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

Mary Ashe Lee, "Afmerica" (1886)


     Hang up the harp! I hear them say,
     Nor sing again an Afric lay,
     The time has passed; we would forget—
     And sadly now do we regret
     There still remains a single trace
     Of that dark shadow of disgrace,
     Which tarnished long a race's fame
     Until she blushed at her own name;
     And now she stands unbound and free,
     In that full light of liberty.
     Sing not her past!” cries out a host,
     “Nor of her future stand and boast.
     Oblivion be her aimed-for goal,
     In which to cleanse her ethnic soul,
     And coming out a creature new,
     On life's arena stand in view.”
     But stand with no identity?
     All robbed of personality?
     Perhaps, this is the nobler way
     To teach that wished-for brighter day.
     Yet shall the good which she has done
     Be silenced all and never sung?
     And shall she have no inspirations
     To elevate her expectations?
     From singing I cannot refrain.
     Please pardon this my humble strain.
     With cheeks as soft as roses are,
     And yet as brown as chestnuts dark,
     And eyes that borrow from a star
     A tranquil yet a brilliant spark;
     Or face of olive with a glow
     Of carmine on the lip and cheek,
     The hair in wavelets falling low,
     With jet or hazel eyes that speak;
     Or brow of pure Caucasian hue,
     With auburn or with flaxen hair
     And eyes that beam in liquid blue—
     A perfect type of Saxon fair.
     Behold this strange, this well-known maid,
     Of every hue, of every shade!
                                         * * *
     Oh ye, her brothers, husbands, friends,
     Be brave, be true, be pure and strong;
     For on your manly strength depends
     Her firm security from wrong.
     O! let your strong right arm be bold,
     And don that lovely courtesy,
     Which marked the chevaliers of old.
     Buttress her home with love and care,
     Secure her those amenities
     Which make a woman's life most dear.
     Give her your warmest sympathies,
     Thus high her aspirations raise
     For nobler deeds in coming days.

First published in Southern Workman, 1886
Also published in Gertrude Mossell's The Work the Afro-American Woman, 1894

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