Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To America, James Weldon Johnson

Yesterday was the birthday of the great African American poet, James Weldon Johnson. Though sadly this poem still applies to the situation of many African Americans in the United States today, it also has a larger context in light of contemporary history.


To America

How would you have us, as we are?
Or sinking 'neath the load we bear?
Our eyes fixed forward on a star?
Or gazing empty at despair?

Rising or falling? Men or things?
With dragging pace or footsteps fleet?
Strong, willing sinews in our wings?
Or tightening chains about our feet?

James Weldon Johnson


Till tomorrow,

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Greg said...


Thanks for sharing this one. I've never heard of James Weldon Johnson before, but I'm going to check him out now. This poem is good... reminiscent of Hughes' "A Dream Deferred."

- Greg

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Hey, Greg:

Yes, it's got power. Can you believe it was written in 1917 or thereabouts, over 90 years old? Here's a link to a Project Gutenberg collection of his work.

This one does have the power of a Langston Hughes poem.


Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely a strong poem. I've read a fair amount of Johnson but I should pick up a collection by him. I'll check out that Gutenberg link.

Greg said...

thanks for the link, Don. i've only had a chance to glance through it so far, but a couple of the poems struck me, especially "Voluptas" and "I Hear the Stars Still Singing." i might have to buy this one in print... Barnes & Noble has it for $10.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Have found a couple of great short poems at the Gutenberg link. "I hear the stars still singing" is very good, Greg. I think this one must be for Omar Khayyam:

Old Omar, jolly skeptic, it may be
That, after all, you found the magic key
To life and all its mystery, and I
Must own you have almost persuaded me.

This is not great verse in the classical sense, but I have a strong urge to raise the flagon and drink deep!