W.E.B. Du Bois, "Children of the Moon" (1920)
Yet somehow, somewhere,
In Time's weird contradiction, I
May tell of that dread deed, wherewith
I brought to Children of the Moon
Freedom and vast salvation.
I was a woman born,
And trod the streaming street,
That ebbs and flows from Harlem's hills,
Through caves and cañons limned in light,
Down to the twisting sea.
That night of nights,
I stood alone and at the End,
Until the sudden highway to the moon,
Golden in splendor,
Became too real to doubt.
Dimly I set foot upon the air,
I fled, I flew, through the thrills of light,
With all about, above, below, the whirring
Of almighty wings.
I found a twilight land,
Where, hardly hid, the sun
Sent softly-saddened rays of
Red and brown to burn the iron soil
And bathe the snow-white peaks
In mighty splendor.
Black were the men,
Hard-haired and silent-slow,
Moving as shadows,
Bending with face of fear to earthward;
And women there were none.
"Woman, woman, woman!"
I cried in mounting terror.
"Woman and Child!"
And the cry sang back
Through heaven, with the
Whirring of almighty wings.
Wings, wings, endless wings,—
Heaven and earth are wings;
Wings that flutter, furl, and fold,
Always folding and unfolding,
Ever folding yet again;
Wings, veiling some vast
And veiléd face,
In blazing blackness,
Behind the folding and unfolding,
The rolling and unrolling of
I saw the black men huddle,
Fumed in fear, falling face downward;
Vainly I clutched and clawed,
Dumbly they cringed and cowered,
Moaning in mournful monotone:
O Freedom, O Freedom,
O Freedom over me;
Before I'll be a slave,
I'll be buried in my grave,
And go home to my God,
And be free.
It was angel-music
From the dead,
And ever, as they sang,
Some wingéd thing of wings, filling all heaven,
Folding and unfolding, and folding yet again,
Tore out their blood and entrails,
'Til I screamed in utter terror;
And a silence came—
A silence and the wailing of a babe.
Then, at last, I saw and shamed;
I knew how these dumb, dark, and dusky things
Had given blood and life,
To fend the caves of underground,
The great black caves of utter night,
Where earth lay full of mothers
And their babes.
Little children sobbing in darkness,
Little children crying in silent pain,
Little mothers rocking and groping and struggling,
Digging and delving and groveling,
Amid the dying-dead and dead-in-life
And drip and dripping of warm, wet blood,
Far, far beneath the wings,—
The folding and unfolding of almighty wings.
I bent with tears and pitying hands,
Above these dusky star-eyed children,—
Crinkly-haired, with sweet-sad baby voices,
Pleading low for light and love and living—
And I crooned:
"Little children weeping there,
God shall find your faces fair;
Guerdon for your deep distress,
He shall send His tenderness;
For the tripping of your feet
Make a mystic music sweet
In the darkness of your hair;
Light and laughter in the air—
Little children weeping there,
God shall find your faces fair!"
I strode above the stricken, bleeding men,
The rampart 'ranged against the skies,
"Up, I say, build and slay;
Fight face foremost, force a way,
Unloose, unfetter, and unbind;
Be men and free!"
Dumbly they shrank,
Muttering they pointed toward that peak,
Than vastness vaster,
Whereon a darkness brooded,
"Who shall look and live," they sighed;
And I sensed
The folding and unfolding of almighty wings.
Yet did we build of iron, bricks, and blood;
We built a day, a year, a thousand years,
Blood was the mortar,—blood and tears,
And, ah, the Thing, the Thing of wings,
The wingéd, folding Wing of Things
Did furnish much mad mortar
For that tower.
Slow and ever slower rose the towering task,
And with it rose the sun,
Until at last on one wild day,
Wind-whirled, cloud-swept and terrible
I stood beneath the burning shadow
Of the peak,
Beneath the whirring of almighty wings,
While downward from my feet
Streamed the long line of dusky faces
And the wail of little children sobbing under earth.
I saw through firmaments on high
The drama of Almighty God,
With all its flaming suns and stars.
"Freedom!" I cried.
"Freedom!" cried heaven, earth, and stars;
And a Voice near-far,
Amid the folding and unfolding of almighty wings,
Answered, "I am Freedom—
Who sees my face is free—
He and his."
I dared not look;
Downward I glanced on deep-bowed heads and closed eyes,
Outward I gazed on flecked and flaming blue—
But ever onward, upward flew
The sobbing of small voices,—
Down, down, far down into the night.
Slowly I lifted livid limbs aloft;
Upward I strove: the face! the face!
Onward I reeled: the face! the face!
To beauty wonderful as sudden death,
Or horror horrible as endless life—
Up! Up! the blood-built way;
(Shadow grow vaster!
Terror come faster!)
Up! Up! to the blazing blackness
Of one veiléd face.
And endless folding and unfolding,
Rolling and unrolling of almighty wings.
The last step stood!
The last dim cry of pain
Fluttered across the stars,
Wings, wings, triumphant wings,
Lifting and lowering, waxing and waning,
Swinging and swaying, twirling and whirling,
Whispering and screaming, streaming and gleaming,
Spreading and sweeping and shading and flaming—
Wings, wings, eternal wings,
'Til the hot, red blood,
Flood fleeing flood,
Thundered through heaven and mine ears,
While all across a purple sky,
The last vast pinion.
Trembled to unfold.
I rose upon the Mountain of the Moon,—
I felt the blazing glory of the Sun;
I heard the Song of Children crying, "Free!"
I saw the face of Freedom—
And I died.