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

Poems by Jessie Fauset in "The Book of American Negro Poetry" (1922)

Jessie Fauset


On summer afternoons I sit
Quiescent by you in the park,
And idly watch the sunbeams gild
And tint the ash-trees' bark.

Or else I watch the squirrels frisk
And chaffer in the grassy lane;
And all the while I mark your voice
Breaking with love and pain.

I know a woman who would give
Her chance of heaven to take my place;
To see the love-light in your eyes,
The love-glow on your face!

And there's a man whose lightest word
Can set my chilly blood afire;
Fulfilment of his least behest
Defines my life's desire.

But he will none of me, Nor I
Of you. Nor you of her. 'Tis said
The world is full of jests like these.--
I wish that I were dead.


Oh little Christ, why do you sigh
  As you look down to-night
On breathless France, on bleeding France,
  And all her dreadful plight?
What bows your childish head so low?
  What turns your cheek so white?

Oh little Christ, why do you moan,
  What is it that you see
In mourning France, in martyred France,
  And her great agony?
Does she recall your own dark day,
  Your own Gethsemane?

Oh little Christ, why do you weep,
  Why flow your tears so sore
For pleading France, for praying France,
  A suppliant at God's door?
"God sweetened not my cup," you say,
  "Shall He for France do more?"

Oh little Christ, what can this mean,
  Why must this horror be
For fainting France, for faithful France,
  And her sweet chivalry?
"I bled to free all men," you say
  "France bleeds to keep men free."

Oh little, lovely Christ--you smile!
  What guerdon is in store
For gallant France, for glorious France,
  And all her valiant corps?
"Behold I live, and France, like me,
  Shall live for evermore."


If this is peace, this dead and leaden thing,
   Then better far the hateful fret, the sting.
Better the wound forever seeking balm
   Than this gray calm!

Is this pain's surcease? Better far the ache,
   The long-drawn dreary day, the night's white wake,
Better the choking sigh, the sobbing breath
   Than passion's death!


"I can remember when I was a little, young girl, how my old mammy would
sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and groan, and I
would say, 'Mammy, what makes you groan so?' And she would say, 'I am
groaning to think of my poor children; they do not know where I be and I
don't know where they be. I look up at the stars and they look up at the
stars!'"--_Sojourner Truth_.

I think I see her sitting bowed and black,
  Stricken and seared with slavery's mortal scars,
Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet
  Still looking at the stars.

Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons,
  Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom's bars,
Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set,
  Still visioning the stars!


_From the French of Massillon Coicou (Haiti)_

I hope when I am dead that I shall lie
  In some deserted grave--I cannot tell you why,
But I should like to sleep in some neglected spot
  Unknown to every one, by every one forgot.

There lying I should taste with my dead breath
  The utter lack of life, the fullest sense of death;
And I should never hear the note of jealousy or hate,
  The tribute paid by passersby to tombs of state.

To me would never penetrate the prayers and tears
  That futilely bring torture to dead and dying ears;
There I should lie annihilate and my dead heart would bless
  Oblivion--the shroud and envelope of happiness.

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