Last modified on 23 February 2010, at 19:42

James Weldon Johnson

O black and unknown bards of long ago,
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
How, in your darkness, did you come to know
The power and beauty of the minstrels' lyre? ~ O Black and Unknown Bards

James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871June 26, 1938) was a leading American author, critic, journalist, poet, anthropologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, early civil rights activist, and prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He was also one of the first African-American professors at New York University. Later in life he was a Professor of Creative Literature and Writing at Fisk University.

SourcedEdit

  • Lift every voice and sing
    Till earth and heaven ring,
    Ring with the harmonies of Liberty.
    Let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies;
    Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
  • We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
    We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.
    • Lift Every Voice and Sing, st. 2
  • Every race and every nation should be judged by the best it has been able to produce, not by the worst.
    • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, ch. 10
  • The glory of the day was in her face,
    The beauty of the night was in her eyes.
    • The Glory of the Day Was in Her Face, st. 1 (1917)
  • It is from the blues that all that may be called American music derives its most distinctive characteristic.
    • Black Manhattan, ch. 11 (1930)

Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917)Edit

  • 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?
    • To America, st. 1
  • O black and unknown bards of long ago,
    How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
    How, in your darkness, did you come to know
    The power and beauty of the minstrels' lyre?
    • O Black and Unknown Bards, st. 1
  • Whose starward eye
    Saw chariot “swing low”? And who was he
    That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
    “Nobody knows de trouble I see”?
    • O Black and Unknown Bards, st. 2
  • You sang far better than you knew; the songs
    That for your listeners’ hungry hearts sufficed
    Still live,—but more than this to you belongs:
    You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.
    • O Black and Unknown Bards, st. 6
  • Father, Father Abraham,
    To-day look on us from above;
    On us, the offspring of thy faith,
    The children of thy Christ-like love.
    • Father, Father Abraham, st. 1
  • I am a thing not new, I am as old
    As human nature. I am that which lurks,
    Ready to spring whenever a bar is loosed;
    The ancient trait which fights incessantly
    Against restraint, balks at the upward climb;
    The weight forever seeking to obey
    The law of downward pull;—and I am more:
    The bitter fruit am I of planted seed;
    The resultant, the inevitable end
    Of evil forces and the powers of wrong.
    • Brothers, st. 3
  • Eternities before the first-born day,
    Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,
    Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,
    A brooding mother over chaos lay.
    • Mother Night, st. 1
  • The glory of the day was in her face,
    The beauty of the night was in her eyes.
    And over all her loveliness, the grace
    Of Morning blushing in the early skies.
    • The Glory of the Day Was in Her Face, st. 1
  • And Satan smiled, stretched out his hand, and said,—
    "O War, of all the scourges of humanity, I crown you chief."
    • And the Greatest of These is War
  • Some men enjoy the constant strife
    Of days with work and worry rife,
    But that is not my dream of life:
    I think such men are crazy.
    For me, a life with worries few,
    A job of nothing much to do,
    Just pelf enough to see me through:
    I fear that I am lazy.
    • Lazy, st. 1

God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (1927)Edit

  • And God stepped out on space,
    And He looked around and said,
    "I'm lonely—
    I'll make me a world."
    • The Creation, st. 1
  • So God stepped over to the edge of the world
    And He spat out the seven seas;
    He batted His eyes, and the lightnings flashed;
    He clapped His hands, and the thunders rolled;
    And the waters above the earth came down,
    The cooling waters came down.
    • The Creation, st. 6
  • And God smiled again,
    And the rainbow appeared,
    And curled itself around his shoulder.
    • The Creation, st. 7
  • With his head in his hands,
    God thought and thought,
    Till he thought: I'll make me a man!
    • The Creation, st. 10
  • This Great God,
    Like a mammy bending over her baby,
    Kneeled down in the dust
    Toiling over a lump of clay
    Till He shaped it in His own image.
    • The Creation, st. 11
  • Find Sister Caroline...
    And she's tired—
    She's weary—
    Go down, Death, and bring her to me.
    • Go Down, Death, st. 5
  • Young man—Young man—Your arm’s too short to box with God.
    • The Prodigal Son

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