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

Leon Laviaux, "The Ebon Muse" (Full Text; translated 1914)

Editor's Note: The author of this poem lived in Martinique and wrote in French-Martinician patois. His poems were translated into English and sold in the U.S. The translation was reviewed in The Crisis in 1915, and the author was identified as a mixed race Martinician. This collection was also cited by James Weldon Johnson in the Introduction to the Book of American Negro Poetry in 1922. 



 Of this edition two hundred copies 
 have been printed. 
THE dominant note of the first volume of Leon Laviaux, the young Creole poet, is a glorification of the fille de couleur — a theme unique in literature. His poetry, except in so far as it pertains to an appreciation of natural 
 beauty in the tropics, is unreservedly laudative of the dark-skinned races. This singular predilection is due, as he tells us, both to heredity and environment. He seeks to give it expression in strange and erotic songs, through whose fulgu- 
 rant smoke break flashes of lyric fire. They are brief bursts of passion, like volcanic puffs, too fierce and impetuous for prolonged fervor. Even this can be noticed in the fragmentary character of " The Ebon Muse," his only attempt at sus- 
 tained utterance. It would seem that the imaginative impulse, in those somnolent lands where inertia rules, was incapable of any enduring flight. This is undoubtedly the effect of climatic conditions on the mind. But Laviaux is still young. 
 A cool whiff of more virile air, from zones alien to the eternal blue, may yet invigorate his Muse. 
Then we may have something worthier than these songs that voice the ultra-emotion of youth over plastic beauty — songs that shall breathe to us, through the scent of jasmine and the lure of palm, the soul of the Creole isles. 
 J. M. O. 

 The Ebon Muse
 Creole Idyls 
 NOON .... 
 Out of thy large fruit-luscious mouth, zaire 37 
 the grace of the white and brute of the black 38 
 strange frenzies fill
 a sorcery
 thou art fair as the palm 
 sluggish as some palm-fringed and placid flood 
 your flesh has the scent 
 undo the scarf that hides 
 thy parroquets, fafine 
 nude in the cool 
 though fair, o north, thy nymphs
 my amber dove

You will find the colors of the flesh are 
 even more varied and surprising than 
 the colors of fruit. Nevertheless it is only 
 with fruit colors that many of these skin- 
 tints can correctly be compared. There are 
 banana-tints , lemon-tones, orange-hues, zvith 
 sometimes such mingling of ruddiness as in 
 the pink ripening of the mango. Agreeable 
 to the eyes the darker skins certainly are, and 
 often very retnarkable — all clear tones of 
 bronze being represented ; but the brighter 
 tints are absolutely beautiful. There is one 
 rare race type, totally unlike the rest; the 
 skin has a perfectly golden tone, an exquisite 
 metallic yellow ; the eyes are long and have 
 long silky lashes ; the hair is a mass of thick, 
 rich, glossy curls that shoiv blue lights in the 
 sun. What mingling of races prodttced this 
 beautiful type? I do not think the term 
 olive always indicates the color of this skin, 
 which seemed to me exactly the tint of gold ; 
 and the hair flashes with bluish lights like 
 the plumage of certain black birds. 
Physically the fille de couleur may certainly 
 be classed, as white Creole writers have not 
 hesitated to class her, luith the most bea^itiful 
 women of the humaii race. She has inher- 
 ited not only the finer characteristics bodily 
 of either parent race, but something else 
 belonging originally to neither, and created 
 by special climatic and physical conditions — 
 a grace, a suppleness of form, a delicacy of 
 extremities, so that all lines described by the 
 bending of limbs are parts of clean curves. 
 Among her class there are figures to make 
 you dream of Atalanta — and all, whether ugly 
 or attractive as to feature, are finely shaped 
 as to body and limb — a type of the htiman 
 thorojighbitd representing the true secret of 
 grace — economy of force. 

I am, by fates decree 
 And my heredity. 
 Of soul a Jiedonist, 
 Offtesh an ebonist. 

 SAW two palms, like temple columns, soar 
 Into the night, and under far, the shore 
 Encircle with its arms of sand the sea 
 That sighed upon its bosom drowsily ; 
 And all the slopes that fell in flowers to meet 
 The wave receding foamless at their feet, 
 As wide and gradual steps of purple seemed 
 Ascending to the summit where I dreamed ; 
 Above the palms that mingled crowns and made 
 An arch where rustling verdure overswayed. 
 Full-orbed, and like a splendid lamp, the moon 
 Hung golden in the starless dusk of June; 
 The very air was odor, and the calm 
 Was that of love's own sleep on sea and palm ; 
 And on my lids and in my heart the spell 
 With irresistible insistence fell ; 
 Each drowsy sense was yielding, but before 
 The ways of dream had closed the final door. 
 Out of a sudden flash of lyric flame. 
 And virginal for me, the vision came ! 

She came for me, out of a cloud of fire, 
 A regal evocation of desire ; 
 For me, sole dreamer of a Creole isle, 
 Sole wooer of her world-forgotten smile ; 
 She came from some dim haunt of spirit-peace, 
 The asphodel of shadow and surcease ; 
 Across the sea, as o'er the Stygian stream. 
 Leaving the hidden shore of dusk and dream ; 
 I saw her dimly, gazing from afar, 
 As through horizon mists a sable star ; 
 The banished Muse, released from that malign 
 Decree that doomed her to her sister Nine ; 
 In Song's far dawn they first beheld her nude. 
 Abashed before a goddess ebon-hued ; 
 Drooping their lids, they turned from her in shame, 
 A being branded with almighty blame ; 
 Swiftly repulsing her they turned away, 
 Mnemosyne's white daughters of the day; 
 And left her, child of chaos, with the blight 
 Born of the black abysses of the night. 
 Like a bronze statue, in the softer glow. 
 She stood immobile, near to me, and lo ! 
 Where well a laureled throng might bend to her, 
 I was alone, her poet-worshipper ; 

Her lids, unlifted still, were thrall to sleep, 
 Sweet where the underworld is poppy-deep ; 
 Unravished still the lips that parted mute. 
 Riper and moister than a luscious fruit ; 
 One hand was raised while one was pressed to feel, 
 Against her heart, its passionate appeal ; 
 The surging thrill of life in every vein. 
 Glowing and potent for delight and pain ; 
 Erect and tense, lifting their pointed pride, 
 Inviolate her breasts in fervor vied; 
 Between her shoulders shone a glossy track. 
 The dented slope of her imperial back ; 
 The contour of her torso seemed to me 
 A polished buckler of black ivory ; 
 Her loins' curves like a lyre's whose symmetries 
 Dipped faultless to the dimples of the knees ; 
 Her arms with darkling sheen were sleek and fair. 
 Her throat blue-shadowed where the lustrous hair 
 Clung as the crater's smoke that densely drifts 
 When the far cloud below it breaks and lifts ; 
 And fruits and flowers, upon her burning mouth, 
 Bruised juice and drenched the perfume of the South ; 
 The mystery of the heavens was in her eyes. 
 Creation's vast and fathomless surmise ; 
 Elusive vision of immortal love 

Falling through shadow from the dome above ; 
 She seemed the incarnation of the night, 
 The glorious antithesis of light ; 
 As darkness deepened all her beauty shone 
 Fairer than any underneath the sun ; 
 And leaping upward, a triumphal span 
 Of sudden stars from wave to zenith ran ; 
 The lustre of the moon, a paling power, 
 Lingered as for a god's own bridal hour ; 
 And up the purple steps she came to me. 
 The last between the summit and the sea. 
 She came with passion in her eyes that were 
 Dewy with languor, and with lips of myrrh ; 
 Beneath her lashes lurked volcanic fire. 
 Her breath was fragrance and her glance desire ; 
 Fervor and flame of song were in her face, 
 All memory of beauty in her grace ; 
 Promise of swift fruition and the fair 
 Largess of virile years to live and share ; 
 Fresh flowers to hide the faded ones below, 
 An aureole to crown the waning glow ; 
 Rapture for torture, smiles for futile tears. 
 And satiation for the pang that sears ; 
 Illusion upon illusion, and the arts 

Of great dead lovers, earth's memorial hearts ; 
 All this and more my soul was conscious of, 
 Delirious with her beauty and her love ; 
 She came and stood before me, and delight 
 Half stifled speech and almost blinded sight ; 
 I dared not look, so stirred by all I felt, 
 But every sense was conscious that she knelt. 
 She leaned to me and laid her lips on mine, 
 Imperiously bending but benign ; 
 I drank the lyric fervor of her mouth, 
 The soul to sing the glamor of the South ; 
 High inspiration and the will to make 
 A vital strain to which the world would wake ; 
 Leaving the beaten paths of Song to blow 
 Strange music where a fameless people go ; 
 The equal glory of the night and day. 
 Wresting from light its long unchallenged sway ; 
 A hymn of racial beauty, rare and new. 
 The rival lure beneath the ebon hue ; 
 The radiance of the suns that triumph in 
 The finer lustre of the golden skin ; 
 Burnished as bronze or sable as the rise. 
 Velvet and deep, of moonless midnight skies. 

This was the gift, my heritage, that she 
 Gave with the kiss whose fire is memory ; 
 Whose freshness is of Heliconian dews. 
 The consecration of the Ebon Muse. 


LIKE slave and slave 
 With mighty plumes, 
 Great palm trees wave 
 Their clustered blooms ; 
 Along the shores 
 A curving mile 
 Of blackamoors 
 In giant file. 
 Their trunks that show 
 An ebon gleam, 
 A shining row 
 Of torsos seem ; 
 Each crest of green 
 As madras wound 
 In silken sheen 
 Their brows around. 
 And unelate, 
 This pageantry 
 A potentate 
 Has made of me ; 

The yellow sand 
 Is my divan 
 That perfume-fanned 
 I bask upon. 
 Red rifts above 
 The waves that break, 
 A circle of 
 Flamingos make; 
 My slaves I mark 
 With listless eye, 
 And near me dark 
 Sultanas lie. 

DARK on the seaward dawn, 
 Into the roseate fire, 
 The palms aspire ; 
 Into the void they yawn, 
 Summit to summit wed, 

 Of waves define 
 The outer bar 
 Of shores afar ; 
 Beneath the beat 
 Of blinding heat, 
 The ocean's hue 
 Is molten blue; 
 Where shoreward wide 
 The surges ride, 
 Two buzzards stand 
 Upon the sand ; 
 And high in air, 
 Against the glare. 
 Two others fly 
 And blot the sky ; 
 Between the sun 
 And soar of one 
 Colossal palm 
 That lords the calm. 

 Silence and heat ; 
 A Creole tune 
 On the lips of old Fadette ! 
 Drowsy and sweet 
 The. patois croon 
 On the lips of old Fadette ! 

MYRIAD murmurs hush 
 A haunt of sloth, 
 Heavy with heat and lush 
 With giant growth ; 
 Masses of cyclic mold 
 Impede the way, 
 Pungent with scent of old 
 And vast decay ; 
 Under the leaves that dome 
 Yellow lianas roam 
 From tree to tree ; 
 Ever the endless green, 
 The endless shade ; 
 Riot of plants that screen 
 The forest glade ; 
 Brilliant with flowers that surge 
 From tangled strife, 
 Breathing creative urge 
 Of tropic life ; 
Potence of earth elate 
 And savage grown, 
 Under the suns that sate 
 Its belting zone. 


 Ecstatic bird, 
 Sing on, thy heart to ease ; 
 While the glad trees 
 Toss a white cloud of blossoms to the breeze ! 
 I have not heard 
 The nightingale, but these 
 Mad melodies 
 Are more to me than songs of other seas ! 
THE shield a god 
 Might bear who trod 
 Along the world ; 
 Or disk of fire 
 Immortal ire 
 From heaven hurled ; 
 The sea-line's rim 
 Is purple dim 
 Beneath its glow ; 
 It leaves a scar 
 Of cinnabar, 
 And sinks below. 

 Freshen afar and bend 
 The trees that are to thee 
 Thy twilight litany ; 
 Stir in their tops and send 
 Through palm and tamarind, 
 Blown from a shadowed sea, 
 Thy vesper prayer to me. 

OVER the hill 
 Of stunted palms 
 Faint rumbles come ; 
 Breaking the still 
 Night with its calms, 
 The voodoo drum ! 
 Odor of leaves, 
 Flowers of the vine. 
 Odor of flesh ; 
 Riot that weaves. 
 Bodies that shine. 
 Dances that mesh ; 
 Black satyrs steal. 
 Like jaguars, 
 On nymphs as black; 
 And whirl and reel. 
 Beneath the stars. 
 Demoniac ; 
Powdered with dust, 
 Panting they writhe 
 In fierce embrace ; 
 Burning with lust, 
 Humid and lithe 
 Their limbs enlace 
 Over the hill 
 Of stunted palms 
 Faint rumbles come ; 
 Breaking the still 
 Night with its calms, 
 The voodoo drum ! 
NIGHT, would that I, 
 God of the sky, 
 Heaped gems on thy dark 
 Bare breasts that I mark ; 
 Mine for delight, 
 Amorous Night! 
 Night, ere we part, 
 Take from thy heart 
 One jewel to be 
 Cast earthward for me ; 
 Swiftly a star 
 Falls from afar ! 

OF my loves there arc four 
 That my song would endear , 
 Golden Luore I 
 Ebon Zaire I 
 And with lyric caress 
 Laurel each, as a queen ; 
 Bronze-hued Tanesse ! 
 Amber Fafine I 

THE orange flare 
 Is wide on the west, Luore ! 
 And verdured palms in the lucent air 
 Tower by the shore. 
 The jasmine scent 
 Swoons heavy and sweet, Luore ! 
 Where blossom-thick is the vine's ascent 
 Over the door. 
 Your languid eyes 
 Are dim with desire, Luore ! 
 And in your heart is the heat that skies 
 At noon can pour. 
 Your body cleaves 
 In ardor to mine, Luore ! 
 Close as the vine, with its fragrant leaves, 
 The palm upbore. 
 As sweet as fruit 
 And poignant your kiss, Luore ! 
 Our lips, with ravishing fire, embrute 
 At rapture's core. 
Soul of the South, 
 I could, O my queen, Luore ! 
 Yield all my life on your luscious mouth 
 And be no more. 
Two golden doves 
 That fill their scented nest : 
 Haunt of the Loves, 
 Twin treasures of her breast ; 
 Fairer than throat 
 Or shoulder garment-free, 
 My glances gloat 
 Upon their luxury. 

THE sapphire tide, 
 Foam-fringed and inlet-wide, 
 Creeps to the beach ; 
 And the long ripples reach 
 Like silver lips o'erlapping each on each ; 
 And eager o'er 
 The body of Luore, 
 That lies supine. 
 They melt away as wine 
 Poured lavish by some lover on a shrine ; 
 Linger and kiss 
 With lips of liquid bliss 
 Each charm, and trace 
 The way of their embrace, 
 Until they vanish in some secret grace ; 
 And then, at last, 
 Their fluid lure is passed ; 
 And blithely she 
 Comes dripping from the sea. 
 And gives herself, a golden nymph, to me. 

MY passion for golden flesh 
 Seeks a honied mesh 
 (Like a bird that would soar 
 From its nest no more) 
 In thy beautiful bosom, Luore ! 
 My kisses, that flow as fire 
 O'er a fane, expire 
 (Like a flambeau of yore 
 At the bridal door) 
 In thy beautiful bosom, Luore ! 
OUT of thy large fruit-luscious mouth, Zaire ! 
 As music fell, 
 With velvet iteration on my ear. 
 That syllable ; 
 As soft as flowers that patois of the French 
 From musky lips 
 That slur the guttural, O comely wench, 
 Caressful slips ; 
 Its murmur wooes the sense with fervor of 
 Some drowsy wine ; — 
 O language of the Creole isle of love. 
 Thou, too, art mine ! 
THE grace of the white and brute of the black 
 Were mixed in thee ; 
 A simian face — the slope of thy back, 
 Callipyge ! 
 Dark lustre of lines that are sculpture-sleek, 
 The vapid leer ; 
 A whim for the monstrous did Nature wreak 
 In tall Zaire ! 

STRANGE frenzies fill 
 Thy black and shining bosom's rise and fall 
 Wild passion's primal thrill, 
 Its brutal rapture immolating all ; 
 The gust that sweeps 
 The unrelenting flame along the blood ; 
 The tidal throe that keeps 
 Writhing the crest of its voluptuous flood ; 
 The slime and fire 
 That overboil the crater of thy soul ; 
 The ruin of desire 
 That tears, like the tornado, to its goal. 

 Is thine intense ; 
 The odor of thy bosom is to me 
 A potent redolence ; 
 Poignant yet sweet, 
 It breathes thy race; 
 Enters my veins, a fierce and virile heat. 
 Burning for thy embrace. 


THOU art fair as the palm 
 By the shore, in the calm 
 Of the night, Tanesse ! 
 Thou art regal to me 
 As that loveliest tree 
 Of the south, Tanesse ! 

SLUGGISH as some palm-fringed and placid flood 
 Of current slow, 
 The hidden fervor blended in thy blood 
 Must ever flow ; 
 A tropic fire that slumbers in thy veins, 
 My bronze capresse ; 
 Languor of isles of indolence that reigns 
 In thee, Tanesse ! 

YOUR flesh has the scent 
 Of an exquisite musk, 
 From the amorous dusk 
 Of the orient ; 
 But the ankle-bells, 
 That tinkle and fret 
 Like a silver jet, 
 Are a ring of shells ; 
 And the madras green. 
 As thy crowning gem. 
 Is the diadem 
 On thy tresses seen ; 
 And the girdled whisk 
 Of a garment loose 
 Is the passion-noose 
 Of an odalisque ; 
 And the jasmine gates. 
 With their attar-jar, 
 Is the dim bazaar 
 Where thy lover waits. 
UNDO the scarf that hides 
 Thy breast whose bronze divides 
 In turgent loveliness 
 Of hue, Tanesse ! 
 For charms of fairer tint 
 Bare throat and shoulder hint ; 
 Sleek slopes that my caress 
 Descends, Tanesse ! 

THY parroquets, Fafine, 
 With plumage green, 
 Doze in the mango tree ; 
 Only the insect-sound 
 Strident around ; 
 Life is a revery. 
 Broad on the sleeping town 
 The sun beats down ; 
 White the deserted street ; 
 Hot is the hillward noon, 
 My octoroon ; 
 Dream in the shadow. Sweet ! 
 Curl on the woven mat 
 Lithe as a cat. 
 Lissome of limb and arm ; 
 Slumber will soon relax, 
 Supple as wax. 
 All of thy body's charm. 

NUDE in the cool 
 Palm-shaded pool ; 
 The ripples gloat 
 Around your throat ; 
 Your amber limbs 
 Seem lotus stems ; 
 Your hair the blue 
 Weed's floating hue ; 
 Your face a far 
 Strange nenuphar. 
 Hot humid dusk 
 Of moon and musk ; 
 Great stars that light 
 The languid night ; 
 A couch of moss 
 To dream across ; 
 And near to me — 
 Oh, ecstasy ! 
 The moon's soft sheen 
 On you, Fafine. 

THOUGH fair, O North, thy nymphs 
 And half divine; 
 Colder to me the glimpse 
 Than snow of thine ; 
 Fair with the statue's grace. 
 Its frozen dream ; 
 Whose faultless curves no trace 
 Of tint redeem ; 
 Thrall to the law within. 
 To Nature true ; 
 Give me the golden skin 
 Or darker hue. 
 Futile, O lure of white, 
 Thy pale appeal ! 
 Mine is an Afric blight 
 That few may feel. 

MY amber dove, 
 My Creole queen, 
 O leave me not, my love ! 
 The Northern skies 
 Are grey, and lean 
 Above a land of sighs ; 
 And none will care 
 Of all, Fafine, 
 For beauty deemed less fair ; 
 Their hearts are cold. 
 Their ways are mean. 
 Their only god is gold ; 
 When you forsake 
 These slopes of green, 
 Your heart, Fafine, will break ; 
 My southland rose. 
 Abide between 
 My arms that fold you close ; 
 Ah, tears ! they tell. 
 My Creole queen, 
 That this is not farewell ! 



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