As I was leaving the library today after work, I checked out Color by Countee Cullen, which was published in 1925 (and is, I believe, his first book). Man, can that fellow write a poem. I’ve always liked Cullen (and almost always had students read at least one poem of his when we reached the Harlem Renaissance), but I haven’t read a lot of his work previously. I want to post a dozen poems, but I’ll limit myself to two reasonably short ones–a double billing for the first Friday in Advent. Countee Cullen offers for our consideration “A Song of Praise”, and “Saturday’s Child”:
A Song of Praise (for one who praised his lady’s being fair)
You have not heard my love’s dark throat,
Slow-fluting like a reed,
Release the perfect golden note
She caged there for my need.
Her walk is like the replica
Of some barbaric dance
Wherein the soul of Africa
Is winged with arrogance.
And yet so light she steps across
The ways her sure feet pass,
She does not dent the smoothest moss
Or bend the thinnest grass.
My love is dark as yours is fair,
Yet lovelier I hold her
Than listless maids with pallid hair,
And blood that’s thin and colder.
Gaze on her and despair;
Then seal your lips until the sun
Discovers one as fair.
Some are teethed on a silver spoon,
With the stars strung for a rattle;
I cut my teeth as the black raccoon—
For implements of battle.
Some are swaddled in silk and down,
And heralded by a star;
They swathed my limbs in a sackcloth gown
On a night that was black as tar.
For some, godfather and goddame
The opulent fairies be;
Dame Poverty gave me my name,
And Pain godfathered me.
For I was born on Saturday—
“Bad time for planting a seed,”
Was all my father had to say,
And, “One more mouth to feed.”
Death cut the strings that gave me life,
And handed me to Sorrow,
The only kind of middle wife
My folks could beg or borrow.