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Anne Spencer

1882–1975

Anne Spencer was born on February 6, 1882, in Henry County, Virginia and graduated from the Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg in 1899. An important figure of the Harlem Renaissance despite her distance from New York, she developed close friendships with several Harlem Renaissance writers, including James Weldon Johnson, whom she met while establishing a Lynchburg chapter of the NAACP. She published over thirty poems in anthologies and magazines during her lifetime and was the first black woman poet to appear in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (W. W. Norton, 1973). Her work was published posthumously in Time’s Unfading Garden: Anne Spencer’s Life and Poetry (Louisiana State University Press, 1977). She died on July 27, 1975.

Anne Spencer

By This Poet

5

At the Carnival

Gay little Girl-of-the-Diving-Tank,
I desire a name for you,
Nice, as a right glove fits;
For you—who amid the malodorous
Mechanics of this unlovely thing,
Are darling of spirit and form.
I know you—a glance, and what you are
Sits-by-the-fire in my heart.
My Limousine-Lady knows you, or
Why does the slant-envy of her eye mark
Your straight air and radiant inclusive smile?
Guilt pins a fig-leaf; Innocence is its own adorning.
The bull-necked man knows you—this first time
His itching flesh sees form divine and vibrant health
And thinks not of his avocation.
I came incuriously—
Set on no diversion save that my mind
Might safely nurse its brood of misdeeds
In the presence of a blind crowd.
The color of life was gray.
Everywhere the setting seemed right
For my mood. 
Here the sausage and garlic booth
Sent unholy incense skyward;
There a quivering female-thing
Gestured assignations, and lied
To call it dancing;
There, too, were games of chance
With chances for none;
But oh! Girl-of-the-Tank, at last!
Gleaming Girl, how intimately pure and free
The gaze you send the crowd,
As though you know the dearth of beauty
In its sordid life.
We need you—my Limousine-Lady,
The bull-necked man and I.
Seeing you here brave and water-clean,
Leaven for the heavy ones of earth,
I am swift to feel that what makes
The plodder glad is good; and
Whatever is good is God.
The wonder is that you are here;
I have seen the queer in queer places,
But never before a heaven-fed
Naiad of the Carnival-Tank!
Little Diver, Destiny for you,
Like as for me, is shod in silence;
Years may seep into your soul
The bacilli of the usual and the expedient;
I implore Neptune to claim his child to-day!

Translation

We trekked into a far country,
My friend and I.
Our deeper content was never spoken,
But each knew all the other said.
He told me how calm his soul was laid
By the lack of anvil and strife.
"The wooing kestrel," I said, "mutes his mating-note
To please the harmony of this sweet silence."
And when at the day's end
We laid tired bodies 'gainst
The loose warm sands,
And the air fleeced its particles for a coverlet;
When star after star came out
To guard their lovers in oblivion—
My soul so leapt that my evening prayer
Stole my morning song!

Before the Feast of Shushan

Garden of Shushan!	
After Eden, all terrace, pool, and flower recollect thee:	
Ye weavers in saffron and haze and Tyrian purple,	
Tell yet what range in color wakes the eye;	
Sorcerer, release the dreams born here when	        
Drowsy, shifting palm-shade enspells the brain;	
And sound! ye with harp and flute ne'er essay	
Before these star-noted birds escaped from paradise awhile to	
Stir all dark, and dear, and passionate desire, till mine	
Arms go out to be mocked by the softly kissing body of the wind—	        
Slave, send Vashti to her King!	
 
The fiery wattles of the sun startle into flame	
The marbled towers of Shushan:	
So at each day's wane, two peers—the one in	
Heaven, the other on earth—welcome with their	        
Splendor the peerless beauty of the Queen.	
 
Cushioned at the Queen's feet and upon her knee	
Finding glory for mine head,—still, nearly shamed	
Am I, the King, to bend and kiss with sharp	
Breath the olive-pink of sandaled toes between;	        
Or lift me high to the magnet of a gaze, dusky,	
Like the pool when but the moon-ray strikes to its depth;	
Or closer press to crush a grape 'gainst lips redder	
Than the grape, a rose in the night of her hair;	
Then—Sharon's Rose in my arms.	        
 
And I am hard to force the petals wide;	
And you are fast to suffer and be sad.	
Is any prophet come to teach a new thing	
Now in a more apt time?	
Have him 'maze how you say love is sacrament;	        
How says Vashti, love is both bread and wine;	
How to the altar may not come to break and drink,	
Hulky flesh nor fleshly spirit!	
 
I, thy lord, like not manna for meat as a Judahn;	
I, thy master, drink, and red wine, plenty, and when	        
I thirst. Eat meat, and full, when I hunger.	
I, thy King, teach you and leave you, when I list.	
No woman in all Persia sets out strange action	
To confuse Persia's lord—	
Love is but desire and thy purpose fulfillment;	        
I, thy King, so say!

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