Tend Our Agonizing Seeds

“Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.” 

W. E. B. Du Bois

Countee Cullen
Countee Cullen (1903 – 1946)

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.

Yet Do I Marvel

Langston Hughes and Countee Culleen
Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen – Oil on Canvas by Ealy Mays 2011

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King

Yet Do I Marvel

By Countee Cullen (1903 – 1946)

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

 

Georgia Dusk

by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

Sometimes there’s a wind in the Georgia dusk
That cries and cries and cries
Its lonely pity through the Georgia dusk
Veiling what the darkness hides

Sometimes there’s blood in the Georgia dusk
Left by a streak of sun
A crimson trickle in the Georgia dusk
Whose Blood? …Everyone’s

Sometimes a wind in the Georgia dusk
Scatters hate like seed
To sprout its bitter barriers
Where the sunsets bleed