“Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.”
W. E. B. Du Bois
From The Dark Tower
by Countee Cullen
We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made eternally to weep.
The night whose sable breast relieves the stark
White stars is no less lovely being dark,
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds
Countee Cullen was a poet, a playwright, a translator, an essayist, a critic, a children’s author and scholar. He managed all that creativity during an intense 25 year career. Countee was part of the Harlem social elite, marrying W. E. B Du Bois’ daughter, with some pomp and circumstance only to have the marriage fail in less than three years under the weight of great expectations. Countee was highly influenced by Yeats, Shelley and A. E. Housman, choosing a classical style of poetry at a time other Harlem Renaissance writers were branching off into more uncharted waters. Countee was unfairly criticized during his career for writing in a style that would appeal to a cross over of white readers and be more publishable. I think his poetry sings with a genuine voice that was of his choosing alone. Countee said it best; “My poetry, I think, has become the way of my giving out what music is within me.” Countee dealt with a wide range of themes in his poetry, but always came back to love.
Song In Spite of Myself
by Countee Cullen
Never love with all your heart,
It only ends in aching;
And bit by bit to the smallest part
That organ will be breaking.
Never love with all your mind,
It only ends in fretting;
In musing on sweet joys behind,
too poignant for forgetting.
Never love with all your soul,
for such there is no ending;
though a mind that frets may find control,
and a shattered heart find mending.
Give but a grain of the heart’s rich seed,
Confine some undercover,
And when love goes, bid him God-speed,
and find another lover.