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

Mrs. J.M. Powell, "Praise the Living" (1908)

WHY wait till all is dark and still,
And the reaper's work is done,
Then come with tears, and sing the praise
That we with -held from the living one?

You say, "He's mortal, hence may err,
And to the four winds cast our songs.'
Ah! if as mortal he achieveth well ,
Then 'tis to mortal our praise belongs.

What cares the immortal for fame or scorn?
Neither is potent beyond the tomb;
"Praise is comely," we read in Psalms,
Paul says, "Honor to whom honor is due."

Then wait not to heap the bier with flowers,
And speak in tender tones, our laggard love;
While, upon the living, aching brow,
We have naught but our contumely poured .

Oftimes misquoted, misunderstood,
Target of the scoffer's virulent shaft;
Denounced, where should exist a brotherhood,
'Tis thus he prays, the price of being great.

His soul oft groans beneath the load,
Which, Israel-like, his suffering kinsmen bear;
And scalding tears from his eyes overflow,
When, Moses-like, he humbly pleads his cause.

Like Saul, he cannot hide amidst the throng,
Nor his fame be obscured by jealous charge;
No clime nor place trammels him its own,
Unfettered, he is the nation's son .

When e're Ethiopia's children crave wisdom's light,
At home, abroad, or oceanic isles,
His hand holds out the beacon bright
Of knowledge, to guide them past the shoals.

Ye great of soul lend him your hand,
Or pour in the balm of some kind word;
If naught else, say. "He loves his fellowman,"
'Twould lighten his burden, 'twould cheer his soul.

Think not to carve on his marble shaft,
"In memory of the illustrious dead;"
Already he has written his own epitaph,
In living deeds, on the hearts of men.

May there in all his life be found,
This truth, sustained by God's on hand;
That solid worth spurns racial bounds,
And dwells in the humble sons of Ham.

Let underling rage with jealous fire,
That he is peer, they more plainly prove;
His sterling worth awakes their ire;
It wins, for him, the nation's love .

Published in Colored american Magazine, July 1908

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