Langston Hughes: “Tarea para el segundo curso de inglés” / “Theme for English B”, translated into Spanish by Óscar Paúl Castro

ZP_Langston Hughes_pastel drawing by Winold Reiss

ZP_Langston Hughes_pastel drawing by Winold Reiss

Langston Hughes (1 febrero 1902 – 1967)

“Tarea para el segundo curso de inglés”

.

El profesor nos dijo:

Pueden irse a casa.

Esta noche escribirán una página:

que lo que escriban venga de ustedes,

así expresarán algo auténtico.

.

Me pregunto si es así de simple.

Tengo veintidós años, soy de color, nací en Winston-Salem.

Ahí asistí a la escuela, después en Durham, después aquí.

La Universidad está sobre la colina, dominando Harlem.

Soy el único estudiante de color en la clase.

Las escaleras que descienden por la colina desembocan en Harlem:

después de atravesar un parque, cruzar la calle san Nicolás,

la Octava Avenida, la Séptima, llego hasta el edificio “Y”

― la YMCA de Harlem Branch ― donde tomo el elevador,

entro en mi cuarto, me siento y escribo esta página:

.

Para ti no debe ser fácil poder identificar lo que es auténtico, tampoco lo es

para mí a esta edad: veintidós años. Supongo, sin embargo, que en todo

lo que siento, veo y escucho, Harlem, te escucho a ti:

te escucho, me escuchas; tú y yo ―juntos― estamos en esta página.

(También escucho a Nueva York) ¿Quién eres―Quién soy?

Bien: me gusta comer, dormir, beber, estar enamorado.

Me gusta trabajar, leer, me gusta aprender, e intentar comprender el sentido de la vida.

Quisiera una pipa como regalo de Navidad,

quizás unos discos: Bessie, bebop, o Bach.

Supongo que el hecho de ser negro no significa que me gusten

cosas distintas a las que les gustan a personas de otras razas.

¿En esta página que escribo se notará mi color?

Ciertamente ―siendo lo que soy― no será una página en blanco.

Y sin embargo

será parte de usted, maestro.

Usted es blanco,

y aun así es parte de mí, como yo soy parte de usted.

Eso significa ser americano.

Quizá usted no quiera ser parte de mí a veces.

Y en ocasiones yo no quiero ser parte de usted.

Pero, indudablemente, ambos somos parte del otro.

Yo aprendo de usted,

y supongo que usted aprende de mí:

aun cuando usted es mayor ―y blanco―

y, de alguna forma, más libre.

.

Está es mi tarea del Segundo Curso de Inglés.

(1951)

.     .     .

Langston Hughes (born February 1st 1902, died 1967)

“Theme for English B”

.

The instructor said,

Go home and write

a page tonight.

And let that page come out of you –

Then, it will be true.

.

I wonder if it’s that simple?

I am twenty-two, coloured, born in Winston-Salem.

I went to school there, then Durham, then here

to this college on the hill above Harlem.

I am the only coloured student in my class.

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem

through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,

Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator

up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

.

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:

hear you, hear me – we two – you, me, talk on this page.

(I hear New York too.) Me – who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records – Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being coloured doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.

So will my page be coloured that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white –

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.

Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that’s true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me –

although you’re older – and white –

and somewhat more free.

.

This is my page for English B.

(1951)

.     .     .

Traducción en español © Óscar Paúl Castro (nace 1979, Culiacán, México)

Óscar Paúl Castro, un poeta y traductor, es licenciado en Lengua y Literatura Hispánicas por la Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa. 

.     .     .     .     .


Josephine Baker, née Freda Josephine McDonald, was born in St. Louis in 1906.  In 1921 she ventured to New York City, danced at The Plantation Club in Harlem, and became a popular and well-paid chorus girl in Broadway revues.  In 1925 she travelled to Paris where she wowed 'em with her athletic elegance and fresh humour.  Parisians were mad for all things “Negro” and “Exotic” so Baker shrewdly “invented” herself for France – yet somehow remained sincere and real.  She became a French citizen, spied on the Nazis for her government during WW2, raised a dozen adopted children – her rainbow tribe – and, from the 1950s onward, was a tireless campaigner for Civil Rights in the U.S.A.  She died peacefully in 1975 after having given a performance at the Bobino music-hall theatre in Montparnasse.

Josephine Baker, née Freda Josephine McDonald, was born in St. Louis in 1906. In 1921 she ventured to New York City, danced at The Plantation Club in Harlem, and became a popular and well-paid chorus girl in Broadway revues. In 1925 she travelled to Paris where she wowed ‘em with her athletic elegance and fresh humour. Parisians were mad for all things “Negro” and “Exotic” so Baker shrewdly “invented” herself for France – yet somehow remained sincere and real. She became a French citizen, spied on the Nazis for her government during WW2, raised a dozen adopted children – her rainbow tribe – and, from the 1950s onward, was a tireless campaigner for Civil Rights in the U.S.A. She died peacefully in 1975 after having given a performance at the Bobino music-hall theatre in Montparnasse.

ZP_Aaron Douglas' 1929 dustjacket illustration for The Blacker the Berry - A Novel of Negro Life, by Wallace Thurman 1902-1934

ZP_Aaron Douglas’ 1929 dustjacket illustration for The Blacker the Berry – A Novel of Negro Life, by Wallace Thurman 1902-1934

ZP_Claude McKay, 1889-1948, Jamaican-born author of the frank and intense 1928 novel, Home to Harlem

ZP_Claude McKay, 1889-1948, Jamaican-born author of the frank and intense 1928 novel, Home to Harlem

ZP_Bessie Smith, 1894 to 1937, was the biggest Blues singer of the 1920s.  Poet Langston Hughes would've been familiar with her spicy lyrics.

ZP_Bessie Smith, 1894 to 1937, was the biggest Blues singer of the 1920s. Her sexual frankness through the use of metaphor is an absolute marvel – even in 2013. Poet Langston Hughes would’ve been familiar with her spicy lyrics.

Bessie Smith

Empty Bed Blues” (recorded in 1928, lyrics by Smith)

.

I woke up this morning with a awful aching head
I woke up this morning with a awful aching head
My new man had left me, just a room and a empty bed
.
Bought me a coffee grinder that’s the best one I could find
Bought me a coffee grinder that’s the best one I could find
Oh, he could grind my coffee, ’cause he had a brand new grind
.
He’s a deep sea diver with a stroke that can’t go wrong
He’s a deep sea diver with a stroke that can’t go wrong
He can stay at the bottom and his wind holds out so long
.
He knows how to thrill me and he thrills me night and day
Oh, he knows how to thrill me, he thrills me night and day
He’s got a new way of loving, almost takes my breath away
.
Lord, he’s got that sweet somethin’ and I told my girlfriend Lou
He’s got that sweet somethin’ and I told my girlfriend Lou
From the way she’s raving, she must have gone and tried it too
.

When my bed get empty make me feel awful mean and blue
When my bed get empty make me feel awful mean and blue
My springs are getting rusty, sleeping single like I do
.


Bought him a blanket, pillow for his head at night
Bought him a blanket, pillow for his head at night
Then I bought him a mattress so he could lay just right
.
He came home one evening with his spirit way up high
He came home one evening with his spirit way up high
What he had to give me, make me wring my hands and cry
.
He give me a lesson that I never had before
He give me a lesson that I never had before
When he got to teachin’ me, from my elbow down was sore
.
He boiled my first cabbage and he made it awful hot
He boiled my first cabbage and he made it awful hot
When he put in the bacon, it overflowed the pot
.
When you git good lovin’, never go and spread the news
Yes, he’ll double-cross you, and leave you with them empty bed blues.

ZP_Gladys Bentley, 1907 - 1960, in a retouched and colourized 1920s photograph_Bentley was an openly lesbian Blues singer who often performed at Clam House, a gay speakeasy in Harlem.

ZP_Gladys Bentley, 1907 – 1960, in a retouched and colourized 1920s photograph_Bentley was an openly lesbian Blues singer who often performed at Clam House, a gay speakeasy in Harlem.

ZP_Fire!, the 1926 one-issue-only Harlem literary journal that shocked the Black middle-class

ZP_Fire!, the 1926 one-issue-only Harlem literary journal that appalled and offended the Black middle-class

ZP_Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, 1874 - 1938_PuertoRican-born and  mixed race, he settled in Harlem in the 1890s and was determined to untangle and reveal the African thread in the fabric of the Americas.  Historian and activist, Schomburg was one of the intellectual backbones of The Harlem Renaissance.

ZP_Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, 1874 – 1938_PuertoRican-born and mixed race, he settled in Harlem in the 1890s and was determined to untangle and reveal the African thread in the fabric of the Americas. Historian and activist, Schomburg was one of the intellectual backbones of The Harlem Renaissance.

ZP_The Crisis -  A Record of the Darker Races, founded in 1910, was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's monthly journal. Edited by W. E. B. Du Bois, it featured, in a 1921 issue, the first published poem of a 19 year old Langston Hughes - The Negro Speaks of Rivers.

ZP_The Crisis – A Record of the Darker Races, founded in 1910, was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s monthly journal. Edited by W. E. B. Du Bois, it featured, in a 1921 issue, the first published poem of a 19 year old Langston Hughes – The Negro Speaks of Rivers.


Love poems, Blues poems – from The Harlem Renaissance

ZP_Dance_by Aaron Douglas

ZP_Dance_by Aaron Douglas 1899-1979

Love poems, Blues poems – from The Harlem Renaissance:

Langston Hughes verses composed between 1924 and 1930:

.     .     .

“Subway Face”

.

That I have been looking

For you all my life

Does not matter to you.

You do not know.

.

You never knew.

Nor did I.

Now you take the Harlem train uptown;

I take a local down.

(1924)

.     .     .

“Poem (2)” (To F. S.)

.

I loved my friend.

He went away from me.

There’s nothing more to say.

The poem ends,

Soft as it began –

I loved my friend.

(1925)

.     .     .

“Better”

.

Better in the quiet night

To sit and cry alone

Than rest my head on another’s shoulder

After you have gone.

.

Better, in the brilliant day,

Filled with sun and noise,

To listen to no song at all

Than hear another voice.

.     .     .

“Poem (4)” (To the Black Beloved)

.

Ah,

My black one,

Thou art not beautiful

Yet thou hast

A loveliness

Surpassing beauty.

.

Oh,

My black one,

Thou art not good

Yet thou hast

A purity

Surpassing goodness.

.

Ah,

My black one,

Thou art not luminous

Yet an altar of jewels,

An altar of shimmering jewels,

Would pale in the light

Of thy darkness,

Pale in the light

Of thy nightness.

.     .     .

“The Ring”

.

Love is the master of the ring

And life a circus tent.

What is this silly song you sing?

Love is the master of the ring.

.

I am afraid!

Afraid of Love

And of Love’s bitter whip!

Afraid,

Afraid of Love

And Love’s sharp, stinging whip.

.

What is this silly song you sing?

Love is the master of the ring.

(1926)

.     .     .

“Ma Man”

.

When ma man looks at me

He knocks me off ma feet.

When ma man looks at me

He knocks me off ma feet.

He’s got those ‘lectric-shockin’ eyes an’

De way he shocks me sho is sweet.

.

He kin play a banjo.

Lordy, he kin plunk, plunk, plunk.

He kin play a banjo.

I mean plunk, plunk…plunk, plunk.

He plays good when he’s sober

An’ better, better, better when he’s drunk.

.

Eagle-rockin’,

Daddy, eagle-rock with me.

Eagle rockin’,

Come an’ eagle-rock with me.

Honey baby,

Eagle-rockish as I kin be!

.     .     .

“Lament over Love”

.

I hope my child’ll

Never love a man.

I say I hope my child’ll

Never love a man.

Love can hurt you

Mo’n anything else can.

.

I’m goin’ down to the river

An’ I ain’t goin’ there to swim;

Down to the river,

Ain’t goin’ there to swim.

My true love’s left me

And I’m goin’ there to think about him.

.

Love is like whiskey,

Love is like red, red wine.

Love is like whiskey,

Like sweet red wine.

If you want to be happy

You got to  love all the time.

.

I’m goin’ up in a tower

Tall as a tree is tall,

Up in a tower

Tall as a tree is tall.

Gonna think about my man –

And let my fool-self fall.

(1926)

.     .     .

“Dressed Up”

.

I had ma clothes cleaned

Just like new.

I put ’em on but

I still feels blue.

.

I bought a new hat,

Sho is fine,

But I wish I had back that

Old gal o’ mine.

.

I got new shoes –

They don’t hurt ma feet,

But I ain’t got nobody

For to call me sweet.

.     .     .

“To a Little Lover-Lass, Dead”

.

She

Who searched for lovers

In the night

Has gone the quiet way

Into the still,

Dark land of death

Beyond the rim of day.

.

Now like a little lonely waif

She walks

An endless street

And gives her kiss to nothingness.

Would God his lips were sweet!

.     .     .

“Harlem Night Song”

.

Come,

Let us roam the night together

Singing.

.

I love you.

Across

The Harlem roof-tops

Moon is shining.

Night sky is blue.

Stars are great drops

Of golden dew.

.

Down the street

A band is playing.

.

I love you.

.

Come,

Let us roam the night together

Singing.

.     .     .

“Passing Love”

.

Because you are to me a song

I must not sing you over-long.

.

Because you are to me a prayer

I  cannot say you everywhere.

.

Because you are to me a rose –

You will not stay when summer goes.

(1927)

.     .     .

“Desire”

.

Desire to us

Was like a double death,

Swift dying

Of our mingled breath,

Evaporation

Of an unknown strange perfume

Between us quickly

In a naked

Room.

.     .     .

“Dreamer”

.

I take my dreams

And make of them a bronze vase,

And a wide round fountain

With a beautiful statue in its centre,

And a song with a broken heart,

And I ask you:

Do you understand my dreams?

Sometimes you say you do

And sometimes you say you don’t.

Either way

It doesn’t matter.

I continue to dream.

(1927)

.     .     .

“Lover’s Return”

.

My old time daddy

Came back home last night.

His face was pale and

His eyes didn’t look just right.

.

He says, “Mary, I’m

Comin’ home to you –

So sick and lonesome

I don’t know what to do.”

.

Oh, men treats women

Just like a pair o’ shoes –

You kicks ’em round and

Does ’em like you choose.

.

I looked at my daddy –

Lawd! and I wanted to cry.

He looked so thin –

Lawd! that I wanted to cry.

But the devil told me:

Damn a lover

Come home to die!

(1928)

.     .     .

“Hurt”

.

Who cares

About the hurt in your heart?

.

Make a song like this

for a jazz band to play:

Nobody cares.

Nobody cares.

Make a song like that

From your lips.

Nobody cares.

.     .     .

“Spring for Lovers”

.

Desire weaves its fantasy of dreams,

And all the world becomes a garden close

In which we wander, you and I together,

Believing in the symbol of the rose,

Believing only in the heart’s bright flower –

Forgetting – flowers wither in an hour.

(1930)

.     .     .

“Rent-Party Shout:  For a Lady Dancer”

.

Whip it to a jelly!

Too bad Jim!

Mamie’s got ma man –

An’ I can’t find him.

Shake that thing!  O!

Shake it slow!

That man I love is

Mean an’ low.

Pistol an’ razor!

Razor an’ gun!

If I sees man man he’d

Better run –

For  I’ll shoot him in de shoulder,

Else I’ll cut him down,

Cause I knows I can find him

When he’s in de ground –

Then can’t no other women

Have him layin’ round.

So play it, Mr. Nappy!

Yo’ music’s fine!

I’m gonna kill that

Man o’ mine!

(1930)

.     .     .     .     .

In the manner of all great poets Langston Hughes (February 1st, 1902 – 1967) wrote love poems (and love-blues poems), using the voices and perspectives of both Man and Woman.  In addition to such art, Hughes’ homosexuality, real though undisclosed during his lifetime, probably was responsible for the subtle and highly-original poet’s voice he employed for three of the poems included here:  Subway Face, Poem (2), and Desire.  Hughes was among a wealth of black migrants born in The South or the Mid-West who gravitated toward Harlem in New York City from about 1920 onward.  Along with Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman and many others, Hughes became part of The Harlem Renaissance, that great-gorgeous fresh-flowering of Black-American culture.

.     .     .     .     .


Johnson, Fauset, Bennett: Black Blossoms of the 1920s


ZP_Georgia Douglas Johnson was the author of The Heart of a Woman (1918) and Bronze (1922).

ZP_Georgia Douglas Johnson was the author of The Heart of a Woman (1918) and Bronze (1922).

ZP_Jessie Redmon Fauset was literary editor for The Crisis from 1918 to 1927.

ZP_Jessie Redmon Fauset was literary editor for The Crisis from 1918 to 1927.


ZP_Gwendolyn Bennett at her typewriter.  She contributed to the academic journal Opportunity, had a story included in the infamous one-issue Fire! and her 1924 poem To Usward was "a rallying cry to the New Negro".

ZP_Gwendolyn Bennett at her typewriter. She contributed to the academic journal Opportunity, had a story included in the infamous one-issue Fire! and her 1924 poem To Usward was “a rallying cry to the New Negro”.



Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880-1966)
Black Woman” (1922)
.

Don’t knock at the door, little child,
     I cannot let you in,
You know not what a world this is
     Of cruelty and sin.
Wait in the still eternity
     Until I come to you,
The world is cruel, cruel, child,
     I cannot let you in!
.

Don’t knock at my heart, little one,
     I cannot bear the pain
Of turning deaf-ear to your call
     Time and time again!
You do not know the monster men
     Inhabiting the earth,
Be still, be still, my precious child,
     I must not give you birth!



.     .     .



Georgia Douglas Johnson 

Common Dust”

.

And who shall separate the dust

What later we shall be:

Whose keen discerning eye will scan

And solve the mystery?

.

The high, the low, the rich, the poor, 


The black, the white, the red, 


And all the chromatique between, 


Of whom shall it be said:

.

Here lies the dust of Africa; 


Here are the sons of Rome; 


Here lies the one unlabelled, 


The world at large his home!

.

Can one then separate the dust? 


Will mankind lie apart, 


When life has settled back again 


The same as from the start?

.     .     .

Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961)
La Vie C'est La Vie” (1922)
.
On summer afternoons I sit
Quiescent by you in the park
And idly watch the sunbeams gild
And tint the ash-trees' bark.
.
Or else I watch the squirrels frisk
And chaffer in the grassy lane;
And all the while I mark your voice
Breaking with love and pain.
.
I know a woman who would give
Her chance of heaven to take my place;
To see the love-light in your eyes,
The love-glow on your face!
.
And there's a man whose lightest word
Can set my chilly blood afire;
Fulfillment of his least behest
Defines my life’s desire.
.
But he will none of me, nor I
Of you. Nor you of her. 'Tis said
The world is full of jests like these.—
I wish that I were dead.



.     .     .

Jessie Redmon Fauset

Oriflamme”

.

I can remember when I was a little young girl, how my old mammy would sit out of doors in the evenings and look up at the stars and groan,

and I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’ And she would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my poor children;

they do not know where I be and I don’t know where they be. I look up at the stars and they look up at the stars!’”

Sojourner Truth  (1797-1883)


.

I think I see her sitting bowed and black,
Stricken and seared with slavery's mortal scars,
Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet
Still looking at the stars.
.
Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons,
Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom's bars,
Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set,
Still visioning the stars!


.     .     .

Gwendolyn Bennett (1902-1981)
Hatred” (1926)
.
I shall hate you
Like a dart of singing steel
Shot through still air
At even-tide,
Or solemnly
As pines are sober
When they stand etched
Against the sky.
Hating you shall be a game
Played with cool hands
And slim fingers.
Your heart will yearn
For the lonely splendor
Of the pine tree
While rekindled fires
In my eyes
Shall wound you like swift arrows.
Memory will lay its hands
Upon your breast
And you will understand
My hatred. 


.     .     .

Gwendolyn Bennett 

Fantasy” (1927) 

.
I sailed in my dreams to the Land of Night
Where you were the dusk-eyed queen,
And there in the pallor of moon-veiled light
The loveliest things were seen ...
.
A slim-necked peacock sauntered there
In a garden of lavender hues,
And you were strange with your purple hair
As you sat in your amethyst chair
With your feet in your hyacinth shoes.
.
Oh, the moon gave a bluish light
Through the trees in the land of dreams and night.
I stood behind a bush of yellow-green
And whistled a song to the dark-haired queen...

.     .     .

Helene Johnson (1906-1995) was just that much younger than the other women poets,

and a letting-go of the conventions of 19th-century “romantic” verse form and literary style

plus an embracing of colloquial speech and Jazz rhythm is evident in the following poem, “Bottled”, which she wrote at the age of 21.

.

Helene Johnson

Bottled” (1927)

.

Upstairs on the third floor
Of the 135th Street Library
In Harlem, I saw a little
Bottle of sand, brown sand,
Just like the kids make pies
Out of down on the beach.
But the label said: “This
Sand was taken from the Sahara desert.”
Imagine that! The Sahara desert!
Some bozo’s been all the way to Africa to get some sand.
And yesterday on Seventh Avenue
I saw a darky dressed to kill
In yellow gloves and swallowtail coat
And swirling at him. Me too,
At first, till I saw his face
When he stopped to hear a
Organ grinder grind out some jazz.
Boy! You should a seen that darky’s face!
It just shone. Gee, he was happy!
And he began to dance. No
Charleston or Black Bottom for him.
No sir. He danced just as dignified
And slow. No, not slow either.
Dignified and proud! You couldn’t
Call it slow, not with all the
Cuttin’ up he did. You would a died to see him.
The crowd kept yellin’ but he didn’t hear,
Just kept on dancin’ and twirlin’ that cane
And yellin’ out loud every once in a while.
I know the crowd thought he was coo-coo.
But say, I was where I could see his face,

.

And somehow, I could see him dancin’ in a jungle,
A real honest-to cripe jungle, and he wouldn’t leave on them
Trick clothes-those yaller shoes and yaller gloves
And swallowtail coat. He wouldn’t have on nothing.
And he wouldn’t be carrying no cane.
He’d be carrying a spear with a sharp fine point
Like the bayonets we had “over there.”
And the end of it would be dipped in some kind of
Hoo-doo poison. And he’d be dancin’ black and naked and

.

Gleaming.
And He’d have rings in his ears and on his nose
And bracelets and necklaces of elephants teeth.
Gee, I bet he’d be beautiful then all right.
No one would laugh at him then, I bet.
Say! That man that took that sand from the Sahara desert
And put it in a little bottle on a shelf in the library,
That’s what they done to this shine, ain’t it? Bottled him.
Trick shoes, trick coat, trick cane, trick everything-all glass-
But inside -
Gee, that poor shine!

 

ZP_Youngsters playing in the street_an undated photograph from 1920s Harlem

ZP_Youngsters playing in the street_an undated photograph from 1920s Harlem

ZP_Regina Anderson 1901-1993, professional librarian, playwright, and midwife to The Harlem Renaissance

ZP_Regina Anderson 1901-1993, Librarian at the 135th Street Harlem branch of the New York Public Library, playwright, and midwife to The Harlem Renaissance

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was a sociologist and civil-rights activist.  He co-founded The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, and its monthly current-affairs journal, The Crisis – A Record of the Darker Races, which included poems, reviews and essays, was published from 1910 onward.  Du Bois, as the editor of The Crisis, stated:  “The object of this publication is to set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested today toward colored people. It takes its name from the fact that the editors believe that this is a critical time in the history of the advancement of men. Finally, its editorial page will stand for the rights of men, irrespective of color or race, for the highest ideals of American democracy, and for reasonable but earnest and persistent attempts to gain these rights and realize these ideals.”

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was a sociologist and civil-rights activist. He co-founded The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, and its monthly current-affairs journal, The Crisis – A Record of the Darker Races, which included poems, reviews and essays, was published from 1910 onward. Du Bois, as the editor of The Crisis, stated: “The object of this publication is to set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested today toward colored people. It takes its name from the fact that the editors believe that this is a critical time in the history of the advancement of men. Finally, its editorial page will stand for the rights of men, irrespective of color or race, for the highest ideals of American democracy, and for reasonable but earnest and persistent attempts to gain these rights and realize these ideals.”


“Go on and up!”: the tight-rope-walking poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar

ZP_Paul Laurence Dunbar_a studio photographic portrait from 1896

ZP_Paul Laurence Dunbar_a studio photographic portrait from 1896

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906, Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A.)

“Accountability”

.

Folks ain’t got no right to censuah othah folks about dey habits;

Him dat giv’ de squir’ls de bushtails made de bobtails fu’ de rabbits.

Him dat built de gread big mountains hollered out de little valleys,

Him dat made de streets an’ driveways wasn’t shamed to make de alleys.

.

We is all constructed diff’ent, d’ain’t no two of us de same;

We cain’t he’p ouah likes an’ dislikes, ef we’se bad we ain’t to blame.

Ef we’se good, we needn’t show off, case you bet it ain’t ouah doin’

We gits into su’ttain channels dat we jes’ cain’t he’p pu’suin’.

.

But we all fits into places dat no othah ones could fill,

An’ we does the things we has to, big er little, good er ill.

John cain’t tek de place o’ Henry, Su an’ Sally ain’t alike;

Bass ain’t nuthin’ like a suckah, chub ain’t nuthin’ like a pike.

.

When you come to think about it, how it’s all planned out it’s splendid.

Nuthin’s done er evah happens, ‘dout hit’s somefin’ dat’s intended;

Don’t keer whut you does, you has to, an’ hit sholy beats de dickens –

Viney, go put on de kittle, I got one o’ mastah’s chickens.

 

.     .     .

 

“A Negro Love Song”

.

Seen my lady home las’ night,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Hel’ huh han’ an’ sque’z it tight,

Jump back, honey, jump bck.

Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,

Seen a light gleam f’om huh eye,

An’ a smile go flittin’ by –

Jump back, honey, jump back.

.

Hyeahd de win’ blow thoo de pine,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Mockin’-bird was singin’ fine,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

An’ my hea’t was beatin’ so,

When I reached my lady’s do’,

Dat I couldn’t ba’ to go –

Jump back, honey, jump back.

.

Put my ahm aroun’ huh wais’,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Raised huh lips an’ took a tase,

Jump back, honey, jump back.

Love me, honey, love me true?

Love me well ez I love you?

An’ she answe’d, “ ’Cose I do” –

Jump back, honey, jump back.

 

.     .     .

 

“Jilted”

.

Lucy done gone back on me,

Dat’s de way wif life.

Evaht’ing was movin’ free,

T’ought I had my wife.

Den some dahky comes along,

Sings my gal a little song,

Since den, evaht’ing’s gone wrong,

Evah day dey’s strife.

.

Didn’t answer me to-day,

W’en I called huh name,

Would you t’ink, she’d ac’ dat way

W’en I ain’t to blame?

Dat’s de way dese women do,

W’en dey fin’s a fellow true,

Den dey  ’buse him thoo an’ thoo;

Well, hit’s all de same.

.

Somep’n’s wrong erbout my lung,

An’ I’s glad hit’s so.

Doctah says  ’at I’ll die young,

Well, I wants to go!

Whut’s de use o’ livin’ hyeah,

W’en de gal you loves so deah,

Goes back on you clean an’ cleah –

I sh’d like to know!

 

.     .     .

 

“Drizzle”

.

Hit ‘s been drizzlin’ an’ been sprinklin’,

Kin’ o’ techy all day long.

I ain’t wet enough fu’ toddy,

I ‘s too damp to raise a song,

An’ de case have set me t’inkin’,

Dat dey ‘s folk des lak de rain,

Dat goes drizzlin’ w’en dey’s talkin’,

An’ won’t speak out flat an’ plain.

.

Ain’t you nevah set an’ listened

At a body ‘splain his min’?

W’en de t’oughts dey keep on drappin’

Was n’t big enough to fin’?

Dem ‘s whut I call drizzlin’ people,

Othahs call ‘em mealy mouf,

But de fust name hits me bettah,

Case dey nevah tech a drouf.

.

Dey kin talk from hyeah to yandah,

An’ f’om yandah hyeah ergain,

An’ dey don’ mek no mo’ ‘pression,

Den dis powd’ry kin’ o’ rain.

En yo’ min’ is dry ez cindahs,

Er a piece o’ kindlin’ wood,

‘T ain’t no use a-talkin’ to ‘em,

Fu’ dey drizzle ain’t no good.

.

Gimme folks dat speak out nachul,

Whut ‘ll say des whut dey mean,

Whut don’t set dey wo’ds so skimpy

Dat you got to guess between.

I want talk des’ lak de showahs

Whut kin wash de dust erway,

Not dat sprinklin’ convusation,

Dat des drizzle all de day.

 

.     .     .

 

“The Lawyer’s Ways”

.

I ‘ve been list’nin’ to them lawyers

In the court house up the street,

An’ I ‘ve come to the conclusion

That I’m most completely beat.

Fust one feller riz to argy,

An’ he boldly waded in

As he dressed the tremblin’ pris’ner

In a coat o’ deep-dyed sin.

.

Why, he painted him all over

In a hue o’ blackest crime,

An’ he smeared his reputation

With the thickest kind o’ grime,

Tell I found myself a-wond’rin’

In a misty way and dim,

How the Lord had come to fashion

Sich an awful man as him.

.

Then the other lawyer started,

An’ with brimmin’, tearful eyes,

Said his client was a martyr

That was brought to sacrifice.

An’ he give to that same pris’ner

Every blesséd human grace,

Tell I saw the light o’ virtue

Fairly shinin’ from his face.

.

Then I own ‘at I was puzzled

How sich things could rightly be;

An’ this aggervatin’ question

Seems to keep a-puzzlin’ me.

So, will some one please inform me,

An’ this mystery unroll–

How an angel an’ a devil

Can persess the self-same soul?

 

.     .     .

 

“Tim”

.

Well, mebbe ya don’t remember Tim

Little feller, lank an’ slim

Jest about as big as a minute

With an eye like coal, with a sparkle in it.

Newsboys ust to carry The Press

Littlest one on the force I guess

But he wasn’t afeared to run and holler

Spry as a cricket an’ bright as a dollar.

Wall, like a book I knowed this Tim

use to work along a’ him

When The Press was a little measley sheet,

An’ I reckon this team was hard to beat.

Sell papers, well know you’re a talkin’ sin;

When we got out we made a din

All up and down the busy street

Till every blesséd printed sheet

We had was gone, then me and Tim

We’d hurry home in the twilight dim

Down to our cellar an’ while away

The darkenin’ hours in quiet play.

Fur we wuz only kids, us two

And played like other youngsters do.

Orphans, we wuz without friend

His aid er helpin’ hand to lend

Yes we wuz poor as poor could be

But we wuz happy – Tim and me.

And the days went by like a song of joy

You know what it is to be a boy

I reckon you’ll laugh when you hear me say

That we fell in love in a boyish way.

 

.     .     .

 

“To a Captious Critic”

.

Dear critic, who my lightness so deplores,

Would I might study to be prince of bores,

Right wisely would I rule that dull estate –

But, sir, I may not, till you abdicate.

 

.     .     .

 

“Song”

.

My heart to thy heart,

My hand to thine;

My lip to thy lips,

Kisses are wine

Brewed for the lover in sunshine and shade;

Let me drink deep, then, my African maid.

.

Lily to lily,

Rose unto rose;

My love to thy love

Tenderly grows.

Rend not the oak and the ivy in twain,

Nor the swart maid from her swarthier swain.

 

.     .     .

 

“Ode to Ethiopia”

.

O Mother Race! to thee I bring

This pledge of faith unwavering,

This tribute to thy glory.

I know the pangs which thou didst feel,

When Slavery crushed thee with its heel,

With thy dear blood all gory.

.

Sad days were those – ah, sad indeed!

But through the land the fruitful seed

Of better times was growing.

The plant of freedom upward sprung,

And spread its leaves so fresh and young –

Its blossoms now are blowing.

.

On every hand in this fair land,

Proud Ethiope’s swarthy children stand

Beside their fairer neighbour;

The forests flee before their stroke,

Their hammers ring, their forges smoke –

They stir in honest labour.

.

They tread the fields where honour calls;

Their voices sound through senate halls

In majesty and power.

To right they cling; the hymns they sing

Up to the skies in beauty ring,

And bolder grow each hour.

.

Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul;

Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll

In characters of fire.

High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky

Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,

And truth shall lift them higher.

.

Thou hast the right to noble pride,

Whose spotless robes were purified

By blood’s severe baptism.

Upon thy brow the cross was laid,

And labour’s painful sweat-beads made

A consecrating chrism.

.

No other race, or white or black,

When bound as thou wert, to the rack,

So seldom stooped to grieving;

No other race, when free again,

Forgot the past and proved them men

So noble in forgiving.

.

Go on and up! Our souls and eyes

Shall follow thy continuous rise;

Our ears shall list thy story

From bards who from thy root shall spring,

And proudly tune their lyres to sing

Of Ethiopia’s glory.

 

.     .     .

 

“We Wear the Mask”

.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

.

Why should the world be over-wise

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!

 

.     .     .

 

“Misappreshension”

.

Out of my heart, one day, I wrote a song,

With my heart’s blood imbued,

Instinct with passion, tremulously strong,

With grief subdued;

Breathing a fortitude

Pain-bought.

And one who claimed much love for what I wrought,

Read and considered it,

And spoke:

“Ay, brother –  ’tis well writ,

But where’s the joke?”

 

.     .     .

 

“Unexpressed”

.

Deep in my heart that aches with the repression,

And strives with plenitude of bitter pain,

There lives a thought that clamours for expression,

And spends its undelivered force in vain.

.

What boots it that some other may have thought it?

The right of thoughts’ expression is divine;

The price of pain I pay for it has bought it,

I care not who lays claim to it –’t is mine!

.

And yet not mine until it be delivered;

The manner of its birth shall prove the test.

Alas, alas, my rock of pride is shivered –

I beat my brow – the thought still unexpressed.

 

.     .     .

 

“A Choice”

.

They please me not – these solemn songs

That hint of sermons covered up.

’T is true the world should heed its wrongs,

But in a poem let me sup,

Not simples brewed to cure or ease

Humanity’s confessed disease,

But the spirit-wine of a singing line,

Or a dew-drop in a honey cup!

 

.     .     .

 

“Equipment”

.

With what thou gavest me, O Master,

I have wrought.

Such chances, such abilities,

To see the end was not for my poor eyes,

Thine was the impulse, thine the forming thought.

.

Ah, I have wrought,

And these sad hands have right to tell their story,

It was no hard up striving after glory,

Catching and losing, gaining and failing,

Raging me back at the world’s raucous railing.

Simply and humbly from stone and from wood,

Wrought I the things that to thee might seem good.

.

If they are little, ah God! but the cost,

Who but thou knowest the all that is lost!

If they are few, is the workmanship true?

Try them and weigh me, whate’er be my due!

 

.     .     .     .     .

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872 – less than a decade after the Emancipation Act – to a mother and a father who had been slaves in Kentucky.  His mother had learned to read expressly for the purpose of saying aloud the Bible and Dunbar learned to read at his mother’s knee – from The Good Book.  He wrote his first poem at the age of 6 and by the end of high school in Dayton he had had poems published in The Herald newspaper.  His first book of poems, Oak and Ivy, was published in 1893.  Editor and critic William Dean Howells wrote a glowing review of Dunbar’s second book of poetry, Majors and Minors, in 1896.  Combining the two books into one, Lyrics of Lowly Life, with an introduction by the influential Howells, Dunbar had a best-seller and was soon nationally famous.  Drawing attention to Dunbar’s dark skin, as if mulatto writers somehow didn’t count, Howells had written that Dunbar was “the only man of pure African blood and of African civilization to feel the Negro life aesthetically and express it lyrically”.  Hogwash, a good half of that extravagant statement.  But Howells was writing for white readers of poetry who preferred something authentic, something other than the common Coon Songs/Minstrel Music of the 1890s.  And all this just as Jim Crow legislation – ‘separate but equal’ bylaws – became firmly entrenched.

Thereafter, Dunbar would walk a literary tightrope.  He tried to be true to his own ambition to develop and showcase his considerable range as a poet while being clamoured after for Negro-Dialect poems (verses using everyday Black speech from The South – which had constituted just a quarter of the 100-plus poems in Lyrics).  And yet – Dunbar’s Negro-Dialect poems can in instances go beyond the popular Minstrel-influenced poems and songs of the era because he voiced in them a very-real sadness sometimes, some subtly subversive wit – and cynicism as well.   It is notable that he also wrote other Peoples’ dialect poems that showed a supple command of Irish, German and Southern-White speech patterns.  Briefly and unhappily Dunbar was married to Alice Ruth Moore – later a journalist and anti-lynching campaigner – from 1898 to 1902.  Diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1900 he was prescribed “the whiskey diet” plus the pure air of Colorado.   Feeling perhaps that Time was running out, he began writing essays and unusual, inventive stage plays – which scholars since the 1990s have been re-appraising (along with Dunbar’s Negro-Dialect poems).  His health worsened and he returned to Ohio in 1904, dying there in 1906 at the age of 33.   After much academic argument about Paul Laurence Dunbar’s legacy it is now agreed that he was the finest Black-American poet before the cultural blossoming of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.

.     .     .     .     .


Zócalo Poets will return February 2013 / Zócalo Poets…Volveremos en febrero de 2013

¿Eres poeta o poetisa?

¡Mándanos tus poemas en cualquier idioma!

Are you a poet or poetess?

Send us your poems in any language!

zocalopoets@hotmail.com

.

Snowball 1

Snowball 2Snowball 3

.

与謝野 鉄幹 / Yosano Hiroshi (1873-1935)

.

yama fukami /deep in the mountains /en lo profundo de la cordillera

haru to mo shiranu / beyond the knowledge of spring /

más allá del conocimiento de la primavera

matsu no to ni / on a pine bough door /sobre una puerta de ramas de pino

taedae kakaru / there are faintly suspended / hay, delicadamente suspendidos,

yuki no tamamizu / beads of liquid snow / gotas de nieve líquida.

.     .     .

Oliver Herford (1863-1935)

“I heard a bird sing”

.

I heard a bird sing

In the dark of December.

A magical thing

And sweet to remember.

.

“We are nearer to Spring

Than we were in September,”

I heard a bird sing

In the dark of December.

.     .     .

“Oí un pájaro, cantante pájaro” (Oliver Herford, 1863-1935)

.

Oí un pájaro, cantante pájaro,

En l’ oscuridad de diciembre

– algo mágico, esa voz, y

Dulce en mi recuerdo.

.

“Estamos más cerca de la primavera

Que estuvimos en septiembre.”

Oí un pájaro, cantante pájaro,

En la luz tenue, diciembre.

.     .     .

藤原定長 / Jakuren (1139-1202)

.

kaze wa kiyoshi / the breeze is fresh / fresca, la brisa,

tsuki wa sayakeshi / the moon is bright; / brillante, la luna;

iza tomoni / come, we shall dance till dawn, / ven, bailaremos hasta el alba,

odori akasan / and say farewell to age…  /  y a la vejez diremos Adiós.

oi no nagori ni…

.

Translations of ‘tanka’ poems by Yosano Hiroshi and Jakuren from Japanese © Michael Haldane

Translations into Spanish / Traducciones al español:  Alexander Best

.     .     .     .     .


“Just enough snow to make you look carefully at familiar streets”: the Haiku of Richard Wright

ZP_El Círculo de Amigos…bajo la nieve

ZP_El Círculo de Amigos…bajo la nieve

.

Just enough snow

To make you look carefully

At familiar streets.

.

On winter mornings

The candle shows faint markings

Of the teeth of rats.

.

In the falling snow

A laughing boy holds out his palms

Until they are white.

.

The snowball I threw

Was caught in a net of flakes

And wafted away.

.

Snow Poems 2

.

A freezing morning:

I left a bit of my skin

On the broomstick handle.

.

The Christmas season:

A whore is painting her lips

Larger than they are.

.

Snow Poems 3

.

Standing patiently

The horse grants the snowflakes

A home on his back.

.

In the falling snow

the thick wool of the sheep

gives off a faint vapour.

.

Entering my town

In a fall of heavy snow

I feel a stranger.

.

In this rented room

One more winter stands outside

My dirty windowpane.

.

Snow Poems 5

Snow Poems 6

Snow Poems 4

.

The call of a bird

sends a solid cake of snow

sliding off the roof.

.

I slept so long and sound,

but I did not know why until

I saw the snow outside.

.

The smell of sunny snow

is swelling the icy air –

the world grows bigger.

.

The cold is so sharp

that the shadow of the house

bites into the snow.

.

What do they tell you

each night, O winter moon,

before they roll you out?

.

Burning out its time

And timing its own burning,

One lovely candle.

.     .     .

Richard Nathaniel Wright (born Roxie, Mississippi,1908, died Paris, 1960) was a rigorous Black-American short-story writer, novelist, essayist, and lecturer. He joined the Communist Party USA in 1933 and was Harlem editor for the newspaper “Daily Worker”.  Intensely racial themes were pervasive in his work and famous books such as Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945) were sometimes criticized for their portrayal of violence – yet, as the 1960s’ voices of Black Power would phrase it – a generation later – he was just “telling it like it is.”

.

Wright discovered Haiku around 1958 and began to write obsessively in this Japanese form using what was becoming the standard “shape” in English:  5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables, in three separate lines, and with the final line adding an element of surprise – delicate or otherwise.  One of Haiku’s objectives is, to paraphrase Matsuo Bashō, a 17th-century Japanese poet:  In a haiku poem, if you reveal 70 to 80 percent of the subject – that’s good – but if you show only 50 to 60 percent, then the reader or listener will never tire of that particular poem.

What do you think – does Wright succeed?

.

The 4 Seasons are themes in Haiku;  here we have presented a palmful of Wright’s Winter haiku. Wright was frequently bedridden during the last year of his life and his daughter Julia has said that her father’s haiku were “self-developed antidotes against illness, and that breaking down words into syllables matched the shortness of his breath.”  She also added:  her father was striving “to spin these poems of light out of the gathering darkness.”

We are grateful to poet Ty Hadman for these quotations from Wright’s daughter, Julia.

.     .     .

The above haiku were selected from the volume  Richard Wright:  Haiku, This Other World, published posthumously, in 1998, after a collection of several thousand Haiku composed by Wright was ‘ found ‘ in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University.

.     .     .     .     .


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