About this poet

Sterling Brown was born in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 1901. He was educated at Dunbar High School and received a bachelor's degree from Williams College. He studied the work of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, but was more interested in the works of Amy Lowell, Edgar Lee Masters, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. In 1923, he earned a master's degree from Harvard University and was employed as a teacher at the Virginia Seminary and College in Lynchburg until 1926. Three years later, Brown began teaching at Howard University and in 1932 his first book, Southern Road, was published.

His poetry was influenced by jazz, the blues, work songs and spirituals and, like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and other black poets of the period, his writing expresses his concerns about race in America. Southern Road was well received by critics and Brown became part of the artistic tradition of the Harlem Renaissance, but with the arrival of the Depression, Brown could not find a publisher for his second book of verse. He turned to writing essays and focused on his career as a teacher at Howard, where he taught until his retirement in 1969. He finally published his second book of poetry, The Last Ride of Wild Bill, in 1975. Brown is known for his frank, unsentimental portraits of black people and their experiences, and the incorporation of African American folklore and contemporary idiom into his verse. He died in 1989 in Takoma Park, Maryland.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Southern Road (1932)
The Collected Poems of Sterling Brown (1980)
The Last Ride of Wild Bill and Eleven Narrative Poems (1975)

Prose

Negro Poetry and Drama (1937)
Outline for the Study of Poetry of American Negroes (1931)
The Negro in American Fiction (1937)

Riverbank Blues

Sterling A. Brown, 1901 - 1989
A man git his feet set in a sticky mudbank,
A man git dis yellow water in his blood,
No need for hopin', no need for doin',
Muddy streams keep him fixed for good.

Little Muddy, Big Muddy, Moreau and Osage,
Little Mary's, Big Mary's, Cedar Creek,
Flood deir muddy water roundabout a man's roots,
Keep him soaked and stranded and git him weak.

Lazy sun shinin' on a little cabin,
Lazy moon glistenin' over river trees;
Ole river whisperin', lappin' 'gainst de long roots:
"Plenty of rest and peace in these . . ."

Big mules, black loam, apple and peach trees,
But seems lak de river washes us down
Past de rich farms, away from de fat lands,
Dumps us in some ornery riverbank town.

Went down to the river, sot me down an' listened,
Heard de water talkin' quiet, quiet lak an' slow:
"Ain' no need fo' hurry, take yo' time, take yo'
time . . ." Heard it sayin'--"Baby, hyeahs de way life go . . ."

Dat is what it tole me as I watched it slowly rollin',
But somp'n way inside me rared up an' say,
"Better be movin' . . . better be travelin' . . .
Riverbank'll git you ef you stay . . ."

Towns are sinkin' deeper, deeper in de riverbank,
Takin' on de ways of deir sulky Ole Man--
Takin' on his creepy ways, takin' on his evil ways,
"Bes' git way, a long way . . . whiles you can.  "Man got his
sea too lak de Mississippi Ain't got so long for a whole lot longer way,
Man better move some, better not git rooted Muddy water fool you, ef you stay . . ."

From The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown by Sterling A. Brown. Copyright © 1980 Sterling A. Brown. Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

From The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown by Sterling A. Brown. Copyright © 1980 Sterling A. Brown. Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Sterling A. Brown

Sterling A. Brown

Sterling Brown was born in Washington, D.C., in 1901. He was educated

by this poet

poem

I

Slim Greer went to heaven;
  St. Peter said, "Slim,
You been a right good boy."
  An' he winked at him.

     "You been travelin' rascal
       In yo'day.
     You kin roam once mo';
       Den you come to stay.

"Put dese wings on yo' shoulders,
  An' save yo' feet."
Slim grin, and he speak up
poem
Swing dat hammer--hunh--
Steady, bo';
Swing dat hammer--hunh--
Steady, bo';
Ain't no rush, bebby,
Long ways to go.

Burner tore his--hunh--
Black heart away;
Burner tore his--hunh--
Black heart away;
Got me life, bebby,
An' a day.

Gal's on Fifth Street--hunh--
Son done gone;
Gal's on Fifth Street--hunh--
Son