Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

James Weldon Johnson, a poet you should know

"I will not allow one prejudiced person or one million or one hundred million to blight my life. I will not let prejudice or any of its attendant humiliations and injustices bear me down to spiritual defeat. My inner life is mine, and I shall defend and maintain its integrity against all the powers of hell."
--James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

Today, this Sunday, the daddy feels he needs a spark, some inspiration. He's feeling a poem from James Weldon Johnson.
Author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, civil rights activists, Johnson was multi-talented in life and art. He wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing, " considered the black national anthem. He was one of the first African-American professors at New York University. And he was a professor of literature at Fisk University.

The daddy appreciates Johnson's talents but thinks of him as a poet. Of his poetry, many know of his work "The Creation," a sermon in verse taken from "God's Trombone," a book of black sermons.
The daddy likes the last two verses at the end, where he writes:

"Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
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;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen."

But the daddy's favorite is the poem where he marvels at the ability of slaves to compose such bittersweet spirituals and gospel songs in a minor key, where he extols their ability to create in both, in content and tone, music that reaches deep down into the recesses of the soul. In "O Black and Unknown Bards," taken from "The Book of American Negro Poetry, a book he edited, Johnson writes:


      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 minstrel's lyre?
      Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
      Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
      Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
      Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

      Heart of what slave poured out such melody
      As "Steal away to Jesus"? On its strains
      His spirit must have nightly floated free,
      Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
      Who heard great "Jordan roll"? Whose starward eye
      Saw chariot "swing low"? And who was he
      That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
      "Nobody knows de trouble I see"?

      What merely living clod, what captive thing,
      Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
      And find within its deadened heart to sing
      These songs of sorrow, love and faith, and hope?
      How did it catch that subtle undertone,
      That note in music heard not with the ears?
      How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
      Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.

      Not that great German master in his dream
      Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
      At the creation, ever heard a theme
      Nobler than "Go down, Moses." Mark its bars
      How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir
      The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
      Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
      That helped make history when Time was young.

      There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,
      That from degraded rest and servile toil
      The fiery spirit of the seer should call
      These simple children of the sun and soil.
      O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
      You -- you alone, of all the long, long line
      Of those who've sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
      Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.

      You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;
      No chant of bloody war, no exulting pean
      Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings
      You touched in chord with music empyrean.
      You sting 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.
Drink from the cup of poetry. Go ahead. Have some James Weldon Johnson, a poet you should know.

Primary Writings of James Weldon Johnson:

1. The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, 1912.
2. (Translator) Fernando Periquet, Goyescas; or, The Rival Lovers (opera libretto), 1915.
Fifty Years and Other Poems , 1917
3. (Editor) The Book of American Negro Poetry , 1922
4. (Editor) The Book of American Negro Spirituals , 1925
5. (Editor) The Second Book of Negro Spirituals , 1926
6. God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (poetry), 1927
7. Black Manhattan (nonfiction) 1930
8. Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson, 1933
9. Contributed articles and poems to the Chicago Defender, Times-Union, New York Age, New York Times, Pittsburgh Courier, Savannah Tribune, The Century, The Crisis, The Nation, The Independent, Harper's, The Bookman, Forum, and Scholastic.

1 comment:

brownsugatou said...

Your cup of poetry is pretty large Daddy... sipping on it one sip at a time. Enjoying your posts, this wonderful poetical history through and through. It is much appreciated!

brown :-)