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

Maurice Corbett, "John Brown" (1914)

John Brown.

But deep as was the Southern ire
Towards the men who sought to fire
Against their cause, the Northern mind,
A greater cause for hate we find
Had they, and moments filled with dread
As down on slavery's cursed head,
John Brown, at Harper's Ferry fell,
Wringing from slavery its death knell.

Each, great reform, its martyrs had
Whose deeds heroic were called mad,
Wild projects of a diseased mind,
But which, in after days we find
Was but a flash of inspiration
To prick the conscience of a nation
Or state, grown callous, morbid, dead,
Towards the right to turn its head.

Brown's life was but the incarnation
Of courage, grit, determination,
Push, daring, faithfulness, devotion,
Pluck, coolness, truth, and constant motion,
Which in himself could see no beauty
Other than that which came from duty
Well performed as best he knew it,
And the chance he had to do it.

In his mind he calculated
How the slaves emancipated
Best could be, and he decided
On the blow, and then confided
To his friends, his plans of action
Which he knew would cause distraction,
And the greatest consternation
Of his day and generation.

He, with twenty men as daring,
Each the other's purpose sharing,
Calm, determined, brave, and sober—
The seventeenth day 'twas of October
Fifty-nine, the fort assaulted,
But his enterprise was halted,
And a hero grew by dying
Thus, the black man's freedom buying.

On the way to hangman's halter,
Not a moment did he falter
Except to gather to his breast,
A Negro child, and softly press
Upon its lips, a burning kiss,
While guards and rabble curse and hiss,
Thus showing those who stand near by
For right and truth he'd gladly die.

Within the heart of every Negro,
John Brown remains their greatest hero;
Who, in his death and past behavior,
Is likened to the blessed Savior
Who gave his life upon the tree,
That man, from sin, should be made free;
While Brown gave up his life to know
Black men would into freemen grow.

His body laid they in the clay
But his proud spirit swept away
The cornerstone on which had stood
The firm, united sisterhood
Of states, which had been one in heart,
But now, in anger torn apart
By the very cause for which had died
This soul immortal, sanctified.


Published in The Harp of Ethiopia, 1914

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