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

Three Sonnets by Carrie Williams Clifford (1922)



Three centuries beneath your haughty heel,
Humble and ignorant, debased and poor,
Like mendicants before your Temple-door,
The potentates of earth have seen us kneel.
With guileless art we made our mute appeal,
And tho' you scorned and spurned us, tried the more
To love and serve you better than before.
Your children we have nursed, your evening meal
Set forth: your crops have reaped, your acres tilled,
Your burdens borne, your enemies have killed;
We've given of our brawn unstintingly,
And of our brain, when so you'd let it be.
Remembering all, how can you lynch and hate,
And with our quivering clay, your passion sate?



Torn from our heritage against our will,
And here detained by blood-hound and by lash,
From dawn to darkness driven by "po' white trash,"
The onerous tasks to do,--the soil to till,
Helping your dream of empire to fulfill--
Thro' blood-baptism and the clanging clash
Of war, and its swift clarifying flash--
The present finds us citizens (tho’ nil
Our rights and powers in the common state)--
Who with the volume of Niagara's roar
And strength with which her giant waters pour,
Demand, with vigor which shall not abate
All the prerogatives which are our due
Without regard to race or creed or hue.



The Law that spins these toy-top worlds in space,
Divides the opaque darkness from the day,
Directs the shining of each solar ray,
Guides and controls the stellar chariot-race,
And holds the whirling universe in place--
Altho' no particle may stop or stay--
This Law immutable, you may not sway,
Or modify, or alter by your grace!
Unfailingly the tides of ocean flow,
The giant oaks and modest pansies grow,
Inexorably following the deed
Comes without haste and without pause, the meed.
A tiny tendril creviced in the rock,
In time will burst apart a granite block.

From The Widening Light (1922)

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