Countee Cullen

C
Countee Cullen
To the Swimmer
Now as I watch you, strong of arm and endurance, battling and struggling
With the waves that rush against you, ever with invincible strength returning
Into my heart, grown each day more tranquil and peaceful, comes a fierce longing
Of mind and soul that will not be appeased until, like you, I breast yon deep and boundless expanse of blue.

With an outward stroke of power intense your mighty arm goes forth,
Cleaving its way through waters that rise and roll, ever a ceaseless vigil keeping
Over the treasures beneath.

My heart goes out to you of dauntless courage and spirit indomitable,
And though my lips would speak, my spirit forbids me to ask,
“Is your heart as true as your arm?”

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A Brown Girl Dead
With two white roses on her breasts,
White candles at head and feet,
Dark Madonna of the grave she rests;
Lord Death has found her sweet.

Her mother pawned her wedding ring
To lay her out in white;
She’d be so proud she’d dance and sing
To see herself tonight.
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From the Dark Tower
(To Charles S. Johnson) We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
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Heritage
(For Harold Jackman) What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
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Incident
(For Eric Walrond) Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
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Karenge ya Marenge
Wherein are words sublime or noble? What
Invests one speech with haloed eminence,
Makes it the sesame for all doors shut,
Yet in its like sees but impertinence?
Is it the hue? Is it the cast of eye,
The curve of lip or Asiatic breath,
Which mark a lesser place for Gandhi’s cry
Than “Give me liberty or give me death!”
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Lines to My Father
The many sow, but only the chosen reap;
Happy the wretched host if Day be brief,
That with the cool oblivion of sleep
A dawnless Night may soothe the smart of grief.

If from the soil our sweat enriches sprout
One meagre blossom for our hands to cull,
Accustomed indigence provokes a shout
Of praise that life becomes so bountiful.
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Saturday’s Child
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.
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Thoughts in a Zoo
They in their cruel traps, and we in ours,
Survey each other’s rage, and pass the hours
Commiserating each the other’s woe,
To mitigate his own pain’s fiery glow.
Man could but little proffer in exchange
Save that his cages have a larger range.
That lion with his lordly, untamed heart
Has in some man his human counterpart,
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To Certain Critics
Then call me traitor if you must,
Shout treason and default!
Say I betray a sacred trust
Aching beyond this vault.
I’ll bear your censure as your praise,
For never shall the clan
Confine my singing to its ways
Beyond the ways of man.
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Yet Do I Marvel
I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
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