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Fenton Johnson

1888–1958

Fenton Johnson was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1888. He was a forerunner of the Harlem Renaissance writers and self-published three poetry collections: A Little Dreaming (1913), Visions of the Dark (1915), and Songs of the Soil (1916). He died in 1958.

By This Poet

3

The Banjo Player

There is music in me, the music of a peasant people.
I wander through the levee, picking my banjo and singing my songs of the cabin and the field. At
   the Last Chance Saloon I am as welcome as the violets in March; there is always food and
   drink for me there, and the dimes of those who love honest music. Behind the railroad tracks
   the little children clap their hands and love me as they love Kris Kringle.
But I fear that I am a failure. Last night a woman called me a troubadour. What is a troubadour?

In the Evening

                    I
In the evening, love returns,
   Like a wand’rer ’cross the sea;
In the evening, love returns
   With a violet for me;
In the evening, life’s a song,
   And the fields are full of green;
All the stars are golden crowns,
   And the eye of God is keen.

                   II
In the evening, sorrow dies
   With the setting of the sun;
In the evening, joy begins,
   When the course of mirth is done;
In the evening, kisses sweet
   Droop upon the passion vine;
In the evening comes your voice:
   “I am yours, and you are mine.”

The Minister

          I mastered pastoral theology, the Greek of the Apostles, and all the difficult subjects in a minister’s curriculum.
          I was as learned as any in this country when the Bishop ordained me.
          And I went to preside over Mount Moriah, largest flock in the Conference.
          I preached the Word as I felt it, I visited the sick and dying and comforted the afflicted in spirit.
          I loved my work because I loved my God.
          But I lost my charge to Sam Jenkins, who has not been to school four years in his life.
          I lost my charge because I could not make my congregation shout.   
          And my dollar money was small, very small.
          Sam Jenkins can tear a Bible to tatters and his congregation destroys the pews with their shouting and stamping.
          Sam Jenkins leads in the gift of raising dollar money.
          Such is religion.