African American Poetry (1870-1926): A Digital Anthology

Lucian B. Watkins: Biography and a Collection of Poems


Not a great deal of biographical information is available about Lucian Bottow Watkins (1879-1921), who generally published as Lucian B. Watkins. Watkins himself writes a brief memoir as the Preface to his one published book of poetry, Voices of Solitude (1907), which can be found here.  He indicates he was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and received a basic education as a young man at the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. He graduated and received certification as a teacher in 1897. He only taught for two sessions (perhaps about a year?), and then left teaching to work as a waiter at a series of hotels in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, before enlisting in the Army in 1900. From his poems, we see that Watkins was stationed at Fort Clark, Texas, and Fort Washakie, Wyoming. He was also stationed in the Philippines in 1900-1901 before returning to the U.S. Starting in 1901, he started publishing essays and poetry in venues such as Colored American Magazine. Watkins describes himself as re-enlisting in 1903, and being sent for a second time to the Phillippines. 

Watkins is best known for Voices of Solitude, but also published prolifically through the 1910s. He published several poems in The Crisis, and was also a regular contributor to the UNIA's newspaper, Negro World. Watkins' poetry shows a high degree of race consciousness and an activist sensibility that is impressive and often powerful. Robert Kerlin has a section on Watkins' poetry in Negro Poets and their Poems under the header "Poetry of Protest." 

Robert Kerlin suggests Watkins served again during World War I, and had his health "wrecked" during that final tour of duty (as of the present writing, we are not aware of the exact illness Watkins may have contracted while serving his country in combat). Kerlin's final poem was published in Negro World just a few weeks before his death. 

    My fallen star has spent its light
        And left but memory to me;
    My day of dream has kissed the night
        Farewell, its sun no more I see;
    My summer bloomed for winter’s frost:
        Alas, I’ve lived and loved and lost!

    What matters it to-day should earth
        Lay on my head a gold-bright crown
    Lit with the gems of royal worth
        Befitting well a king’s renown?--
    My lonely soul is trouble-tossed,
        For I have lived and loved and lost.

    Great God! I dare not question Thee--
        Thy way eternally is just;
    This seeming mystery to me
        Will be revealed, if I but trust;
    Ah, Thou alone dost know the cost
        When one has lived and loved and lost.

 

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