos to chaos, calm unto calm, 
World beneath world, heaven above heaven, 
Life but the urge, death but the balm.

 There is naught in the pathless reach 
Of the pale, blue sky above, 
There is naught that the stars tell, each to each, 
As over the heavens they rove; 
That I have not felt or have not seen 
Clad in dull earth or fancy's sheen. 
There is naught, in the still, mauve twilight 
When the dreams come flitting by, 
From lands afar of eternal night, 
Or lands of the sunswept sky, 
For countless spirits within me dwell 
With heaven's effulgence or dark hell.

 Were you to come, 
With your clear gray eyes 
As calmly placid as, in summer's heat, 
At noon-tide lie the sultry skies; 
With your dark brown hair 
As smoothly quiet as the leaves 
When stirs no cooling breath of air; 
And, shorn of smile, your full, red lips 
Prest firmly close as the chaliced bud 
Before the nectar-quaffing bee ere sips, 
I would not know you, I would not love you. 
But, should you come, 
With your love-bright eyes 
Dancing gaily as, on summer's eve, 
The stars adown the western skies; 
With your hair wind-caught 
And circled round your shining face 
In fashion which no hand ere wrought; 
And your full, red lips poised saucily, 
As the slender moon mid a hundred stars, 
And held aloof in daring taunt to me, 
Then I would know you, Then I would love you.


I'm a-waiting and a-watching for the day that has no end, 
For the sun that's ever shining, for its rays that ever blend; 
For the light that casts no shadows, for the sky that's ever fair, 
For the rose that's ever blooming as its fragrance fills the air. 
I'm a-waiting and a-watching for the land that knows no night; 
Where the terrors of the darkness are dispelled in morning's light, 
Where the murmurs of the breezes blend them- selves into a song, 
And the silvery carol echoes to the heavens, soft and long. 
I'm a-waiting and a-watching for the song that's never o'er, 
For the joy that's never ending on that light-em- blazoned shore, 
For the peace that shall enfold me with the heavens' holy breath, 
For the glory that shall greet me, for the life that knows no death.


Brother, come! 
And let us go unto our God. 
And when we stand before Him 
I shall say — “Lord, 
I do not hate, I am hated. 
I scourge no one, I am scourged. 
I covet no lands, 
My lands are coveted. 
I mock no peoples, 
My people are mocked.” 
And, brother, what shall you say?


Why do men smile when I speak, 
And call my speech 
The whimperings of a babe 
That cries but knows not what it wants? 
Is it because I am black? 
Why do men sneer when I arise 
And stand in their councils, 
And look them eye to eye, 
And speak their tongue? 
Is it because I am black?


O Little David, play on your harp, 
That ivory harp with the golden strings 
And sing as you did in Jewry Land, 
Of the Prince of Peace and the God of Love 
And the Coming Christ Immanuel. 
O Little David, play on your harp. 
A seething world is gone stark mad; 
And is drunk with the blood, 
Gorged with the flesh, 
Blinded with the ashes 
Of her millions of dead. 
From out it all and over all 
There stands, years old and fully grown, 
A monster in the guise of man. 
He is of war and not of war; 
Born in peace, 
Nutured in arrogant pride and greed, 
World-creature is he and native to no land. 
And war itself is merciful 
When measured by his deeds. 
Beneath the 
Crescent Lie a people maimed; 
Their only sin — 
That they worship God. 
On Russia's steppes

Is a race in tears; 
Their one offense — 
That they would be themselves. 
On Flanders plains 
Is a nation raped; A bleeding gift 
Of "Kultur's" conquering creed. 
And in every land 
Are black folk scourged; 
Their only crime — 
That they dare be men. 
O Little David, play on your harp, 
That ivory harp with the golden strings; 
And psalm anew your songs of Peace, 
Of the soothing calm of a Brotherly Love, 
And the saving grace of a Mighty God. 
O Little David, play on your harp.


They shall go down unto Life's Borderland, 
Walk unafraid within that Living Hell, 
Nor heed the driving rain of shot and shell 
That 'round them falls; but with uplifted hand, 
Be one with mighty hosts, an armed band 
Against man's wrong to man — for such full well 
They know. And from their trembling lips shall swell 
A song of hope the world can understand. 
All this to them shall be a glorious sign, 
A glimmer of that resurrection morn, 
When age-long Faith, crowned with a grace benign, 
Shall rise and from their brows cast down the thorn 
Of prejudice. E'en though through blood it be, 
There breaks this day their dawn of Liberty.


And Thou art One — One with th' eternal hills, 
And with the flaming stars, and with the moon, 
Translucent, cold. The sentinel of noon 
That clothes the sky in robes of light and fills 
The earth with warmth, the flowering fields, the rills, 
The waving trees, the south wind's elfin rune, 
Are One with Thee. All nature is in tune With Thee, 
O Father, God — and if one wills 
To humbly walk the fragrant, leaf-strewn path 
And kneel in reverence 'neath the vaulted sky, 
Hearing the hymnals of the waving trees 
And prayers of the soughing winds — what hath 
He less of heaven in him, than we, who cry, "
God in our creeds doth dwell and not in these?"

 I would not tarry if I could be gone 
Adown the path where calls my eager mind. 
That fate which knows naught but to grip and bind 
Holds me within its grasp, a helpless pawn, 
And checks my steps when I would travel on. 
Forever shall my body lag behind, 
And in this valley with the moaning wind 
Must I abide with never a glimpse of dawn? 
Though bends my body towards the yawning sod, 
I can endure the pain, the sorrows rife, 
That hold me fast beneath their chastening rod, 
If from this turmoil and this endless strife, 
Comes there a light to lead man nearer God, 
And guide his footsteps toward the Larger Life.

 The burnished glow of the old-gold moon 
Shines brightly over me. 
A thousand stars, like a thousand isles 
In a dark and placid sea, 
Bring memories of a golden night, 
Bedecked in Autumn's hue 
And fragrant with the lilac's bloom, 
That brought me joy – and you.

 Love is the soothing voice of gods 
To which men ever list. 
Love is the ease of soul's travail 
And sorrow's alchemist.

 Blue eyes, gray eyes, 
All the eyes that be, 
Hold within their changing depths 
Wealth of charm to me. 
Dark-eyed maid, of moment's fancy, 
Gay as stars above; 
Is it you that I adore, Or is it Love I love?

 On such a day as this I think, 
On such a day as this, 
When earth and sky and nature's whole 
Are clad in April's bliss; 
And balmy zephyrs gently waft 
Upon your cheek a kiss; 
Sufficient is it just to live 
On such a day as this.

 I am so tired and weary, 
So tired of the endless fight, 
So weary of waiting the dawn 
And finding endless night. 
That I ask but rest and quiet — 
Rest for days that are gone, 
And quiet for the little space 
That I must journey on.

 I have found joy, 
Surcease from sorrow, 
From qualms for today 
And fears for tomorrow. 
I have found love, 
Sifted of pain, 
Of life's harsh goading 
And worldly disdain. 
I have found peace, 
Still-borne from grief, 
From soul's bitter mocking 
And heart's unbelief. 
Now may I rest, 
Soul-glad and free, 
For Lord, in the travail, 
I have found Thee.

 Forget? Ah, never! 
Your eyes, your voice, your lips. 
Those little ways of love, 
Half-childish yet all-wise 
That held me but a slave to you, 
Will never loose their bonds. 
The power to forget 
Would fate but yield to me. 
Remember? Ah, too well! 
The hurt, the pain, the grief. 
The wrack of nightly dreams, 
The ruth of brooding days, 
Have left a lesion in my soul 
That only Heaven can heal. 
Remembrance is the lot 
That fate does hold for me.

November, sere and brown, 
Clothes the country, haunts the town, 
Sheds its cloak of withered leaves, 
Brings its sighing, soughing breeze. 
Prophet of the dying year, 
Builder of its funeral bier, 
Bring your message here to men; 
Sound it forth that they may ken 
What of Life and what of Death 
Linger on your frosty breath. 
Let men know to you are given 
Days of thanks to God in heaven; 
Thanks for things which we deem best, 
Thanks, O God, for all the rest 
That have taught us — (trouble, strife, 
Bring thru Death a larger Life) — 
Death of our base self and fear — (
Even as the dying year, 
Though through cold and frost, shall bring 
Forth a new and glorious spring)— 
Shall shed over us the sway 
Of a new and brighter day, 
With Hope, Faith and Love alway.


Sister, when at the grassy mound I stand 
Which holds in cold embrace thy mortal frame, 
The tears unbidden rush into my eyes 
And wash away from me all save the sight 
Of thy pure life and patient suffering. 
And ever and anon comes memory 
Of days gone by when health's bright sun did shine 
Upon us both. And tho within the cloud 
I stand, content I am to think of thee 
And live as best I may, till by thy side 
In God's own time, I lay me down to rest.


I plucked a rose from out a bower fair, 
That overhung my garden seat; 
And wondered I if, e'er before, bloomed there 
A rose so sweet. 
Enwrapt in beauty I scarce felt the thorn 
That pricked me as I pulled the bud; 
Till I beheld the rose, that summer morn, 
Stained with my blood. 
I sang a song that thrilled the evening air 
With beauty somewhat kin to love, 
And all men knew that lyric song so rare 
Came from above. 
And men rejoiced to hear the golden strain; 
But no man knew the price I paid, 
Nor cared that out of my soul's deathless pain 
The song was made.

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