Thursday, June 28, 2012

“Sympathy”, “We Wear the Mask” & “Harriet Beecher Stowe” by Paul Laurence Dunbar


 A few more poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

 "Sympathy"

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
        When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
    When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
    And the river flows like a stream of glass;
        When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
    And the faint perfume from its chalice steals —
    I know what the caged bird feels!
    I know why the caged bird beats his wing
        Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
    For he must fly back to his perch and cling
    When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
        And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
    And they pulse again with a keener sting —
    I know why he beats his wing!
    I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
        When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
    When he beats his bars and he would be free;
    It is not a carol of joy or glee,
        But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
    But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —
    I know why the caged bird sings!

"We Wear the Mask"

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.
    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
            We wear the mask.
    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
            We wear the mask! 

“Harriet Beecher Stowe”

She told the story, and the whole world wept
At wrongs and cruelties it had not known
But for this fearless woman’s voice alone.
She spoke to consciences that long had slept:
Her message, Freedom’s clear reveille, swept
From heedless hovel to complacent throne.
Command and prophecy were in the tone,
And from its sheath the sword of justice leapt.
Around two peoples swelled a fiery wave,
But both came forth transfigured from the flame.
Blest be the hand that dared be strong to save,
And blest be she who in our weakness came—
Prophet and priestess! At one stroke she gave
A race to freedom and herself to fame.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

“Ere Sleep Comes Down to Soothe the Weary Eyes” by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Born in Dayton, Ohio, 1872, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s first collection of poems Oak and Ivy was published in 1893. Because of the favourable review by William Dean Howells of Dunbar’s second book Majors and Minors (1896), Dunbar’s success was assured from that time on and he became a national literary figure. Other works soon followed, even after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1900: Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896), Folks from Dixie (1898), Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899), The Strength of Gideon (1900), Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903), In Old Plantation Days (1903), The Heart of Happy Hollow (1904) and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905). He passed away in 1906.


Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  Which all the day with ceaseless care have sought
The magic gold which from the seeker flies;
  Ere dreams put on the gown and cap of thought,
And make the waking world a world of lies,—
  Of lies most palpable, uncouth, forlorn,
That say life’s full of aches and tears and sighs,—
  Oh, how with more than dreams the soul is torn,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  How all the griefs and heart-aches we have known
Come up like pois’nous vapors that arise
  From some base witch’s caldron, when the crone,
To work some potent spell, her magic plies.
  The past which held its share of bitter pain,
Whose ghost we prayed that Time might exorcise,
  Comes up, is lived and suffered o’er again,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  What phantoms fill the dimly lighted room;
What ghostly shades in awe-creating guise
  Are bodied forth within the teeming gloom.
What echoes faint of sad and soul-sick cries,
  And pangs of vague inexplicable pain
That pay the spirit’s ceaseless enterprise,
  Come thronging through the chambers of the brain,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  Where ranges forth the spirit far and free?
Through what strange realms and unfamiliar skies
  Tends her far course to lands of mystery?
To lands unspeakable—beyond surmise,
  Where shapes unknowable to being spring,
Till, faint of wing, the Fancy fails and dies
  Much wearied with the spirit’s journeying,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  How questioneth the soul that other soul,—
The inner sense which neither cheats nor lies,
  But self exposes unto self, a scroll
Full writ with all life’s acts unwise or wise,
  In characters indelible and known;
So, trembling with the shock of sad surprise,
  The soul doth view its awful self alone,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

When sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes,
  The last dear sleep whose soft embrace is balm,
And whom sad sorrow teaches us to prize
  For kissing all our passions into calm,
Ah, then, no more we heed the sad world’s cries,
  Or seek to probe th’ eternal mystery,
Or fret our souls at long-withheld replies,
  At glooms through which our visions cannot see,
When sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Memorable pictures: Fellah Woman

A Fellah woman washing her child (by a painting by Bridgman). Fellah derives from the Arabic word 'ploughman' or 'tiller'. The term is used to refer to peasants and farmers.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Excerpt from 'Twasinta’s Seminoles / Rape of Florida'


Albery A. Whitman was born in 1851, Hart County, Kentucky, and lived an existence in slavery until 1863. Already an orphan by 12, he accomplished to be a well known minister of the AME church (African Methodist Episcopal Church) and a schoolteacher by the age of 25. He is known for his epic-length poem “Not a man and yet a Man” published in 1877, though his best known work is The Rape of Florida, published 1884, and reprinted the following year Twasinta’s Seminoles. In 1890 both poems were again reprinted along with some short poems. In 1893 he composed and read “The Freedman’s Triumphant Song” at the Chicago World’s Fair. The Octoroon, An Idyl of the South, his last publication, came out in 1901, the year he passed away. He fought a hard struggle with alcohol and pneumonia but he was a light in this world with his wonderful words.


The following excerpt is from Twasinta’s Seminoles / Rape of Florida.

Canto 1

I
The negro slave by Swanee River sang;
Well-pleased he listened to his echoes ringing;
For in his heart a secret comfort sprang,
When Nature seemed to join his mournful singing.
To mem’ry’s cherished objects fondly clinging;
His bosom felt the sunset’s patient glow,
And spirit whispers into weird life springing,
Allured to worlds he trusted yet to know,
And lightened for awhile life’s burdens here below.

II
The drowsy dawn from many a low-built shed,
Beheld his kindred driven to their task;
Late evening saw them turn with weary tread
And painful faces back; and dost thou ask
How sang these bondmen? how their suff’rings mask?
Song is the soul of sympathy divine,
And hath an inner ray where hope may bask;
Song turns the poorest waters into wine,
Illumines exile hearts and makes their faces shine.

III
The negro slave by Swanee river sang,
There soon the human hunter rode along;
And eagerly behind him came a gang
Of hounds and men, – the bondmen hushed his song –
Around him came a silent, list’ning throng;
“Some runaway!” he muttered; said no more,
But sank from view the growing corn among;
And though deep pangs his wounded spirit bore,
He hushed his soul, and went on singing as before.

IV
So fared the land where slaves were groaning yet –
Where beauty’s eyes must feed the lusts of men!
‘Tis as when horrid dreams we half forget,
Would then relate, and still relate again –
Ah! cold abhorrence hesitates my pen!
The heavens were sad, and hearts of men were faint;
Philanthropy implored and wept, but then
The wrong, unblushing trampled on Restraint,
While feeble Law sat by and uttered no complaint.

V
“Fly and be free!” a whisper comes from heaven,
“Thy cries are heard!” the bondman’s up and gone!
To grasp the dearest boon to mortals given,
He frantic flies, unaided and alone.
To him the red man’s dwellings are unknown;
But he can crave the freedom of his race,
Can find his harvests in the desert sown,
And in the cypress forest’s dark embrace
A pathway to his lonely habitations trace.

VI
The sable slave, from Georgia’s utmost bounds,
Escapes for life into the Great Wahoo.
Here he has left afar the savage hounds
And human hunters that did late pursue;
There in the hommock darkly hid from view,
His wretched limbs are stretched awhile to rest,
Till some kind Seminole shall guide him thro’
To where by hound nor hunter more distrest,
He in a flow’ry home, shall be the red man’s guest.

VII
If tilled profusion does not crown the view,
Nor wide-ranged farms begirt with fences spread;
The cultivated plot is well to do;
And where no slave his groaning life has led,
The songs of plenty fill the lowliest shed.
Who could wish more, when Nature, always green,
Brings forth fruit-bearing woods and fields of bread?
Wish more, where cheerful valleys bloom between,
And herds browse on the hills, where winter ne’er has been?

[…]

X
Fair Florida! whose scenes could so enhance –
Could in the sweetness of the earth excel!
Wast thou the Seminole’s inheritance?
Yea, it was thee he loved, and loved so well!
‘Twas ‘neath thy palms and pines he strove to dwell.
Not savage, but resentful to the knife,
For these he sternly struggled – sternly fell!
Thoughtful and brave, in a long uneven strife,
He held the verge of manhood mid the heights of life.

XI
A wild-born pride endeared him to thy soil!
When roamed his herds without a keeper’s care –
Where man knew not the pangs of slavish toil!
And where thou didst not blooming pleasures spare,
But well allotted each an ample share,
He loved to dwell: Oh! isn’t the goal of life
Where man has plenty and to man is fair?
When free from avarice’s pinch and strife,
Is earth not like the Eden-home of man and wife?

[…]

XIX
Oh! sing it in the light of freedom’s morn,
Tho’ tyrant wars have made the earth a grave;
The good, the great, and true, are, if so, born,
And so with slaves, chains do not make the slave!
If high-souled birth be what the mother gave, –
If manly birth, and manly to the core, –
Whate’er the test, the man will he behave!
Crush him to earth and crush him o’er and o’er,
A man he’ll rise at last and meet you as before.

XX
So with our young Atlassa*, hero-born, –
Free as the air within his palmy shade,
The nobler traits that do the man adorn,
In him were native: Not the music made
In Tampa’s forests or the everglade
Was fitter than in this young Seminole
Was the proud spirit which did life pervade,
And glow and tremble in his ardent soul –
Which, lit his inmost-self, and spurned all mean control.

XXI
Than him none followed chase with nimbler feet,
None readier in the forest council rose;
To speak for war, e’er sober and discreet,
In battle stern, but kind to fallen foes;
He led the charge, but halted, – slow to close
The vexed retreat: In front of battle he,
Handsome and wild his proud form would expose;
But in the cheering van of victory,
Gentle and brave he was the real chief to see.

XXII
Lo! mid a thousand warriors where he stands,
Pride of all hearts and idol of his race!
Look how the chieftains of his war-tried bands
Kindle their courage in his valiant face!
And as his lips in council open, trace
How deep suspense her earnest furrows makes
On ev’ry brow! How rings the forest-place
With sounding cheers! when native valor wakes
His dark intrepid eyes, and he their standard takes!

XXIII
Proud spirit of the hommock-bounded home
Well wast thy valor like a buckler worn!
And when the light of the other times shall come, –
When history’s muse shall venture to adorn
The brow of all her children hero-born, –
When the bold truth to man alike assigns
The place he merits, of no honor shorn;
The wreath shall be, that thy proud brow entwines,
As green as Mickasukie’s** everlasting pines!

XXIV
Well bled thy warriors at their leader’s side!
Well stood they the oppressor’s wasting fire;
For years sweep on, and in their noiseless tide,
Bear down the mem’ries of the past! The dire
And gloomful works of tyrants shall exire,
Till naught survives, save truth’s great victories;
Then shall the voyager on his way aspire
To ponder what vast wrecks of time he sees,
And on Fame’s temple columns read their memories!

XXV
Not so with Osceola***, thy dark mate;
The hidden terror of the hommock, he
Sat gloomily and nursed a bitter hate, –
The white man was his common enemy –
He rubbed the burning wounds of injury,
And plotted in his dreadful silent gloom;
As dangerous as a rock within the sea.
And when in fray he showed his fearless plume,
Revenge made sweet the blows that dealt the white man’s doom.

XXVI
The pent-up wrath that rankled in his breast,
O’er smould’ring embers shot a lurid glare,
And wrongs that time itself had not redrest,
In ghost-like silence stalked and glimmered there.
And from the wizard caverns of despair,
Came voice and groan, reminding o’er and o’er
The outrage on his wife so young and fair;
And so, by heaven and earth and hell he swore
To treat in council with the white man never more.

XXVII
Such were the chiefs who led their daring braves
In many a battle nobly lost or won,
And consecrated Mickasukie’s graves
To that sweet province of the summer sun!
And still shall history forgetful run?
Shall legend too be mute? then Poesy,
Divinest chronicler of deeds well done,
From the blest shrine and annals of the free,
Sing forth thy praise and man shall hear attentively.

XXVIII
The poorest negro coming to their shore,
To them was brother – their own flesh and blood, –
They sought his wretched manhood to restore, –
They found his hidings in the swampy wood,
And brought him forth – in arms before him stood, –
The citizens of God and Sovran earth, –
They shot straight forward looks with flame imbued,
Till in him manhood sprang, a noble birth,
And warrior-armed he rose to all that manhood’s worth.

XXIX
On the dark front of battle often seen,
Or holding dang’rous posts through dreadful hours, –
In ranks obedient, in command serene,
His comrades learn to note the tested powers
Which prove that valor is not always ours,
Be whomsoever we: A common race
Soon from this union flows – soon rarest flowers
Bloom out and smile in beauty’s blending grace,
And rivals they become for love’s sublimest place.

XXX
The native warrior leads his ebon maid,
The dark young brave his bloom-hued lover wins;
And where soft spruce and willows mingle shade,
Young life mid sunniest hours its course begins:
All Nature pours its never-ending dins
In groves of rare-hued leaf without’n end, –
‘Tis as if Time, forgetting Eden’s sins,
Relents, and spirit visitors descend
In love’s remembered tokens, earth once more to blend.

XXXI
The sleepy mosses wave within the sun,
And on the dark elms climbs the mistletoe;
Great tangled vines through pendant branches run,
And hang their purple clusters far below;
The old pines wave their summits to and fro,
And dancing to the earth, impatient light
Touches the languid scene, to quickly go,
Like some gay spirit in its sunny plight,
That, visiting the earth, did glance and take its flight…


* “Atlassa” refers to Wild Cat, also called Coacoochee, who was a leading Seminole chief during the 2nd Seminole War
** Miccosukee – name of a Native American tribe and an area in Florida
*** Osceola was an influential leader and war leader among the Seminoles

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Documentaries

I have a link to share with one and all. It is called DBC Info TV and it provides various documentaries on many subjects. For example it currently has The Coconut Revolution from 2001 which shows the indigenous people of Bougainville and their fight against exploitation of the land. All the documentaries on the station are enlightening so be sure to inform yourselves.

DBC Info Tv

Friday, January 20, 2012

"Bury Me In a Free Land" by Frances Harper


Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;
Naje ut anibg earth’s humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.

I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.

I could not rest I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest.

I’d shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mothers’ arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with a mournful flame,
My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob no man of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.



Thursday, January 19, 2012

"The Slave Auction" by Frances Harper


The sale began – young girls were there,
Defenceless in their wretchedness,
Whose stifled sobs of deep despair
Revealed their anguish and distress.

And mothers stood with streaming eyes,
And saw their dearest children sold;
Unheeded rose their bitter cries,
While tyrants bartered them for gold.

And woman, with her love and truth –
For these in sable forms may dwell –
Gaz’d on the husband of her youth,
With anguish none may paint or tell.

And men, whose sole crime was their hue,
The impress of their Maker’s hand,
And frail and shrinking children, too,
Were gathered in that mournful band.

Ye who have laid your love to rest,
And wept above their lifeless clay,
Know not the anguish of that breast,
Whose lov’d are rudely torn away.

Ye may not know how desolate
Are bosoms rudely forced to part,
And how a dull and heavy weight
Will press the life-drops from the heart.
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