Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
Dunbar gained international renown and popularized
black literature by lecturing and reading his
poetry. He published prolifically: seven volumes
of verse (over 400 poems); four novels; four
collections of short stories; dozens of articles
in magazines; song lyrics, musical plays and sketches.
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals--
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting--
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,--
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings--
I know why the caged bird sings!
Claude McKay (1890-1948)
A native of Jamaica, McKay traveled widely throughout
the world. In several volumes of verse, four novels,
an autobiography and a history of Harlem,
he affirmed black identity and culture.
If We Must Die
If we must die--let it not be like hogs,
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die--oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us through dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
THrough far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,
For weary centries, despised, oppresed
Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place
In the great life line of the Christian West;
And in the Black Land disinherited,
Robbed in the ancient country of its birth,
My heart grows sick with hate, becomes as lead,
For this my race that has no home on earth.
Then from the dark depth of my soul I cry
To the avenging angel to consume
The white man's world of wonders utterly:
Let it be swallowed up in the earth's vast womb,
Or upward roll as sacrifical smoke
To liberate my people from its yoke!