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

T. Thomas Fortune, "Emanuel" (1905)


Note.--Emanuel Fortune was born at Marianna, Jackson County, Florida, August 17, 1863, and died at Jacksonville, Florida, March 4, 1890. When he was quite small he had an attack of pneumonia, which left him paralyzed as to his whole left side, and proved a great handicap to him in all his efforts. In 1869 his parents moved to Jacksonville, and young Emanuel entered the public schools, upon graduating from which he enterd the Cookman Institute, at the same place, from which he graduated, with high honors, in 1882. He desired to read law, but came to New York instead in 1883, and entered the business department of his brother's newspaper. In 1888 he contracted a cold in the great blizzard of that year, which developed into lung trouble, from which he never recovered. He returns to Florida in 1889. He was a man of great studiousness and of remarkable eloquence in public speech. While very positive in character he was of an extremely lovable disposition. He had the possibilities of a great career in him, and his early death was regarded as a calamity by the great number of people who knew him as a public speaker and frequent contributor to the periodical press of the day.


Emanuel is dead! I shall not see again,
In all the earth, his manly form, or hear
The music of his voice, in soothing strain,
Persuasive as a lute to my bent ear,
Wean from my mind all thought of wasting care.
The noble youth is dead! The earth no more
Will listen when he speaks; nor can it share
The fullness of the gracious love he bore
For all the race before his lease of life was o'er!


It seems not true to me; it seems not true,
That one so gifted and so young could die—
Fresh as a wild flower kissed by morning dew,
Blown to full life beneath the Southern sky,
As fragile as a flower, I know not why,
As sensitive withal to winter's blast;
Yet, on his fragile strength did he rely,
Among men towering as the ship whose mast
O'ertops the anchored fleet, the stormy passage past.


Emanuel is dead! Perhaps you may not know
The man who bore that charmèd name, until
So short a time, it seems an hour ago,
When He, who rules in life and death, did will
The proud heart should forevermore be still!
Yet, he was not unknown to fickle fame!
And he had power the sluggish sense to thrill
With eloquence that without effort came
When he did speak to men in Freedom's holy name!


And he did speak with all the force and fire
The ancient Tribunes spoke, when tyrants trod
Upon the rights of men with vengeance dire—
Invoked the wrath of earth and high heaven's God
To shield the human weaklings of the sod!
Contented slaves no longer wore their chains,
Content, obedient to the master's rod.
But roused to life their chafed and bruisèd brains,
When he compared their losses with their slender gains.


He was a Tribune of the people, true,
Unselfish in the people's righteous cause,
A giant for the Right, from which he drew
The strength to crush the force of unjust laws,
Sharp to destroy as are the lion's claws.
And he was young! The race of life begun,
Swift as the winds that sweep along the straws
Clenched in their grasp! Each hard-fought stage he won,
Rejoicing in the fray, its tragedy and fun.


Serious he was, and passing cold and stern;
For life is serious, and its work, to those
Intent to do their share, to those who yearn
To serve the race, is hard, and harder grows—
As the wild storm with fiercer fury blows,
Concentred—as they hide themselves from sight,
Laboring for human kind, for friends and foes,
Patiently plodding through the long. dark night.
Upward, to God! eternal Love, and Life, and Light!


Serious and cold and stern he was, or seemed,
In all the labors that engaged his hand,
Obedient to his mind; for life he deemed
Too short to waste a part thereof. He planned
His labor, as a soldier in command
Of certain duty, his strong mind imbued
With lofty purposes. In all this land
None to his duty, as a man, e'er stood
More resolute, however siren voices wooed!


His sternness some repelled; for men are light
Of heart, and, as the gorgeous butterfly,
Prefer the sunshine to the stars of night,
The man of mirth to him whose earnest eye
Upon the things of earth looks solemnly.
Yet, he was not unkind, not even stern;
Deep in his swelling soul's great mystery
A flame of tenderness did glow and burn
For all mankind, for whom his sympathies did yearn.


The richest jewels often come, we know,
In caskets that tell naught of wealth unseen,
So rough the casements are. The thoughtful brow,
The aspect cold, the eye that scorns a queen,
So lordly and commanding be the mien,
May not disclose the man, but rather hide
Him from the common gaze—they may but screen.
Or they may indicate, an honest pride,
That chafes at what the gods to mortals have denied!


We cannot always tell from out the face
One of the world's great masters may possess
What it conceals beneath; but we may trace,
If we shall study well, with some success,
The lofty thoughts that surge and burn distress
Where faithful Nature writes her tale of woe;
True, those who most the human race do bless,
Smile less than common men, and they bow low
Beneath their burden, as the years do come and go.


Like Atlas, they the busy world uphold;
They think for those who do not think withal,
But who prefer the role of common scold,
Thoughtless, finding the hidden flaws in all
The agents who have reared the mighty wall.
Go, read, who can, the Nazarene's calm eye—
Beaming in pity over man's sad fall,
The pulseless face where grief and sorrow lie—
Then read the soul that to the race did naught deny!


Go, read in Fame's illustrious pages, then,
The faces of the world's heroic dead,
The great array of earth's immortal men
Who to the nobler life the hosts have led—
The timid hosts—in what they did and said,
And you will find the furrowed thoughts stamped deep—
Like sabre strokes through which the life had fled—
In every line, stamped as they climbed the steep
Where weak men halt and faint and strong men often weep!


Such was Emanuel—for others felt
More than himself—to whom the race was dear—
The human race! Base-born selfishness ne'er knelt
At mortal shrine and plead to deafer ear
Than his—the noble dead! He had no fear,
Conscious of right, since just his mighty cause!
And he has gone away! He still seems near,
Constant as one of Nature's constant laws,
So that I seem to hear him breathe, as here I pause!


And do the dead we love go far away
And nevermore return? Can it be true,
They never come again? No; truth to say,
They come again to us and oft renew—
Unseen, unheard—the vanished moments few!
And thus it is with me! My solitude
Is oft disturbed, and he in life I knew
Sits with me through the hours I watch and brood,
Groping in silence after life's eternal good!


Somehow we feel, when it is solemn night,
When silence reigns in all, that not alone
Are we, but that the air is soft and light
And warm with other breath, by kind winds blown,
That makes us company of those, our own,
Who go away awhile, but come again!
We deem it so, as the sad winds sigh and moan
Without, or angel tears bedew with rain
The earth, washing away, perchance, its crimson stain!


We cannot tell! With close-shut eyes, we wait,
While fitful silence rules the slumbrous night,
And struggling flames burn low within the grate,
To hear a voice we love, a footfall light,
To see a form arrayed in raiment white,
Recall us to the earthly place and hour;
And darkness then is pierced with dazzling light,
And fear and pain lose all their dreaded power,
And hate and greed before its radiance bend and cower!


We dream—we sleep—and still we are alive—
Midway 'twixt life and death—living, but dead—
And break the spell cannot, howe'er we strive,
For earthly strength seems spent; and we are led,
In fancy led, though not a word is said,
Into the great Unknown, we know not where,
We do not wish to know, we have no dread;
A blissful state of earth and air we share—
Awake, yet sleeping! Dead, yet living! Here, yet there!


We know the dead is with us in that dream,
In that strange hour, so blissful and so true,
In which old memories and new all seem
To pass in quick processional review—
All we have done, all that we ever knew!
How strange it is! We would not wake again,
Though not asleep, but wander on, and through
The Night of Time—free from all care and pain,
Speechless—feeling no other bliss were worth the gain!


Then comes a blank! We plunge into the night!
Vanish the dead, and we become as they,
Or something less, where not a ray of light
Through all the mind falls on the darkened way!
What is it! Where the prophet who can say!
We sleep! How long! We start! A breath—a sound—
We wake! The night has passed into the day!
What was, seems but a dream, an echo sound,
Reverberating in the chambers of the mind around!


He was my brother, younger far than I,
And shared with me the sports of happy youth,
In that reposeful village where my eye,
Still constant, pleading ever, turns, forsooth,
To scenes of guileless innocence and truth!
It is a memory! Time was when he
And I found in some shaded grove or booth,
In field or forest wild, all that can be
The joy of youth—fun-loving, gay, and shackle-free!


How oft have we entrapped the wily hare,
Ensnared the bird, whose nest was rifled first,
Or raided apple trees, or luscious pear,
Fearless of jealous eyes! Boys have their thirst
Destructive, and, like pent-up waters, burst
O'er dykes into the basins of the main,
Restrainèd most appear to act the worst!
Those days will ne'er return to us again,
For one is dead—a broken link in life's short chain!


The days of youth have not for men the charm
They have for boys, save as a retrospect,
A backward reading of the tale of harm,
Of damage done, thoughtless, they little recked,
For boys ne'er think, but in their pranks reflect
Reverse of thought; a willful disregard
Of others' rights—a madness, I suspect;
And, if their wayward pleasure is not marred,
All twitchings of the guilty conscience are disbarred.


'Twas so with us. Forsooth, there were some years
Whose Summer sky was painted dark, indeed,
When childish laughter mingled with our tears,
And our young hearts, oft pierced with steel, did bleed;
The rank tares soon choke up the honest seed.
Let those years pass! Let them e'en be forgot—
Remembered only as the broken reed!
He lived to know a while a happier lot,
But far removed from that loved, consecrated spot!


He little dreamed in those delightful hours
The changes that the future years would bring;
He little dreamed the sunshine and the showers
That made our Southern life an endless Spring,
Whose joys the mocking bird delights to sing,
Would merge into the storms of Northern life
Intense, and wither him—a blasted thing!
The tropic plant, before the North Wind's strife,
Too often falls a victim to Death's pruning knife!


Why do the brave and good and true die young,
Or such we deem the noblest of their kind?
Do we mistake? Of such have poets sung
Since first their raptures moved the human mind,
As angels feel when harpists of the wind
The silver strings with fingers touch divine!
I do not know! It may be we are blind
With grief, that clouds the brain as too much wine,
When choicest buds of home are plucked from off the vine!


Or, it may be, we miss the one that goes
Out from the circle of our narrow sphere,
Seeming to slight the loving ones who close
Remain about us—constant, tender, dear—
The solace of the changing, treacherous year!
We see them, hear them; but the absent one
We never see, alas! we never hear!
And hence the void, when all is said and done,
That fills our life with grief profound, and grief alone!


And Moses stood on Pisgah's lofty height
And viewed the Promised Land his race possessed,
But reached it not himself! So, in the night.
Perchance, the grand old Prophet found his rest
In lonely Moab's consecrated breast!
Was it for this he worked and prayed and sighed
That God his wayward race, so often blessed,
Would lead from bondage, in their humbled pride,
To Freedom's heritage beyond the Jordan's tide?


We cannot say! But many since have stood
Upon the threshold of the Promised Land,
And perished in the dismal solitude,
While viewing nothing of the hopes they planned,
Seeing naught fruitful issue from their hand!
Oh, who will make our hopes a burning flame,
As potent as was Moses' magic wand,
When we are dead, returned to whence we came,
And are forgot in deed and act and e'en in name?


The good die young! Emanuel is dead!
Toll, solemn funeral bells, in anguish toll!
And all ye people bow the reverent head!
Eternity has claimed a noble soul
From out the dismal walls of Life's dread goal!
Peal forth, ye bells, your awful monotone!
And far and near upon the winds let roll
The wail of woe above the sod and stone!
Emanuel is dead! I am alone! Alone!

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