Stanzas from The Fledging Bard and The Poetry Society

Part 1

I’m out to find the new, the modern school,
Where Science trains the fledgling bard to fly,
Where critics teach the ignorant, the fool,
To write the stuff the editors would buy;
It matters not e’en though it be a lie,—
Just so it aims to smash tradition’s crown
And build up one instead decked with a new renown.

A thought is haunting me by night and day,
And in some safe archive I seek to lay it;
I have some startling thing I wish to say,
And they can put me wise just how to say it.
Without their aid, I, like the ass, must bray it,
Without due knowledge of its mood and tense,
And so ’tis sure to fail the bard to recompense.

Will some kind one direct me to that college
Where every budding genius now is headed,
The only source to gain poetic knowledge,
Where all the sacred truths lay deep imbedded,
Where nothing but the genuine goods are shredded,—
The factory where they shape new feet and meters
That make poetic symbols sound like carpet beaters.

• • • • • • •

I hope I’ll be an eligible student,
E’en though I am no poet in a sense,
But just a hot-head youth with ways imprudent,—
A rustic ranting rhymer like by chance
Who thinks that he can make the muses dance
By beating on some poet’s borrowed lyre,
To win some fool’s applause and please his own desire.

Perhaps they’ll never know or e’en suspect
That I am not a true, a genuine poet;
If in the poet’s colors I am decked
They may not ask me e’er to prove or show it.
I’ll play the wise old cock, nor try to crow it,
But be content to gaze with open mind;
I’ll never show the lead but eye things from behind.

• • • • • • •

There goes a wench, a poor live human scrag,
Half crushed beneath the freight of seventy years.
With pail and scrub-brush, soapine and a rag,
To polish marble halls and dirty stairs.
I believe most times she cleans them with her tears,
Ah me, that’s civilization at its height,
Democracy’s full moon, obscured in darkest night.

• • • • • • •

Our President is not a fighter,
    He is too proud to shoulder arms,
He is a scholar and a writer
    Who woos a wealthy widow’s charms.

• • • • • • •

The President,
A high-toned gent,
The darling son
Of Washington;
Has got the wit,
He makes a hit,
With campaign stuff
Of Yankee bluff.

• • • • • • •

He wields his English and his grammar,
    His textbook and his rhetorics;
His words rain blows like a trip-hammer
    And cut much ice in politics.

He’s getting wordier not wiser
    In trained and skilled diplomacy;
He holds the maniac-champ the Kaiser
    To strict accountability.

Come, Woody, quit your honeymooning;
    The Austrians have sunk a boat;
Cut out your wooing and your spooning.
    Get busy, write another note!

• • • • • • •

The house of God is nigh forever closed,
While that of Baal is always open wide,
A poor religious zeal is here exposed,
Which thus reflects a lack of Christian pride.
From good to bad men daily turn aside,
As in a trice from heaven to hell they leap;
The devil works overtime while ministers hug sleep

• • • • • • •

We hail thee, land of liberty.
Star of our hope and destiny
Where long we’ve been and long must be
In freedom’s fabled place.

We bless thee, land, in love’s sweet name
Whereto as slaves our fathers came,
Where still we struggle lashed and lame,
As exiles torn from Grace.

The Scotchman tunes his pipe and drum,
Old Ireland’s Harp is never dumb,
We make our rag-time banjo hum
To Uncle Sam’s swift pace.

We follow where his footsteps lead,
We copy him in word and deed,
E’en though his low and vicious creed
Our morals should debase.

With him we hail the stripes and stars,
The stripes that stand for color bars,
The stars that burn and leave their scars
On our black bleeding race.

• • • • • • •

Some think this Negro question is a joke,
Exploited by their leaders for mere gain;
They have no time to fool with colored folk,
Who seem to show more energy than brain,
Who’re always fighting, raising hell and cain
Among themselves; each wants a different leader,
They know no more their wants than donkeys know their breeder.

Some look to Booker Washington to lead them,
Some yell for Trotter, some for Kelly Miller,
Some want Du Bois with fat ideas to feed them,
Some want Jack Johnson, the big white hope killer.
Perhaps some want Carranza, some want Villa,
I guess they want social equality,
To marry and to mix in white society.

• • • • • • •

This is the white man’s country,
And he must bear the sway;
The Negro is an outcast,
Who happens here to stray;
He bears upon his forehead
The badge of negligence,
By chance he drifted hither,
So he must live by chance.

The people rejoice to hear the nations say,
“The whites alone must bear the sway.”

This is the native rampart
Of Nature’s chosen sons,
While ’tis the haunted prison
Of her despised ones.
This is the fruitful Eden
Where fortune bids us dwell,
This is the white man’s heaven,
But ’tis the Negro’s hell.

The people laugh while all the nations yell,
“The white man’s heaven is the black man’s hell.”

• • • • • • •

I have a problem all alone to solve,
A problem how to find the poetry club,
It makes my sky piece like a top revolve,
For fear that they might mark me for a snob.
They’ll call me poetry monger and then dub
Me rustic rhymer, anything they choose,
Aye, anything at all, but heaven’s immortal muse.

Great Byron, when he published his Childe book,
In which he sang of all his lovely dears,
Called forth hot condemnation and cold look,
From lesser mortals who were not his peers.
They chided him for telling his affairs,
Because they could not tell their own so well,
They plagued the poet lord and made his life a hell.

They called him lewd, vile drunkard, vicious wight,
And all because he dared to tell the truth,
Because he was no cursed hermaphrodite—
A full-fledged genius with the fire of youth.
They hounded him, they hammered him forsooth;
Because he blended human with divine,
They branded him “the bard of women and of wine.”

Of course I soak the booze once in a while,
But I don’t wake the town to sing and shout it;
I love the girls, they win me with a smile,
But no one knows, for I won’t write about it.
And so the fools may never think to doubt it,
When I declare I am a moral man,
As gifted, yet as good as God did ever plan.

From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.