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

Poems by Leslie Pinckney Hill in "The Book of American Negro Poetry" (1922)

 Leslie Pinckney Hill


Wherefore this busy labor without rest?
Is it an idle dream to which we cling,
Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing
Unto the world their hope? "Build we our best.
By hand and thought," they cry, "although unblessed."
So the great engines throb, and anvils ring,
And so the thought is wedded to the thing;
But what shall be the end, and what the test?
Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see
Not many steps ahead, but this we know--
If all our toilsome building is in vain,
Availing not to set our manhood free,
If envious hate roots out the seed we sow,
The South will wear eternally a stain.


Come home with me a little space
And browse about our ancient place,
Lay by your wonted troubles here
And have a turn of Christmas cheer.
These sober walls of weathered stone
Can tell a romance of their own,
And these wide rooms of devious line
Are kindly meant in their design.
Sometimes the north wind searches through,
But he shall not be rude to you.
We'll light a log of generous girth
For winter comfort, and the mirth
Of healthy children you shall see
About a sparkling Christmas tree.
Eleanor, leader of the fold,
Hermione with heart of gold,
Elaine with comprehending eyes,
And two more yet of coddling size,
Natalie pondering all that's said,
And Mary with the cherub head--
All these shall give you sweet content
And care-destroying merriment,
While one with true madonna grace
Moves round the glowing fire-place
Where father loves to muse aside
And grandma sits in silent pride.
And you may chafe the wasting oak,
Or freely pass the kindly joke
To mix with nuts and home-made cake
And apples set on coals to bake.
Or some fine carol we will sing
In honor of the Manger-King,
Or hear great Milton's organ verse
Or Plato's dialogue rehearse
What Socrates with his last breath
Sublimely said of life and death.
These dear delights we fain would share
With friend and kinsman everywhere,
And from our door see them depart
Each with a little lighter heart.


So many cares to vex the day,
  So many fears to haunt the night,
My heart was all but weaned away
  From every lure of old delight.
Then summer came, announced by June,
  With beauty, miracle and mirth.
She hung aloft the rounding moon,
  She poured her sunshine on the earth,
She drove the sap and broke the bud,
  She set the crimson rose afire.
She stirred again my sullen blood,
  And waked in me a new desire.
Before my cottage door she spread
  The softest carpet nature weaves,
And deftly arched above my head
  A canopy of shady leaves.
Her nights were dreams of jeweled skies,
  Her days were bowers rife with song,
And many a scheme did she devise
  To heal the hurt and soothe the wrong.
For on the hill or in the dell,
  Or where the brook went leaping by
Or where the fields would surge and swell
  With golden wheat or bearded rye,
I felt her heart against my own,
  I breathed the sweetness of her breath,
Till all the cark of time had flown,
  And I was lord of life and death.


Lord, who am I to teach the way
To little children day by day,
So prone myself to go astray?

I teach them KNOWLEDGE, but I know
How faint they flicker and how low
The candles of my knowledge glow.

I teach them POWER to will and do,
But only now to learn anew
My own great weakness through and through.

I teach them LOVE for all mankind
And all God's creatures, but I find
My love comes lagging far behind.

Lord, if their guide I still must be,
Oh let the little children see
The teacher leaning hard on Thee.

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