I. I STAND
on the mark beside the shore Of the first
white pilgrim's bended knee, Where exile
turned to ancestor, And God was thanked for
liberty. I have run through the night,
my skin is as dark, I bend my knee down on
this mark . . . I look on the sky and the sea.
pilgrim-souls, I speak to you! I see you come
out proud and slow, From the land of the
spirits pale as dew. . . And round me and
round me ye go! O pilgrims, I have
gasped and run All night long from the whips
of one Who in your names works sin and woe.
thus I thought that I would come And kneel
here where I knelt before, And feel your
souls around me hum In undertone to the
ocean's roar; And lift my black face, my
black hand, Here, in your names, to
curse this land Ye blessed in freedom's
IV. I am
black, I am black; And yet God made me, they
say. But if He did so, smiling back He
must have cast His work away Under the feet of
His white creatures, With a look of
scorn,--that the dusky features Might
be trodden again to clay.
V. And yet
He has made dark things To be glad and merry
as light. There's a little dark bird sits
and sings; There's a dark stream ripples
out of sight; And the dark frogs chant in
the safe morass, And the sweetest stars
are made to pass O'er the face of the darkest
VI. But we
who are dark, we are dark! Ah, God, we have no
stars! About our souls in care and cark
Our blackness shuts like prison bars: The
poor souls crouch so far behind, That
never a comfort can they find By reaching
through the prison-bars.
we live beneath the sky, . . . That great
smooth Hand of God, stretched out On all
His children fatherly, To bless them from the
fear and doubt, Which would be, if, from
this low place, All opened straight up
to His face Into the grand eternity.
still God's sunshine and His frost, They make
us hot, they make us cold, As if we were
not black and lost: And the beasts and birds,
in wood and fold, Do fear and take us for
very men! Could the weep-poor-will or the
cat of the glen Look into my eyes and be bold?
IX. I am
black, I am black!-- But, once, I laughed in
girlish glee; For one of my color stood
in the track Where the drivers drove, and
looked at me-- And tender and full was
the look he gave: Could a slave look so
at another slave?-- I look at the sky and
X. And from
that hour our spirits grew As free as if
unsold, unbought: Oh, strong enough,
since we were two To conquer the world, we
thought! The drivers drove us day by day;
We did not mind, we went one way, And
no better a liberty sought.
XI. In the
sunny ground between the canes, He said
"I love you" as he passed: When
the shingle-roof rang sharp with the rains, I
heard how he vowed it fast: While others
shook, he smiled in the hut As he carved me
a bowl of the cocoa-nut, Through the roar
of the hurricanes.
XII. I sang
his name instead of a song; Over and over I
sang his name-- Upward and downward I
drew it along My various notes; the same,
the same! I sang it low, that the
slave-girls near Might never guess
from aught they could hear, It was only a
XIII. I look
on the sky and the sea-- We were two to love,
and two to pray,-- Yes, two, O God, who
cried to Thee, Though nothing didst Thou
say. Coldly Thou sat'st behind the sun!
And now I cry who am but one, How wilt
Thou speak to-day?--
XIV. We were
black, we were black! We had no claim to love
and bliss: What marvel, if each turned to
lack? They wrung my cold hands out
of his,-- They dragged him . . . where ?
. . . I crawled to touch His blood's mark
in the dust! . . . not much, Ye pilgrim-souls,
. . . though plain as this!
followed by a deeper wrong! Mere grief's too
good for such as I. So the white men
brought the shame ere long To strangle the sob
of my agony. They would not leave me for
my dull Wet eyes!--it was too merciful To
let me weep pure tears and die.
XVI. I am
black, I am black!-- I wore a child upon my
breast An amulet that hung too slack,
And, in my unrest, could not rest: Thus we
went moaning, child and mother, One to
another, one to another, Until all ended for
hark ! I will tell you low . . . Iow . . . I
am black, you see,-- And the babe who lay
on my bosom so, Was far too white . . . too
white for me; As white as the ladies who
scorned to pray Beside me at church
but yesterday; Though my tears had washed
a place for my knee.
own, own child! I could not bear To look in
his face, it was so white. I covered him
up with a kerchief there; I covered his face
in close and tight: And he moaned and
struggled, as well might be, For the
white child wanted his liberty-- Ha, ha!
he wanted his master right.
moaned and beat with his head and feet, His
little feet that never grew-- He struck
them out, as it was meet, Against my heart to
break it through. I might have sung and
made him mild-- But I dared not sing
to the white-faced child The only song I
XX. I pulled
the kerchief very close: He could not see the
sun, I swear, More, then, alive, than now
he does From between the roots of
the mango . . . where . . . I know where.
Close! a child and mother Do wrong to
look at one another, When one is black and one
XXI. Why, in
that single glance I had Of my child's face, .
. . I tell you all, I saw a look that
made me mad . . . The master's look, that used
to fall On my soul like his lash . . . or
worse! And so, to save it from my curse,
I twisted it round in my shawl.
XXII. And he
moaned and trembled from foot to head, He
shivered from head to foot; Till, after a
time, he lay instead Too suddenly still and
mute. I felt, beside, a stiffening cold,
. . . I dared to lift up just a fold . . . As
in lifting a leaf of the mango-fruit.
my fruit . . . ha, ha!--there, had been (I
laugh to think on't at this hour! . . .)
Your fine white angels, who have seen Nearest
the secret of God's power, . . . And
plucked my fruit to make them wine, And
sucked the soul of that child of mine, As
the humming-bird sucks the soul of
ha, for the trick of the angels white! They
freed the white child's spirit so. I said
not a word, but, day and night, I carried the
body to and fro; And it lay on my heart
like a stone . . . as chill. --The sun may
shine out as much as he will: I am cold,
though it happened a month ago.
the white man's house, and the black man's
hut, I carried the
body on, The forest's arms did round us shut,
And silence through the trees did run:
They asked no question as I went,-- They stood
too high for astonishment,-- They could
see God sit on His throne.
XXVI. My little body, kerchiefed fast, I bore
it on through the forest . . . on: And
when I felt it was tired at last, I scooped a
hole beneath the moon. Through the
forest-tops the angels far, With a white sharp
finger from every star, Did point and
mock at what was done.
when it was all done aright, . . . Earth,
'twixt me and my baby, strewed, All,
changed to black earth, . . . nothing white, .
. . A dark child in the dark,--ensued
Some comfort, and my heart grew young: I sate
down smiling there and sung The song I
learnt in my maidenhood.
thus we two were reconciled, The white child
and black mother, thus: For, as I sang
it, soft and wild The same song,
more melodious, Rose from the grave
whereon I sate! It was the dead
child singing that, To join the souls of
both of us.
XXIX. I look
on the sea and the sky! Where the pilgrims'
ships first anchored lay, The free sun
rideth gloriously; But the pilgrim-ghosts
have slid away Through the earliest
streaks of the morn. My face is black, but
it glares with a scorn Which they dare
not meet by day.
their 'stead, their hunter sons! Ah, ah! they
are on me--they hunt in a ring-- Keep
off! I brave you all at once-- I throw off
your eyes like snakes that sting! You
have killed the black eagle at nest, I think:
Did you never stand still in your
triumph, and shrink From the stroke of
her wounded wing?
drop that stone you dared to lift!--) I wish
you, who stand there five a-breast, Each,
for his own wife's joy and gift, A little
corpse as safely at rest As mine in the
mangos!--Yes, but she May keep live
babies on her knee, And sing the song she
XXXll. I am
not mad: I am black. I see you staring in my
face-- I know you, staring, shrinking
back-- Ye are born of the Washington-race: And
this land is the free America: And this
mark on my wrist . . . (I prove what
I say) Ropes tied me up here to the
think I shrieked then? Not a sound! I hung, as
a gourd hangs in the sun. I only cursed
them all around, As softly as I might have
done My very own child!--From these sands
Up to the mountains, lift your hands, O
slaves, and end what I begun!
Whips, curses; these must answer those! For in
this UNION, you have set Two kinds of men
in adverse rows, Each loathing each: and
all forget The seven wounds in Christ's
body fair; While HE sees
gaping everywhere Our countless wounds
that pay no debt.
wounds are different. Your white men Are,
after all, not gods indeed, Nor able to
make Christs again Do good with bleeding. We
who bleed . . . (Stand off!) we help not
in our loss! We are too heavy for
our cross, And fall and crush you and
fall, I swoon! I look at the sky: The clouds
are breaking on my brain; I am floated
along, as if I should die Of liberty's
exquisite pain-- In the name of the white
child, waiting for me In the death-dark where
we may kiss and agree, White men, I leave
you all curse-free In my broken heart's
midi - My Precious Love