African American Poetry (1870-1926): A Digital Anthology

W.E.B. Du Bois, "The Burden of Black Women" (1914)

Editor's Note: This poem was originally published in The Crisis in November 1914. A draft typescript version of the poem can be found at the University of Massachusetts' Du Bois papers here]


Dark daughter of the lotus leaves that watch the Southern sea,
Wan spirit of a prisoned soul a-panting to be free;
The muttered music of thy streams, the whispers of the deep
Have kissed each other in God's name and kissed a world to sleep.

The will of the world is a whistling wind sweeping a cloud-cast sky,
And not from the east and not from the west knelled its soul-searing cry;
But out of the past of the Past's grey past, it yelled from the top of the sky;
Crying: Awake, O ancient race!. Wailing : O woman arise!
And crying and sighing and crying again as a voice in the midnight cries;
But the burden of white men bore her back, and the white world stifled her sighs.

The White World's vermin and filth:
   All the dirt of London,
   All the scum of New York;
   Valiant spoilers of women
   And conquerors of unarmed men;
   Shameless breeders of bastards
   Drunk with the greed of gold,
   Baiting their blood-stained hooks
   With cant for the souls of the simple,
   Bearing the White Man's Burden
   Of Liquor and Lust and Lies!
   Unthankful we wince in the East,
   Unthankful we wail from the westward,
   Unthankfully thankful we sing,
   In the un-won wastes of the wild:
      I hate them,
      Oh! I hate them well,
      I hate them, Christ!
      As I hate Hell,
      If I were God
      I'd sound their knell
      This day!

Who raised the fools to their glory
But black men of Egypt and Ind?
Ethiopia's sons of the evening,
Chaldeans and Yellow Chinese?
The Hebrew children of Morning
And mongrels of Rome and Greece?
Ah, well!

And they that raised the boasters
Shall drag them down again:
Down with the theft of their thieving
And murder and mocking of men,
Down with their barter of women
And laying and lying of creeds,
Down with their cheating of childhood,
And drunken orgies of war—

   down,
        down,
                deep down,

Till the Devil's strength be shorn,
Till some dim, darker David a-hoeing of his corn,
And married maiden, Mother of God,
Bid the Black Christ be born!

Then shall the burden of manhood,
Be it yellow or black or white,
And Poverty, Justice and Sorrow—
The Humble and Simple and Strong,
Shall sing with the Sons of Morning
And Daughters of Evensong:

Black mother of the iron hills that guard the blazing sea,
Wild spirit of a storm-swept soul a-struggling to be free,
Where 'neath the bloody finger marks, thy riven bosom quakes,
Thicken the thunders of God's voice, and lo! a world awakes!

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