African American Poetry (1870-1927): A Digital Anthology

Olivia Ward Bush Banks, "Original Poems" (Full Text) (1899)



Mrs. Olivia Bush

Providence, RI: Press of Louis A. Basinet, 1899.

This Little Booklet




The Afro-Americans,





"Judge us not, O favored races,

From the heights we have attained;

Rather measure our progression

By the depths from whence we came."


Morning on Shinnecock
Treasured Moments
At Harvest Time
A Hero of San Juan [Hill]
Crispus Attucks
Honour's Appeal to Justice
The Walk to Emmaus
My Dream of the New Year


The rising sun had crowned the hills,
  And added beauty to the plain;
O grand and wondrous spectacle!
  That only nature could explain.
I stood within a leafy grove,
  And gazed around in blissful awe;
The sky appeared one mass of blue,
  That seemed to spread from sea to shore.

Far as the human eye could see,
  Were stretched the fields of waving corn.
Soft on my ear the warbling birds
  Were herding the birth of morn.

While here and there a cottage quaint
  Seemed to repose in quiet ease
Amid the trees, whose leaflets waved
  And fluttered in the passing breeze.

O morning hour! so dear thy joy,
  And how I longed for thee to last;
But e'en thy fading into day
  Brought me an echo of the past.

"Twas this,–how fair my life began;
  How pleasant was its hour of dawn;
But, merging into sorrow's day,
  Then beauty faded with the morn.


For a time away from the tumult,
  Shut in from the care and the strife,
Away from the gloom and the discord,
  That seemed to encircle my life.
Shut in with the dear, earnest women–
  Women with hearts true and strong,
Who dared to face a great evil,
  Who dared to contend against wrong.

And the speaker's words were so cheering,
  As she talked to us of the time
When the women crusaded together;
  How they battled against the wine.

How they fought against deadly poison;
  How they struggled again and again,
Till some homes were made better and brighter,
  Till some hearts were robbed of their pain.

Then the speaker's tones grew more tender,
  As she spoke of a life so complete,
That many lives caught the essence
  Of her life so full and so sweet;

Who had just stepped over the threshold,
  And had entered the "Great Beyond,"
Life's labor so nobly completed,
  Heaven's blessing triumphantly won.

Then sweet rose the voice of the singer,
  Singing of "Christ and the Cross,"
Till my soul cried loudly within me
  "I'll count everything but as dross."

For His sake who bore our great burden,
  Who labored and suffered so long;
And my heart grew glad for the singer,
  And I said: "O praise God for the song!"

Ah! how I was strengthened, uplifted.
  How the depths of my soul were stirred;
And the words, the song and the music
  Seemed the sweetest I ever had heard.

I thought when that hour was ended,
  I shall cherish its memory so long;
I shall think of the words so inspiring.
  I shall think of the singer, the song.

As I wended my way again homeward,
  Possessed with a sweet, nameless peace,
I thought of the great Life Eternal
  Where such moments as these never cease.

Where there's fullness of joy forever,
  Where we meet an unbroken band,
Shut in with the dear, blessed Master;
  Resting safe at the Father's right hand.


A Sower walked among his fields
  When Spring's fair glory filled the earth;
He scattered seed with eager hand,
  And sowing, thought upon their worth.
"These seeds are precious ones," he said.
  "The finest flowers shall be mine;
And I shall reap rich, golden grain,
  When these are ripe at harvest time."
"I'll watch their growth with earnest care,
  And faithfully will till the soil;
With willing hands each passing day
  From morn till setting sun I'll toil. 
And when the reaping time shall come,
  A bounteous Harvest shall be mine;
I shall rejoice at duty done
  When these are ripe at Harvest time."

Forth to his fields at Harvest time,
  The Sower bent his steps again;
The Reapers' song sang merrily,
  Their sickles gleamed 'mid golden grain. 
With joyous heart the Sower cried
  "Behold, what precious sheaves are mine;
And labor brings its own reward,
  For these are ripe at Harvest time."

O Master! in thy fields so fair
  We, too, are sowing precious seed.
And like the Sower we will toil
  Till golden grain fulfil thy need.
Then shall we hear thy loving voice,–
  "Behold! what precious sheaves are mine.
Let all be safely garnered in,
  For these are ripe at Harvest time."


Among the sick and wounded ones,
  This stricken soldier boy lay,
With glassy eye and shortened breath;
  His life seemed slipping fast away.
My heart grew faint to see him thus,
  His dark brown face so full of pain,
I wondered if the mother's eyes
  Were looking for her boy in vain.

I bent to catch his feeble's words:
  "I am so ill and far from home.
I feel so strange and lonely here;
  You seem a friend, I'm glad you've come.

"I want to tell you how our boys
  Went charging on the enemy.
'Twas when we climbed up Juan's hill;
  And there we got the victory.

"The Spaniards poured a heavy fire;
  We met it with a right good will.
We saw the Seventy-first fall back,
  And then our boys went up the hill.

"Yes, up the hill, and gained it, too;
  Not one brave boy was seen to lag.
Old Glory o'er us floating free,
  We'd gladly died for that old flag."

His dim eye brightened as he spoke;
  He seemed unconscious of his pain;
In fancy on the battlefield
  He lived that victory o'er again.

And I; I seemed to grasp it, too,–
  The stalwart form, the dusky face
Of those black heroes, climbing up
  To win fair glory for their race.

The Spaniards said that phalanx seemed
  To move like one black, solid wall;
They flung defiance back at Death,
  And, answering to that thrilling call,

They fought for Cuban liberty.
  On Juan's hill those bloody stains
Mark how these heroes won the day
  And added honor to their names.

March on, dark sons of Afric's race,
  Naught can be gained by standing still;
Retreat not, 'quit yourselves like men
  And, like these heroes, climb the hill,

Till pride and prejudice shall cease;
  Till racial barriers are unknown.
Attain the heights where over all,
  Equality shall sit enthroned.


The Nation's heart beat wildly,
  And keenly felt the coming strife;
The Country's call was sounding
  Brave men must offer life for life.
So long Great Britain's power
  Had sternly held unyielding sway,
The people yearned for freedom
  And cried, "Our blood must pave the way."

So, on the streets of Boston,
  Where madly rushed the British foe;
Men questioned with each other,
  "Who shall be first to strike the blow?"

Not that they shrank from duty,
  Ah, no! their lives they gladly gave;
But War, with all its terrors,
  Brings fear to hearts both true and brave.

But one, with fearless courage,
  Inspired them to activity,
And boldly led them forward
  With cheering shout, "For Liberty?"

In face of death and danger,
  He met the foe, this soldier true,
Till, charging full upon them,
  Their bayonets had pierced him through.

He fell, and o'er the pavement
  A Negro's blood was flowing free.
His sable hand was foremost
  To strike the blow for liberty.

It was a deed most valiant,
  And mighty was the work begun,
For War then waging fiercely,
  Ceased not till victory was won.

Naught but a slave was Attucks,
  And yet how grand a hero, too.
He gave a life for freedom,
  What more could royal sovereign do?

Well may we eulogize him!
  And rear a monument of fame.
We hold his memory sacred;
  We honor and revere his name.

A century has vanished,
  Yet, through the years still rolling on
We emulate his bravery
  And praise the deed he nobly done.

Then write in glowing letters
  These thrilling words in history,–
That Attucks was a hero,
  That Attucks died for Liberty.


Unjust, untrue, is he who dares
  Upon our honor to intrude,
And claims that with the sin of crime
  The Negro's nature is imbued.
Shall we keep silent? No; thrice No!
  We stand defenseless in our cause.
If voices fail to cry aloud
  And plead a right to justice's laws.

For who shall vindicate this wrong?
  Who shall defend our perjured race?
We must speak out with one accord,
  If we the stigma would erase.

The cruel hand that raised the lash
  To strike a wronged and helpless race,
Is stained with sin of deepest dye,
  And shows of brutal crime more trace.

I draw a picture of the slave
  Who meekly bowed 'neath stinging blows
And raised no hand in swift defense,
  To kill, to threaten, or oppose.

I hear from out his cabin rise
  Sweet songs of praises unto God.
E'en with his painful wounds he sings,
  And utters no resentful word.

I see him in the darker days
  When blood like crimson rivers ran,
And Southern slavers left their homes
  In answer to stern war's demands.

They left their lands, their kindred ties,
  Entrusted to the Slave alone.
Who faithfully and nobly strove
  To guard the sacred rights of home.

Yes; even lives were in his hands.
  Yet he, though held in slavery,
Upon his honor threw no shame,
  Or stain of criminality.

Today, on equal ground he stands
  With loyal, true, and noble men.
He loves his country, and remains
  A law abiding citizen.

He shares no part in daring plot,
  He scorns to hint of anarchy;
He only asks his native right;
  Can this be criminality?

Then, Justice! we implore thy aid.
  Thine arm can well supply our need;
Protect our name, assist our cause,
  For Right and Right alone we plead.


'Twas eventide. Along the dusty road
  Two weary travelers passed with aching feet
And heavy hearts, while each in saddened tones
  The story of their Lord would oft repeat.
We yearn for Him, and is it not three days
  Since first He lay within the silent tomb?
Yet when we hastened to His resting place,
  Our Lord had gone; His grave was wrapt in gloom.

Communing thus, these weary travelers went.
  Their hearts oppressed by mingled doubt and fear;
When lo! along the road to Emmaus
  Their Lord, the risen Christ Himself, drew near.

With gentle voice He asked of them their grief,–
  "Why are ye sad? and O, what troubleth thee?"
They knew not that the loving Master spoke,
  Their eyes were holden, that they could not see.

And one replied: "We know not where He is,–
  Our Lord, who promised Israel to redeem.
Art thou a stranger in Jerusalem?
  And knowest not what marvelous things have been?"

Then Jesus spoke. "Why are ye show of heart?
  Did not the prophets in the days of old
Proclaim that Christ must die and live again,
  That ye His wondrous power might behold?"

Their hearts were touched; the Master's thrilling words
  Dispelled their fears and cleared their darkened sight.
And while the Holy Scriptures He declared,
  There came sweet peace and filled their souls with light.

The Master ceased, and now the journey o'er
  He still would further go along the road.
But they constrained Him, saying: "Tarry here;
  Abide with us and enter our abode."

He deigned to pass within that humble home,
  His holy presence filled the place with light;
He sat at meat and brake and blessed the bread,
  And ere they know it vanished from their sight.

They said, with gladdened hearts, "It is our Lord,
  Our risen Christ for whom we long have yearned;
We knew Him not when walking by the way,
  And yet our hearts within us sweetly burned.

O Christian! walking o'er Life's rugged road,
  Thou too, like His disciples, oft shall say,–
"Did not our hearts within us sweetly burn
  When Jesus talked with us beside the way?"


Through the waning hours of moments
  Of the slowly dying year,
I sat watching, watching, waiting
  For the New Dawn to appear.
While the Old Year's strife and struggle,
  With its changing, varied scene,
Passed before me till I wearied,
  Fell asleep–asleep to dream
That I saw a lofty Castle,
  Vast in size and wondrous fair;
And I stood outside its portal
  Knocking for an entrance there.
From its towers the bells were ringing
  In a strange, discordant tone,
Wailing out their mournful measures
  Like a mortal's dying moan.

Still I waited, knocked and waited,
  For I longed to enter there;
Longed to know the name and secret
  Of this Castle, vast and fair.
When a voice within cried loudly,
  "Thou shalt have that wish of thine.
Thou art knocking at Life's Castle,
  And the keeper's name is Time.

"And the bells you hear above you
  Ring out all the dying years;
Ring out Man's past griefs and sorrows,
  Ring out blasted hopes and fears.
With the coming of the New Year
  They will cease that refrain.
You will hear them chiming sweetly,
  Ringing out a joyous strain.

"If you watch and wait with patience,
  You shall be admitted here;
For the New Year swift approaches,
  Its bright dawning draweth near."
So I waited, watched and waited
  Till the Castle's door swung wide;
And the keeper bade me enter,
  Saying, "Mortal here abide."

'Twas indeed a wondrous Castle,
  With its arches gleaming bright,
E'en the keeper's face was beaming
  With a rare and radiant light.
Through its spacious halls he led me
  Over floors of spotless white,
Till it seemed that mortal vision
  Ne'er beheld a fairer sight.

On its walls in blazoned letters
  I could trace each written word,
Words that could not fail to strengthen
  When by mortals they were heard.
And the keeper, softly speaking,
  Read them, one by one, to me,–
"Resolution, faith, and duty,
  Hope and opportunity."

Then I asked him, "Can you tell me
  Why these words are written here?"
He replied: "These are the watchwords
  That shall guide thee through the year.
Just resolve to do thy duty;
  Thine the opportunity.
Hope shall aid thee in thy purpose,
  Do it well and faithfully."

Then the bells pealed out so loudly,
  Ringing out their joyous strain,
That I started from my slumber,
  Found myself alone again.
Saw no more Life's wondrous Castle,
  Vanished now the keeper Time;
Heard no more the joyful pealing
  Of the bells' sweet, tuneful chime.

Day had dawned, the night was over,
  Life's Old year was safely past.
Now had dawned a brighter morning,
  Life's New Year had come at last.
But the Dream had filled its mission– 
  Made my path of duty clear.
Hope and Faith were now the watchwords 
  Brightening up my glad New Year.


And now the sun in tinted splendor sank,
  The west was all aglow with crimson light;
The bay seemed like a sheet of burnished gold,
  Its waters glistened with such radiance bright.
At anchor lay the yachts with snow-white sails,
  Outlined against glowing, rose-hued sky.
No ripple stirred the waters' calm repose
  Save when a tiny craft sped lightly by.

Our boat was drifting slowly, gently round,
  To rest secure till evening shadows fell;
No sound disturbed the stillness of the air,
  Save the soft chiming of the vesper bell.

Yes, drifting, drifting; and I thought that life,
  When nearing death, is like the sunset sky.
And death is but the slow, sure drifting in
  To rest far more securely, by and by.

Then let me drift along the Bay of Time,
  Till my last sun shall set in glowing light;
Let me cast anchor where no shadows fall,
  Forever moored within Heaven's harbor bright.

Newport. June 12, 1898.


I stand upon the haunted plain
  Of vanished day and year,
And ever o'er its gloomy waste
  Some strange, sad voice I hear.
Some voice from out the shadowed Past;
  And one I call Regret,
And one I know is Misspent Hours,
  Whose memory lingers yet.
Then Failure speaks in bitter tones,
  And Grief, with all its woes;
Remorse, whose deep and cruel stings
  My painful thoughts disclose.
Thus do these voices speak to me,
  And flit like shadows past;
My spirit falters in despair,
  And tears flow thick and fast.

But when, within the wide domain
  Of Future Day and Year
I stand, and o'er its sunlit Plain
  A sweeter Voice I hear,
Which bids me leave the darkened Past
  And crush its memory,–
I'll listen gladly, and obey
  The Voice of Opportunity.

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