february cafe, 28 days of black creativity: the harlem renaissance – countee cullen

february cafe – 28 days of black creativity

The Harlem Renaissance is one of my favorite eras of poetry partly because it gave us an image of Black life in America that became prominent and influential all throughout the arts and entertainment community.  Countee Cullen is one of those prominent poets. Read his bio from www.poets.org:

Bio of Countee Cullen from www.poets.org:  Born in 1903 in New York City, Countee Cullen was raised in a

Countee Cullen, Harlem Renaissance Poet, photo by Carl Van Vechten

Methodist parsonage. He attended De Witt Clinton High School in New York and began writing poetry at the age of fourteen. In 1922, Cullen entered New York University. His poems were published in The Crisis, under the leadership of W. E. B. Du Bois, and Opportunity, a magazine of the National Urban League. He was soon after published in Harper’s, the Century Magazine, and Poetry. He won several awards for his poem, “Ballad of the Brown Girl,” and graduated from New York University in 1923. That same year, Harper published his first volume of verse, Color, and he was admitted to Harvard University where he completed a master’s degree.

His second volume of poetry, Copper Sun (1927), met with controversy in the black community because Cullen did not give the subject of race the same attention he had given it in Color. He was raised and educated in a primarily white community, and he differed from other poets of the Harlem Renaissance like Langston Hughes in that he lacked the background to comment from personal experience on the lives of other blacks or use popular black themes in his writing. An imaginative lyric poet, he wrote in the tradition of Keats and Shelley and was resistant to the new poetic techniques of the Modernists. He died in 1946.

Poems by Countee Cullen, For a Poet and Saturday’s Child from: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/cullen/online_poems.htm

For a Poet  by Countee Cullen

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,

And laid them away in a box of gold;
Where long will cling the lips of the moth,
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth;
I hide no hate; I am not even wroth
Who found earth’s breath so keen and cold;
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,
And laid them away in a box of gold.

Saturday’s Child by Countee Cullen

Some are teethed on a silver spoon,
With the stars strung for a rattle;
I cut my teeth as the black raccoon–
For implements of battle.

Some are swaddled in silk and down,
And heralded by a star;
They swathed my limbs in a sackcloth gown
On a night that was black as tar.

For some, godfather and goddame
The opulent fairies be;
Dame Poverty gave me my name,
And Pain godfathered me.

For I was born on Saturday–
“Bad time for planting a seed,”
Was all my father had to say,
And, “One mouth more to feed.”

Death cut the strings that gave me life,
And handed me to Sorrow,
The only kind of middle wife
My folks could beg or borrow.

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