Women of the Early Harlem Renaissance: African American Women Writers 1900-1922

Introduction to "The Heart of a Woman" by William Stanley Braithwaite

The poems in this book are intensely feminine and for me this means more than anything else that they are deeply human. We are yet scarcely aware, in spite of our boasted twentieth-century progress, of what lies deeply hidden, of mystery and passion, of domestic love and joy and sorrow, of romantic  visions and practical ambitions, in the heart  of a woman. The emancipation of woman is  yet to be wholly accomplished; though  woman has stamped her image on every age  of the world's history, and in the heart of  almost every man since time began, it is only  a little over half of a century since she has  either spoke or acted with a sense of freedom.  During this time she has made little more  than a start to catch up with man in the  wonderful things he has to his credit; and yet  all that man has to his credit would scarcely  have been achieved except for the devotion  and love and inspiring comradeship of woman.   Here, then, is lifted the veil, in these poignant songs and lyrics. To look upon  what is revealed is to give one a sense of  infinite sympathy; to make one kneel in spirit to the marvelous patience, the wonderful endurance, the persistent faith, which are  hidden in this nature.

The heart of a woman falls back with the night.  
And enters some alien cage in its plight,  
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars  
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.   

sings the poet. And   

The songs of the singer
Are tones that repeat
The cry of the heart
Till it ceases to beat.

This verse just quoted is from "The Dreams of the Dreamer," and with the previous quotation tells us that this woman's heart is keyed in the plaintive, knows the sorrowful agents of life and experience which knock and enter at the door of dreams. But women have made the saddest songs of the world, Sappho no less than Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ruth the Moabite poetess gleaning in the fields of Boaz no less than Amy Levy, the Jewess who broke her heart against the London pavements; and no less does sadness echo its tender and appealing sigh in these songs and lyrics of Georgia Douglas Johnson.
But sadness is a kind of felicity with woman,  paradoxical as it may seem; and it is so be-  cause through this inexplicable felicity they  touched, intuitionally caress, reality.
So here engaging life at its most reserved sources, whether the form or substance through which it articulates be nature, or the seasons, touch of hands or lips, love, desire, or any of the emotional abstractions which sweep like fire or wind or cooling water through the blood, Mrs. Johnson creates just that reality of woman's heart and experience with astonishing raptures. It is a kind of privilege to know so much about the secrets of woman's nature, a privilege all the more to be cherished when given, as in these poems,  with such exquisite utterance, with such a  lyric sensibility.
William Stanley Braithwaite.
Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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