Monday, January 16, 2012

Poetry in Honor of MLK Jr. Day

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the poem slipped into my inbox by bubbled forth memories of my favorite Harlem Renaissance artists and poets.

When I studied 20th Century American History at Point Loma Nazarene University, I selected the Harlem Renaissance as my research paper topic. The Harlem Renaissance helped to birth jazz and "the blues" as well as visual and written arts. The prolific African-American musicians, artists, and especially the poets at the heart of this movement in the 1920s piqued my interest, especially the poet Langston Hughes, one of my Top Five Favorite Poets.

So, starting with the poem that arrived in my inbox, here are some "poems for thought" on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I shall allow the poets to speak for themselves--since they are and always will be far more eloquent than I could ever aspire....

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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 its 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!

by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks


We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

May all our souls grow "deep like the rivers" as we remember and celebrate the men and women of talent who have brought Depth and Truth and Vibrancy to our national soul. Whatever our color, creed, or politics, we can unite in the Truth-Telling revealed through the arts, and especially through the medium of the written word...which can unmask worlds in a mere phrase....

If only we but

Wishing you all a blessed remembrance this day,

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