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Best Famous W. E. B. Du Bois Poems

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Written by W. E. B. Du Bois | Create an image from this poem

A Hymn to the Peoples

O Truce of God!
And primal meeting of the Sons of Man,
Foreshadowing the union of the World!
From all the ends of earth we come!
Old Night, the elder sister of the Day,
Mother of Dawn in the golden East,
Meets in the misty twilight with her brood,
Pale and black, tawny, red and brown,
The mighty human rainbow of the world,
Spanning its wilderness of storm.
Softly in sympathy the sunlight falls,
Rare is the radiance of the moon;
And on the darkest midnight blaze the stars—
The far-flown shadows of whose brilliance
Drop like a dream on the dim shores of Time,
Forecasting Days that are to these
As day to night.
So sit we all as one.
So, gloomed in tall and stone-swathed groves,
The Buddha walks with Christ!
And Al-Koran and Bible both be holy!
Almighty Word!
In this Thine awful sanctuary,
First and flame-haunted City of the Widened World,
Assoil us, Lord of Lands and Seas!
We are but weak and wayward men,
Distraught alike with hatred and vainglory;
Prone to despise the Soul that breathes within—
High visioned hordes that lie and steal and kill,
Sinning the sin each separate heart disclaims,
Clambering upon our riven, writhing selves,
Besieging Heaven by trampling men to Hell!
We be blood-guilty! Lo, our hands be red!
Not one may blame the other in this sin!
But here—here in the white Silence of the Dawn,
Before the Womb of Time,
With bowed hearts all flame and shame,
We face the birth-pangs of a world:
We hear the stifled cry of Nations all but born—
The wail of women ravished of their stunted brood!
We see the nakedness of Toil, the poverty of Wealth,
We know the Anarchy of Empire, and doleful Death of Life!
And hearing, seeing, knowing all, we cry:
Save us, World-Spirit, from our lesser selves!
Grant us that war and hatred cease,
Reveal our souls in every race and hue!
Help us, O Human God, in this Thy Truce,
To make Humanity divine!

Written by W. E. B. Du Bois | Create an image from this poem

My Country 'Tis of Thee

Of course you have faced the dilemma: it is announced, they all smirk and rise. If they are ultra, they remove their hats and look ecstatic; then they look at you. What shall you do? Noblesse oblige; you cannot be boorish, or ungracious; and too, after all it is your country and you do love its ideals if not all of its realities. Now, then, I have thought of a way out: Arise, gracefully remove your hat, and tilt your head. Then sing as follows, powerfully and with deep unction. They’ll hardly note the little changes and their feelings and your conscience will thus be saved: 

My country tis of thee, 
Late land of slavery, 
         Of thee I sing. 
Land where my father’s pride 
Slept where my mother died, 
From every mountain side 
         Let freedom ring! 

My native country thee 
Land of the slave set free, 
         Thy fame I love. 
I love thy rocks and rills 
And o’er thy hate which chills, 
My heart with purpose thrills, 
         To rise above. 

Let laments swell the breeze 
And wring from all the trees 
          Sweet freedom’s song. 
Let laggard tongues awake, 
Let all who hear partake, 
Let Southern silence quake, 
         The sound prolong. 

Our fathers’ God to thee 
Author of Liberty, 
         To thee we sing 
Soon may our land be bright, 
With Freedom’s happy light 
Protect us by Thy might, 
         Great God our King.
Written by W. E. B. Du Bois | Create an image from this poem

The Prayers of God

Name of God's Name!
Red murder reigns;
All hell is loose;
On gold autumnal air
Walk grinning devils, barbed and hoofed;
While high on hills of hate,
Black-blossomed, crimson-sky'd,
Thou sittest, dumb.
Father Almighty!
This earth is mad!
Palsied, our cunning hands;
Rotten, our gold;
Our argosies reel and stagger
Over empty seas;
All the long aisles
Of Thy Great Temples, God,
Stink with the entrails
Of our souls.
And Thou art dumb.
Above the thunder of Thy Thunders, Lord,
Lightening Thy Lightnings,
Rings and roars
The dark damnation
Of this hell of war.
Red piles the pulp of hearts and heads
And little children's hands.
Very God of God!
Death is here!
Dead are the living; deep—dead the dead.
Dying are earth's unborn—
The babes' wide eyes of genius and of joy,
Poems and prayers, sun-glows and earth-songs,
Great-pictured dreams,
Enmarbled phantasies,
High hymning heavens—all
In this dread night
Writhe and shriek and choke and die
This long ghost-night—
While Thou art dumb.
Have mercy!
Have mercy upon us, miserable sinners!
Stand forth, unveil Thy Face,
Pour down the light
That seethes above Thy Throne,
And blaze this devil's dance to darkness!
In Christ's Great Name—
I hear!
Forgive me, God!
Above the thunder I hearkened;
Beneath the silence, now,—
I hear!
(Wait, God, a little space.
It is so strange to talk with Thee—
This gold?
I took it.
Is it Thine?
Forgive; I did not know.
Blood? Is it wet with blood?
'Tis from my brother's hands.
(I know; his hands are mine.)
It flowed for Thee, O Lord.
War? Not so; not war—
Dominion, Lord, and over black, not white;
Black, brown, and fawn,
And not Thy Chosen Brood, O God,
We murdered.
To build Thy Kingdom,
To drape our wives and little ones,
And set their souls a-glitter—
For this we killed these lesser breeds
And civilized their dead,
Raping red rubber, diamonds, cocoa, gold!
For this, too, once, and in Thy Name,
I lynched a ******—
(He raved and writhed,
I heard him cry,
I felt the life-light leap and lie,
I saw him crackle there, on high,
I watched him wither!)
I lynched Thee?
Awake me, God! I sleep!
What was that awful word Thou saidst?
That black and riven thing—was it Thee?
That gasp—was it Thine?
This pain—is it Thine?
Are, then, these bullets piercing Thee?
Have all the wars of all the world,
Down all dim time, drawn blood from Thee?
Have all the lies and thefts and hates—
Is this Thy Crucifixion, God,
And not that funny, little cross,
With vinegar and thorns?
Is this Thy kingdom here, not there,
This stone and stucco drift of dreams?
I sense that low and awful cry—
Who cries?
Who weeps?
With silent sob that rends and tears—
Can God sob?
Who prays?
I hear strong prayers throng by,
Like mighty winds on dusky moors—
Can God pray?
Prayest Thou, Lord, and to me?
Thou needest me?
Thou needest me?
Thou needest me?
Poor, wounded soul!
Of this I never dreamed. I thought—
Courage, God,
I come!
Written by W. E. B. Du Bois | Create an image from this poem

The Riddle of the Sphinx

Dark daughter of the lotus leaves that watch the Southern Sea!
Wan spirit of a prisoned soul a-panting to be free!
The muttered music of thy streams, the whisper of the deep,
Have kissed each other in God's name and kissed a world to sleep.
The will of the world is a whistling wind, sweeping a cloud-swept sky,
And not from the East and not from the West knelled that
soul-waking cry,
But out of the South,—the sad, black South—it screamed from
the top of the sky,
Crying: "Awake, O ancient race!" Wailing, "O woman, arise!"
And crying and sighing and crying again as a voice in the
midnight cries,—
But the burden of white men bore her back and the white world
stifled her sighs.
The white world's vermin and filth:
All the dirt of London,
All the scum of New York;
Valiant spoilers of women
And conquerers of unarmed men;
Shameless breeders of bastards,
Drunk with the greed of gold,
Baiting their blood-stained hooks
With cant for the souls of the simple;
Bearing the white man's burden
Of liquor and lust and lies!
Unthankful we wince in the East,
Unthankful we wail from the westward,
Unthankfully thankful, we curse,
In the unworn wastes of the wild:
I hate them, Oh!
I hate them well,
I hate them, Christ!
As I hate hell!
If I were God,
I'd sound their knell
This day!
Who raised the fools to their glory,
But black men of Egypt and Ind,
Ethiopia's sons of the evening,
Indians and yellow Chinese,
Arabian children of morning,
And mongrels of Rome and Greece?
Ah, well!
And they that raised the boasters
Shall drag them down again,—
Down with the theft of their thieving
And murder and mocking of men;
Down with their barter of women
And laying and lying of creeds;
Down with their cheating of childhood
And drunken orgies of war,—
deep down,
Till the devil's strength be shorn,
Till some dim, darker David, a-hoeing of his corn,
And married maiden, mother of God,
Bid the black Christ be born!
Then shall our burden be manhood,
Be it yellow or black or white;
And poverty and justice and sorrow,
The humble, and simple and strong
Shall sing with the sons of morning
And daughters of even-song:
Black mother of the iron hills that ward the blazing sea,
Wild spirit of a storm-swept soul, a-struggling to be free,
Where 'neath the bloody finger-marks thy riven bosom quakes,
Thicken the thunders of God's Voice and lo! a world awakes!
Written by W. E. B. Du Bois | Create an image from this poem

Ghana Calls

I was a little boy, at home with strangers.   
I liked my playmates, and knew well,   
Whence all their parents came; 
From England, Scotland, royal France   
From Germany and oft by chance 
The humble Emerald Isle. 

But my brown skin and close-curled hair 
Was alien, and how it grew, none knew; 
Few tried to say, some dropped a wonderful word or stray; 
Some laughed and stared. 

And then it came: I dreamed.   
I placed together all I knew 
All hints and slurs together drew.   
I dreamed. 

I made one picture of what nothing seemed   
I shuddered in dumb terror 
In silence screamed, 
For now it seemed this I had dreamed; 

How up from Hell, a land had leaped 
A wretched land, all scorched and seamed   
Covered with ashes, chained with pain   
Streaming with blood, in horror lain   
Its very air a shriek of death 
And agony of hurt. 

Anon I woke, but in one corner of my soul   
I stayed asleep. 
Forget I could not, 
But never would I remember   
That hell-hoist ghost   
Of slavery and woe. 

I lived and grew, I worked and hoped 
I planned and wandered, gripped and coped   
With every doubt but one that slept   
Yet clamoured to awaken. 
I became old; old, worn and gray;   
Along my hard and weary way 
Rolled war and pestilence, war again;   
I looked on Poverty and foul Disease   
I walked with Death and yet I knew 
There stirred a doubt: Were all dreams true?   
And what in truth was Africa? 

One cloud-swept day a Seer appeared,   
All closed and veiled as me he hailed 
And bid me make three journeys to the world   
Seeking all through their lengthened links   
The endless Riddle of the Sphinx. 

I went to Moscow; Ignorance grown wise taught me Wisdom; 
I went to Peking: Poverty grown rich 
Showed me the wealth of Work 
I came to Accra. 

Here at last, I looked back on my Dream;   
I heard the Voice that loosed 
The Long-looked dungeons of my soul 
I sensed that Africa had come 
Not up from Hell, but from the sum of Heaven’s glory. 

I lifted up mine eyes to Ghana 
And swept the hills with high Hosanna; 
Above the sun my sight took flight   
Till from that pinnacle of light 
I saw dropped down this earth of crimson, green and gold 
Roaring with color, drums and song. 

Happy with dreams and deeds worth more than doing   
Around me velvet faces loomed   
Burnt by the kiss of everlasting suns 
Under great stars of midnight glory   
Trees danced, and foliage sang; 

The lilies hallelujah rang 
Where robed with rule on Golden Stool   
The gold-crowned Priests with duty done   
Pour high libations to the sun 
And danced to gods. 

Red blood flowed rare ’neath close-clung hair   
While subtle perfume filled the air   
And whirls and whirls of tiny curls   
Crowned heads. 

Yet Ghana shows its might and power   
Not in its color nor its flower   
But in its wondrous breadth of soul   
Its Joy of Life 
Its selfless role 
Of giving. 
School and clinic, home and hall   
Road and garden bloom and call   
Socialism blossoms bold 
On Communism centuries old. 

I lifted my last voice and cried   
I cried to heaven as I died: 
O turn me to the Golden Horde   
Summon all western nations   
Toward the Rising Sun. 

From reeking West whose day is done,   
Who stink and stagger in their dung   
Toward Africa, China, India’s strand   
Where Kenya and Himalaya stand   
And Nile and Yang-tze roll: 
Turn every yearning face of man. 

Come with us, dark America: 
The scum of Europe battened here   
And drowned a dream 
Made fetid swamp a refuge seem: 

Enslaved the Black and killed the Red   
And armed the Rich to loot the Dead;   
Worshipped the whores of Hollywood   
Where once the Virgin Mary stood 
And lynched the Christ. 

Awake, awake, O sleeping world   
Honor the sun; 

Worship the stars, those vaster suns   
Who rule the night 
Where black is bright 
And all unselfish work is right   
And Greed is Sin. 

And Africa leads on:   
Pan Africa!

Written by W. E. B. Du Bois | Create an image from this poem

A Litany Of Atlanta

O Silent God, Thou whose voice afar in mist and mystery hath left our ears
an-hungered in these fearful days--
  _Hear us, good Lord!_

Listen to us, Thy children: our faces dark with doubt are made a mockery
in Thy sanctuary. With uplifted hands we front Thy heaven, O God, crying:
  _We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!_
Written by W. E. B. Du Bois | Create an image from this poem

Children of the Moon

I am dead;
Yet somehow, somewhere,
In Time's weird contradiction, I
May tell of that dread deed, wherewith
I brought to Children of the Moon
Freedom and vast salvation.
I was a woman born,
And trod the streaming street,
That ebbs and flows from Harlem's hills,
Through caves and cañons limned in light,
Down to the twisting sea.
That night of nights,
I stood alone and at the End,
Until the sudden highway to the moon,
Golden in splendor,
Became too real to doubt.
Dimly I set foot upon the air,
I fled, I flew, through the thrills of light,
With all about, above, below, the whirring
Of almighty wings.
I found a twilight land,
Where, hardly hid, the sun
Sent softly-saddened rays of
Red and brown to burn the iron soil
And bathe the snow-white peaks
In mighty splendor.
Black were the men,
Hard-haired and silent-slow,
Moving as shadows,
Bending with face of fear to earthward;
And women there were none.
"Woman, woman, woman!"
I cried in mounting terror.
"Woman and Child!"
And the cry sang back
Through heaven, with the
Whirring of almighty wings.
Wings, wings, endless wings,—
Heaven and earth are wings;
Wings that flutter, furl, and fold,
Always folding and unfolding,
Ever folding yet again;
Wings, veiling some vast
And veiléd face,
In blazing blackness,
Behind the folding and unfolding,
The rolling and unrolling of
Almighty wings!
I saw the black men huddle,
Fumed in fear, falling face downward;
Vainly I clutched and clawed,
Dumbly they cringed and cowered,
Moaning in mournful monotone:
O Freedom, O Freedom,
O Freedom over me;
Before I'll be a slave,
I'll be buried in my grave,
And go home to my God,
And be free.
It was angel-music
From the dead,
And ever, as they sang,
Some wingéd thing of wings, filling all heaven,
Folding and unfolding, and folding yet again,
Tore out their blood and entrails,
'Til I screamed in utter terror;
And a silence came—
A silence and the wailing of a babe.
Then, at last, I saw and shamed;
I knew how these dumb, dark, and dusky things
Had given blood and life,
To fend the caves of underground,
The great black caves of utter night,
Where earth lay full of mothers
And their babes.
Little children sobbing in darkness,
Little children crying in silent pain,
Little mothers rocking and groping and struggling,
Digging and delving and groveling,
Amid the dying-dead and dead-in-life
And drip and dripping of warm, wet blood,
Far, far beneath the wings,—
The folding and unfolding of almighty wings.
I bent with tears and pitying hands,
Above these dusky star-eyed children,—
Crinkly-haired, with sweet-sad baby voices,
Pleading low for light and love and living—
And I crooned:
"Little children weeping there,
God shall find your faces fair;
Guerdon for your deep distress,
He shall send His tenderness;
For the tripping of your feet
Make a mystic music sweet
In the darkness of your hair;
Light and laughter in the air—
Little children weeping there,
God shall find your faces fair!"
I strode above the stricken, bleeding men,
The rampart 'ranged against the skies,
And shouted:
"Up, I say, build and slay;
Fight face foremost, force a way,
Unloose, unfetter, and unbind;
Be men and free!"
Dumbly they shrank,
Muttering they pointed toward that peak,
Than vastness vaster,
Whereon a darkness brooded,
"Who shall look and live," they sighed;
And I sensed
The folding and unfolding of almighty wings.
Yet did we build of iron, bricks, and blood;
We built a day, a year, a thousand years,
Blood was the mortar,—blood and tears,
And, ah, the Thing, the Thing of wings,
The wingéd, folding Wing of Things
Did furnish much mad mortar
For that tower.
Slow and ever slower rose the towering task,
And with it rose the sun,
Until at last on one wild day,
Wind-whirled, cloud-swept and terrible
I stood beneath the burning shadow
Of the peak,
Beneath the whirring of almighty wings,
While downward from my feet
Streamed the long line of dusky faces
And the wail of little children sobbing under earth.
Alone, aloft,
I saw through firmaments on high
The drama of Almighty God,
With all its flaming suns and stars.
"Freedom!" I cried.
"Freedom!" cried heaven, earth, and stars;
And a Voice near-far,
Amid the folding and unfolding of almighty wings,
Answered, "I am Freedom—
Who sees my face is free—
He and his."
I dared not look;
Downward I glanced on deep-bowed heads and closed eyes,
Outward I gazed on flecked and flaming blue—
But ever onward, upward flew
The sobbing of small voices,—
Down, down, far down into the night.
Slowly I lifted livid limbs aloft;
Upward I strove: the face! the face!
Onward I reeled: the face! the face!
To beauty wonderful as sudden death,
Or horror horrible as endless life—
Up! Up! the blood-built way;
(Shadow grow vaster!
Terror come faster!)
Up! Up! to the blazing blackness
Of one veiléd face.
And endless folding and unfolding,
Rolling and unrolling of almighty wings.
The last step stood!
The last dim cry of pain
Fluttered across the stars,
And then—
Wings, wings, triumphant wings,
Lifting and lowering, waxing and waning,
Swinging and swaying, twirling and whirling,
Whispering and screaming, streaming and gleaming,
Spreading and sweeping and shading and flaming—
Wings, wings, eternal wings,
'Til the hot, red blood,
Flood fleeing flood,
Thundered through heaven and mine ears,
While all across a purple sky,
The last vast pinion.
Trembled to unfold.
I rose upon the Mountain of the Moon,—
I felt the blazing glory of the Sun;
I heard the Song of Children crying, "Free!"
I saw the face of Freedom—
And I died.
Written by W. E. B. Du Bois | Create an image from this poem

Almighty Death

Softly, quite softly—
For I hear, above the murmur of the sea,
Faint and far-fallen footsteps, as of One
Who comes from out beyond the endless ends of Time,
With voice that downward looms thro' singing stars;
Its subtle sound I see thro' these long-darkened eyes,
I hear the Light He bringeth on His hands—
Almighty Death!
Softly, oh, softly, lest He pass me by,
And that unquivering Light toward which my longing soul
And tortured body through these years have writhed,
Fade to the dun darkness of my days.
Softly, full softly, let me rise and greet
The strong, low luting of that long-awaited call;
Swiftly be all my good and going gone,
And this vast veiled and vanquished vigor of my soul
Seek somehow otherwhere its rest and goal,
Where endless spaces stretch,
Where endless time doth moan,
Where endless light doth pour
Thro' the black kingdoms of eternal death.
Then haply I may see what things I have not seen,
Then I may know what things I have not known;
Then may I do my dreams.
Farewell! No sound of idle mourning let there be
To shudder this full silence—save the voice
Of children—little children, white and black,
Whispering the deeds I tried to do for them;
While I at last unguided and alone
Pass softly, full softly.
Written by W. E. B. Du Bois | Create an image from this poem

The Song of the Smoke

I am the Smoke King 
I am black! 
I am swinging in the sky, 
I am wringing worlds awry; 
I am the thought of the throbbing mills, 
I am the soul of the soul-toil kills, 
Wraith of the ripple of trading rills; 
Up I’m curling from the sod, 
I am whirling home to God; 
I am the Smoke King 
I am black. 

I am the Smoke King, 
I am black! 
I am wreathing broken hearts, 
I am sheathing love’s light darts; 
Inspiration of iron times 
Wedding the toil of toiling climes, 
Shedding the blood of bloodless crimes— 
Lurid lowering ’mid the blue, 
Torrid towering toward the true, 
I am the Smoke King, 
I am black. 

I am the Smoke King, 
I am black! 
I am darkening with song, 
I am hearkening to wrong! 
I will be black as blackness can— 
The blacker the mantle, the mightier the man! 
For blackness was ancient ere whiteness began. 
I am daubing God in night, 
I am swabbing Hell in white: 
I am the Smoke King 
I am black. 

I am the Smoke King 
I am black! 
I am cursing ruddy morn, 
I am hearsing hearts unborn: 
Souls unto me are as stars in a night, 
I whiten my black men—I blacken my white! 
What’s the hue of a hide to a man in his might? 
Hail! great, gritty, grimy hands— 
Sweet Christ, pity toiling lands! 
I am the Smoke King 
I am black.